BR REMOTE INTERVIEWS | Thomas Schiefer, Managing Director at ZIROM

Mihai Cristea 26/03/2020 | 18:02

In this period of crisis caused by the recent Coronavirus outbreak, when many organizations have responsibly decided to allow employees to work remotely, Business Review talked with some of Romania’s top business professionals to find out how they’re managing the current situation, for their companies and employees, as well as for themselves personally.


What actions is your company taking during this time, how is it managing the crisis situation for the employees and the organization?

The first priority for us is to keep our employees, partners and their families save as far as we can. We have put measures in place to accomplish that and we did so relatively early for example by separating our two locations Giurgiu and Bucharest and working via our online communication facilities. This was the time when there were no registered cases in Giurgiu and the increase of cases in Bucharest was already happening. We put strict controlled access to our production facility in place to reduce the risk.  In parallel we informed and are informing as transparently as possible about all the developments, actions as the biggest problem is the uncertainty, panic, which has developed in some places. Obviously we have made available all the materials, which are deemed helpful in this situation, to our employees.

The second priority is to keep economic harm away from the company. We are producing Titanium products for export and depend not only on the situation in Romania, but mainly on the situation in many European and Asian countries. ZIROM has a very close relationship to all its partners and this helps now to have very open and frank discussions with each of them. We didn’t have any order cancellations so far and keep producing at the usual rate. Our geographic diversity allows us a certain flexibility and we will be able to manage perhaps better when certain parts of the world will reduce the currently imposed restrictions. The same applies for our raw material suppliers in Japan, China and Germany. So far we get all the materials with a slight delay and have planned and are prepared for the next 2 -3 months ahead. ZIROM is used to act internationally and we can handle this so far without damaging our business. We need to see how this very dynamic situation evolves.

It is important that everybody gets its priorities right and undisciplined and selfish behaviour will extend and aggravate the crisis, which we are facing as a global community. Globalisation will nevertheless not disappear but will become even better synchronised and capable of coping with this kind of events.


What solutions have you identified in order to keep things moving? What tools do you use, how do you communicate with your teams, how do you organize client interactions?

These events are something we didn’t foresee. Nevertheless we worked on virtualizing the workplaces and securing our network for the last two years. We are looking now at systems, which took time to implement We use in particular Cisco Unified Communications with Jabber, which use for video calls, text messages and phone calls to and from our partners. Then we use Cisco Meeting Server (CMS), where we have set up virtual meeting rooms and where we can organise virtual meetings for up to 50 people. We use Webex Cloud for meetings with our customers, suppliers and other external partners so that we can still see each other face-to-face. All this has allowed us to restrict physical contact and to be still in a good working condition without too many problems. Investing into professional rock-solid solutions shows its merit in difficult times and I’m really happy that we did all that.

The worry is obviously for our production  / maintenance / lab personnel and the people managing this personnel as we can only take contact minimization up to a point. There are taken all precautions to keep everybody safe in the current situation but also to keep securing the future. Just to name some measures, we implemented Social Distancing at all times, check body temperature at entering the production site, reoganised the transport to and from work and adjusted to the necessary precautions, provide disinfectants, cleaning agents, gloves etc. We communicate daily via various channels with our employees in order to keep them well informed and not to fall for misinformation, which is partially spread in society.


How are you affected by the current situation, what contingency plans do you have to mitigate the damage?

At the moment everything takes a little more time and deliveries to and from the company need to be planned with 3 – 5 days reserve, which we didn’t need before that. Other than that we work as normal for the time being. Contingency planning we have in place for all necessary materials etc and work with a certain reserve. If we get to the point where all non-essential companies are ordered to stop production or if we have an infection within the company and we have to close for some time, we are to some extent prepared with our finance providers. It is very difficult to ascertain how long such a stoppage would last and therefore difficult to provide for it.

We work quite intensively on preparations for the time after the crisis as far as we can predict today what is going to be the situation then. One of the major points is to work on extending the opportunities around the globe and to be able to distribute the risks. We shouldn’t become reactive but try to stay on top of the situation.


What did your work day look like a month ago, and what is it like today? 

First of all, my work day has become even longer than before as this crisis brings more topics and crisis management, which need to be dealt with every day. Then, the next change Is, that we do everything via VC / phone. Some of it I would prefer to do via face-to-face discussions as systems can’t replace fully the human component of communication. A month ago I would also have travelled as again business development needs to be done by understanding the new business partner, getting on the same page with him and, in our case, also to immerse into his / the country’s cultural background. It is an essential part of our business and its lack will become even more felt over time.


Do you have a corporate social responsibility program for the current crisis?

No, we don’t but we are very much aware of the hardships, worries and questions, which our employees are faced with. Together with the colleagues from HR, Health & Safety, Finance we are working continuously to calibrate our measures in such a way, that we keep protection, safety, health of all our employees on the one hand and the economic future of all of us on the other hand in balance. We are not planning any restrictive measures for the moment as we didn’t reduce production and we will fine-tune any future measures as well as possible in line with the two aims.  We take our social responsibility very serious and are very careful not to cause any unnecessary hardships.


Did you have a work from home program implemented before the crisis?

We had employees working from remote locations also before to some extent. For example we used our systems for meetings and individual discussions during travel, expositions etc. There were also people working from home from time to time as we were quite flexible with working arrangements if all the necessary tasks were done in the right quality at the right time. So, we didn’t start from scratch now.


Do you have employees that did not want to work from home?

No, everybody was onboard and is working well within these constraints. A big compliment to the ZIROM team, which took this in the most professional way and works at full capacity from home. I believe that all this are extremely serious times and everyone should take this as a way of staying protected and being able to continue to make a meaningful contribution to the future.

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