The pandemic has had an unprecedented national and global impact, including on 1366’s business. The outbreak has made clear what we’ve always known: innovation can’t happen in isolation. Social distancing is an essential component of combatting transmission but it also hurts communication and hampers innovation. The inability to operate our equipment and advance R&D has led to an estimated loss of $3M in productivity and a significant loss of time. In our industry, time is of particular concern as 1366 is in a race to bring solutions to market that can have a meaningful impact on climate change and energy poverty.
Access to the facility is vital, and we’ve made several investments to ensure the collective safety of our team and our community. The effort to reopen considered the various ways the crisis could manifest in both the short and long term. While uncertainty from the pandemic remains, our team has a flexible plan to help it navigate this challenge.
Here’s how the timeline for our “new now” unfolded:
- In February, the impact of Covid-19 begins to hit our office. Our supply chain in China shuts down. As confirmed cases continue to rise and the impact at home begins to show, our project timelines begin to slip.
- On March 23, Governor Baker orders all non-essential businesses to close, and 1366 makes the difficult decision to furlough its team. Because the majority of our team works with complicated, highly-proprietary equipment or in laboratories, the ability to work from home is not an option and the facility shuts down. Though the team is furloughed, 1366 continues to pay health insurance and sets up a loan program to assist any employees who run into financial hardship.
- While on furlough and as the virus begins to peak in Massachusetts, 1366 team members monitor publicly available health data and volunteer to procure and donate thousands of masks and other forms of PPE equipment to those in need. All supplies, many of which were secured through our office in China, are given to Boston hospitals, local first responders and our 1366 colleagues adhering to the Governor’s orders to reside safely at home. The decision to deliver masks and gloves to our employees proves provident and occurs well in advance of instructions for the public to wear face coverings. Following our last shipment to the Boston Medical Center, not a single mask remained in the 1366 building.
- In April, 1366 learns of Governor Baker’s decision to adjust definitions for essential businesses to include renewable energy, solar and activities supporting manufacturing. The new definition grants 1366 essential status, affirmed by our partners and legal counsel, and company leadership immediately begins to tackle the details for a safe reopen, creating a thorough game plan of its own in the absence of any template and before OSHA guidelines become available. The plan includes requisites for workplace sanitization and cleaning, building upgrades (such as air filter replacements), building occupancy reductions and the promotion of social distancing while at work, as well as supportive PTO policies.
- On April 20, a small team of 1366 volunteers returns to payroll to ready the facility for colleagues. It’s a significant effort relative to shutting down operations and requires the recommissioning of machines, dry-runs for facility cleaning to identify any gaps in the plan and small gestures for welcoming back colleagues – homemade hand sanitizer, coffee thermoses and individual packets of snacks on desks make reentry easier.
- On April 27, the majority 1366 employees return to the payroll and the facility conducts a soft open with an initial set of team members who volunteer to return to the building. By mid-May, everyone is back on payroll and most of the team returns to the office.
- On June 1, Governor Baker allows offices to reopen, and all 1366 employees are back in the facility according to an assigned shift, which sharply reduces the population density in the building. The team on the morning shift wakes up at 4 am while the team on the evening shift goes to bed after midnight. The new normal is far from perfect and asks even more of our colleagues. Shifts, in particular, introduce a hardship for our team members with families
- With the New England summer upon us, new initiatives are underway to allow our team to conduct meetings and brainstorm outside: Adirondack chairs and custom-designed picnic tables help to safely bring team members together and encourage the vital collaboration that is sorely missed among colleagues.
- Despite implementing a gold standard program for safety and having our team back in the office, it is difficult to achieve the same levels of productivity vital to our success. The furlough was particularly challenging for the company as costs persisted but progress stopped.
The measures we are taking to minimize the risk of transmission to our employees have a negative impact on productivity. The venture, like so many others, continues to pay a price. 1366 remains determined, however, to emerge stronger than before.