Article written between Wednesday, 18th March - Friday, 27th March by Rosemood CEO, Grégoire Monconduit
After hearing our French President Emmanuel Macron’s (first) address this Thursday evening, we had to take a moment to gather our thoughts. Our minds were racing, worrying about not only the health and safety of our loved ones but also that of our Rosemood team. On Friday morning, we advised some of our head office teams to start working from home from Monday but by Saturday evening we would have to rethink that strategy. As French Prime Minister, Edouard Phillipe announced that France was to go on lockdown from midnight Saturday. Rosemood needed to figure out what to do next.
Juggling with uncertainty
Sunday, 15th March - We could see orders were down, our head office teams were to start working from home from Monday, but we still had the difficult decision to make about our printing studio, would we have to close it?
To be honest, at that moment in time we felt fully supported by our employees and the government but also a little lost! President Macron had completely reassured us that Rosemood's future was in safe hands. We would most certainly take a hit, like many other people would too, but the state would be there - financially - should anything drastic happen.
However, we still couldn’t figure out whether we should continue printing or not. The administrative guidelines clearly stated that ‘an employee should work from home, unless it is impossible for them to do so, while the employer should have Public Health measures in place’. Needless to say, that Sunday evening our printing studio processes were not “Covid-Friendly”! We, therefore, decided to close the studio from that Monday, 16th March, to give us time to find a suitable solution for our team.
Solving the covid-equation (and sleepless nights)
We came up with a few solutions which seemed pretty satisfactory to us, even if we are not doctors or epidemiologists. We would impose different shift patterns and assign a specific machine to each colleague, respecting the rules of social distancing. If at any time prints needed to be handed over (gloved hands, of course) to another post, for example between printing and cutting, the paper would be stacked on a shelf for the night so as the virus has time to ‘pack up it’s bags and go’.
Following discussions with the printing studio team on Monday afternoon, we were ready to give these new measures a go. However, come Monday evening, ‘war’ was declared by Macron and strict confinement measures were announced to the public. People should only leave the house for very limited purposes with a signed and dated document issued on the government’s website. Seeing as these strict measures were put in place for the general public, we assumed that in the coming days the government would also introduce guidelines that would assist employers, businesses and their staff in addressing the coronavirus.
After hearing the President’s second address, we agreed that we would keep the studio closed on Tuesday as well, to give us some time to look into these measures, and see if we can apply them to our situation and ensure everyone's safety.
As working from home wasn’t a real possibility for our printing studio team, we could have officially reopened the studio on Wednesday, 18th March but we just weren’t yet comfortable with the idea. How could we follow the Health minister’s advice to limit contact to 5 people per day when we had a team of 15 people in our studio?
What is considered contact? How can you demand people work from home and minimise their time spent outside but yet allow others to go to their place of work as normal? Understandably, people who work in pharmacies or supermarkets are essential, but what about a company that prints (albeit fantastic) stationery and photo books, where do they stand?
At that point, I had to ask myself ‘What is my greatest concern; our sales going down or the safety of our staff?. We decided to prolong the closure of our studio while we fine-tuned our production processes alongside the studio team.
Taking much needed time to think it all through
Thrown into this melting point of ever-changing advice and guidelines, we needed to take our time to work out the best way forward. We felt the need to hold back and think through our ideas to be completely sure that the decisions we had made and the measures we wanted to put in place were the best for the company and above all the team! We seemed to be on the right track but we needed time to digest all the new information that kept flooding in.
This last week, to be honest, was overwhelming. We thought the government would use this time to clarify and set out guidelines for companies like us or in the same situation. Don’t get me wrong I am not blaming anyone! The situation was and still is incredibly complex, and the government had to deal with pressing issues one after the other.
It is perfectly normal that these kinds of questions were not answered straight away. It just meant that we were under a little more pressure, as company directors, to get answers or at least find provisional solutions. However, we didn’t get much time… that Thursday, 19th March, Muriel Pénicaud, Minister of Labour, made it clear that the option of the ‘partial unemployment scheme’ wasn't there as a chance for us to twiddle our thumbs and was there to save businesses! Everyone who could, needed to get back to work pronto. We could feel the pressure rising in the government, as they had to ask themselves where all of the money was going to come from to keep businesses going and I would not have liked to be in their position!
Obviously, it would have been preferable, from a health point of view, that these strict confinement measures were enforced, so that even non-essential businesses - like ours - would close. Although to do this, it would have been necessary for the State to bear the financial impact of such closures, in the short and medium term and the government quickly realised, and so did we, that it could not afford to do this. It became clear that we had to maintain economic activity in the country, while protecting our teams as best as we could.
Starting to see things more clearly
The State's position on the situation became a little clearer; a lockdown was required to ensure that hospitals would not be overwhelmed by the ever increasing number of Coronavirus cases, but economic activity had to continue where possible, because the State would not be able to pay for every single business to put their employees on ‘temporary unemployment’. We probably would have made the same decisions if we were in their very uncomfortable shoes. Nonetheless, we, as public citizens, had to respect their decisions.
During the second week of confinement, (the week of 23rd March), we continued to review our production processes in order to come up with a way to put the necessary security and hygiene measures in place. Following discussions with our staff we agreed to restart production on Tuesday, 31st March. We were sure we were ready, and seeing as the studio had been closed for two weeks this also meant that our teams had been confined to their homes for the recommended maximum incubation period for the virus. We believe that we have done the best we can, in the midst of all these constraints, in the midst of this ‘tsunami’, and in a country where resources are by nature limited.
All of this does mean that it is taking us a little longer to process and print orders and our sales will continue to be far less than we had hoped, but we have to put things into perspective and our sales are not what’s the most important right now. We are just glad we can move forward again.
Staying on course, thanks to you
We must give a big thank you to you all for your messages of support over the past few weeks as they have been one of the things getting us through this uncertain time. Please know that we are thinking of you and appreciate your loyalty now more than ever.
You can help us get through this, by being understanding with our customer service teams if your order, placed before the start of the lockdown, is a little late (we hope to be up to date on orders by the 10th of April). Let us help you take advantage of this time and catch up on those 10 years of photo books you’ve been meaning to get done. We consider ourselves very lucky to be able to count on you even from a distance, while other companies may be going through even more difficult times.
And once this is all finished and we can start over again, we will be able to reunite and believe a little bit more in the going back to basics and sharing our new-found appreciation for the little things in life.
This piece is dedicated to all the health care workers, to whom we are so indebted, and to our printing studio team, without whom we couldn’t keep moving forward.