According to reports worldwide, Germany’s response to the recent COVID-19 pandemic has been notable for its efficiency, approach to testing and high recovery rates. The country’s approach has been both well-organised and meticulous, and with private German companies following the government’s example, they may be in an excellent position to come out of the pandemic quickly and with minimal damage.

One company that has attracted the attention of its customers due how it’s handled the COVID-19 crisis is German mining tech manufacturer Vega. Not only has the company implemented some interesting, inventive solutions, it has also reacted swiftly.

John Leadbetter, Australian country manager for German-based Vega, said that his customers have been so impressed with the company’s response that it’s actually made it easier to communicate with clients. Leadbetter had a chat with Mining Technology’s commercial features editor Sarah Williams to share his top tips for making it through something as unprecedented as this with minimal disruption.

HR policies in the time of Corona

“I think the companies who have a people-first approach had a much better response to this situation,” says Leadbetter. “A lot of companies talk about putting their people first, but Vega actually did it – the absolute first priority wasn’t to look after our bottom line, it was to look after the health of our people. Once we were sure everyone was safe, then we could look at protecting our productivity.

“But you have to do the first thing first and that’s always the human thing.”

“We were ahead of the curve as a company,” continues Leadbetter, “because, being a global entity, we constantly have to view things globally and we could see that this wasn’t just a China issue, but that it was headed to all the countries where we trade. We took it seriously and said look, we need to hit this hard and we need to start putting some things in place for what may or may not happen.”

Vega quickly realised that the spread could be stopped within the company’s 23 offices around the globe exactly how it was halted in Germany: “We immediately implemented a situation where half our people were working from home and half in the office at any one time, so that people could always maintain the appropriate social distance.”

The mining manufacturer took further pages out of Germany’s book and put any of their people who had returned to the country from abroad at home on paid leave for two weeks – ditto anyone who felt sick.

But the best part of Vega’s method was probably to do with job flexibility.

“Anyone from administration, from R&D, from marketing, etc. who had the capability, they were offered the chance to take a little break from their roles and actually go down and work on the factory floor,” explains Leadbetter. “And you know what? The response from our people was 100% positive – everyone said yes. And that meant we could maintain our usual productivity rates, but still with people working on different levels of the factory and appropriately spaced apart.”

Acting quickly and following this procedure in February, before Germany was hard hit, meant that by the time most countries and their private sector were just waking up to the reality of how badly business would be affected, Vega was already in the clear regarding the health of its people.

“We already worked from home.”

The third distinctive position Vega occupied which helped it minimise disruption was that all of its sales staff worldwide work from home or have “roving” roles.

Leadbetter explains, “In the true sense of a salesperson’s job, 90% of their time should be spent on the road and with the customer. The last thing we need to do is build more buildings for more salespeople, who should really be out there building relationships with customers.”

This means that a huge portion of the company’s workforce was already completely empowered to work from home – unlike many other companies, they had zero downtime to transition to a home working setup: no IT hiccups or concerns about how to manage productivity.

The fourth and final Vega approach which other companies worldwide can learn from is a simple one:

Be well-stocked – particularly if you’re really far away from other markets.

“One of the things that you always have to consider in Australia is that you’re a long way from everywhere. So one of the things a customer will do here when they’re looking for a product is to look at the price and the availability. If you’re able to offer better availability than your opposition, then price really isn’t the big issue anymore.”

And this is especially true in mining – most mines are 3,000 – 4,000 kilometres away from major city centres in places like Australia and South Africa.

The word unprecedented, Leadbetter says, always applies to mining: “You’ve got operations that run 24/7, breakdowns happen and unusual circumstances and you just always have to be prepared,” he says. “So having a steady supply of products and not waiting for customers to order them means that even with a global pandemic, Vega is only a week behind our normal delivery schedule to all our customers worldwide.”

Lest his approach sounds glib or as if he and the wider company aren’t taking the threat posed by COVID-19 seriously, Leadbetter stresses that for now, things are going ok for the company, but that at some point, “we may have to put our hands up and say that for the health of people and the company, there’s just nothing we can do and that we are actually stuck.

“So then it’ll be about weathering through the worst of it and coming out with a firm plan in place to deliver on our commitments – once it’s safe to do so. I think realistically, we may go through another month here in Australia, but I genuinely think that in mid-to-late May, we will start to see some improvements. I could be wrong, but I hope that’s true.”