The last weeks have seen governments across Europe outlining plans to slowly ease COVID-19 restrictions, with some activities cautiously resuming in May. While many industries are celebrating this as great news, which it is, at TenCate Protective Fabrics we’re also pragmatic about the remaining longer-term restrictions which will continue to affect the way we live and work.
As we look beyond the immediate crisis and wonder what’s next, we realise that there’s no quick fix. We’re approaching a new reality, one in which work will look and operate differently from what we’re used to — one in which we believe transparency is key. As we attempt to sketch an idea of what work will look like for us as COVID-19 restrictions ease, a number of questions have guided our thought process forward. By sharing these questions with you, we invite you to join us in shaping the journey we share ahead.
1. How do we stay true to our values?
At the beginning of the pandemic, we worked quickly and creatively to adapt the way our entire organisation works in order to comply with new COVID-19 protocols — while making sure that our company values formed the North Star to these changes. On April 28, World Day for Safety and Health at Work, we paused to reflect on our continued commitment to ensuring that the working environment we provide all our employees is a safe one, and on a larger scale, our commitment to ensuring swift distribution of protective workwear to those fighting the virus at the frontlines — regardless of location or market.
Thanks to the quick adjustments we made early in the game, we’ve been able to continue production. For those of us working from home, we’ve noticed more focus, and believe it or not, a higher quality of interaction with each other because of the intention that’s required to collaborate remotely. As restrictions ease and more of us can go back to work, we’re curious how the 1.5 meter distance requirement will affect TenCate Protective Fabrics’ day to day operations.
2. How do we connect with end users?
At TenCate Protective Fabrics, we’re strongly committed to the needs of our end users. They are always our starting point, and we believe they’re also the key to our success. In the past months, connecting with end users has been a challenge to say the least.
We’ve been looking at new ways to carry out end user research, just like many others in the PPE value chain. With new technology comes new considerations, however. Take the new developments which would allow garment makers to take measurements virtually, for instance. While digital fittings are a brilliant solution to COVID-19 restrictions, they would need to be highly secured to provide sufficient privacy.
3. How can we help our clients feel and see our products?
While TenCate Protective Fabrics has built expertise on the entire protective workwear value chain, at the end of day we manufacture physical products. Many industries have moved their commerce online since the pandemic began, but there’s a caveat for us — no virtual experience can replicate feeling and seeing fabric in real life. It’s essential to choose colours in daylight, and feel the way the fabrics move in your hand.
Of course, we can deliver fabric swatches to clients in the post, but it’s not quite the same as being there with them as they experience our products. That’s the thing: we’ve never believed in hard sales. For us, sales is very experiential. That’s why we’re currently on the hunt for creative ways to provide new clients with the personal, customised experience our existing clients appreciate so much.
4. How can we adapt the way we innovate?
It’s tempting to say that TenCate Protective Fabrics is one of the lucky ones, but that would be an incomplete assessment of the landscape ahead. Yes, the big computer-operated machines which form the backbone of our production don’t need many people to keep them running. But while we’ve been able to carry on production of our existing portfolio, it’s been challenging to continue projects in development at the high tempo we’re used to.
One of our core values is innovating for the future. We operate a continual iteration loop to make our products better, but to iterate we need to connect with our end users and collaborate closely with each other. The development stage typically includes extensive interaction with end users, including wear trial sessions and interviews that help us understand how we can adapt our products to their needs. End user research works differently in the new reality. The distancing restrictions also place certain limits on the way our engineers are able to collaborate together on physical prototypes. Innovation is still an integral part of our new reality, it’s just happening in different ways.
5. How can we stay on top of all the changes?
Even as restrictions ease, it’s clear that the global economy will continue to be affected for some time. So, rather than continuing to maintain strategies that aren’t relevant anymore, we’re choosing to go back to the drawing board and start afresh. By staying flexible and thinking outside the box, we’ll be able to pivot quickly as the dust settles.
With so many industries reeling from COVID-19 measures, it’s understandable that some have drastically shifted back to the basics. As companies pare down expenditures to just the bare necessities, investing in innovation may not be their first priority right now. No one’s health and safety at work should ever be compromised or suffer, so that’s why TenCate Protective Fabrics is committed to sharing its knowledge with anyone who might benefit from our expertise in protective fabrics.
Navigating the new reality together
As we continue to navigate the effects of the pandemic on our teams, our end users, and our partners, we’re well aware that there’s no going back to normal in the near future. It won’t be a simple case of putting on a mask and getting back to business as usual. Our new reality will operate differently from what we’re used to. Thankfully, we believe the months of creative problem-solving behind us will serve us well.
As we anticipate how the easing of COVID-19 restrictions will affect all aspects of the work we do, we don’t claim to have all the solutions yet. Let’s continue instead to ask the tough questions together, so we can help each other find innovative ways to thrive as our world slowly emerges from this crisis.