How Johns Manville reaches non-desk workers as COVID-19 rages

More than two-thirds of its 8,000 employees on three continents staff the floors in manufacturing plants. Signage plays a big part, but so does imbuing the workforce with a sense of purpose.

Reaching workers in manufacturing plants worldwide has never been a walk in the park.

“It’s a challenge today, and frankly it was a challenge before the pandemic,” says Eric Brown, director of corporate comms for Denver-based Johns Manville, and member of the Communications Leadership Council.

Employees working at home because of the pandemic are staying connected through digital means such as Skype, Teams, Webex and good old email.

Hourly workers on manufacturing plant floors don’t have the same digital connections, Brown says. Nor do they have easy access to the company’s internal networks.

The big question, made all the more crucial of late, was, “How do we communicate with this group of employees?”

The answer: Ramp up the visuals.

“Over the past three weeks, we have created lots of posters,” Brown says, “and then, even more posters.”

They focus on different yet related issues.

“We have posters about health and hygiene,” he says, “and we have posters about handwashing, posters about germs, and we have posters about social distancing and face masks.”

In addition to Johns Manville’s own efforts,” Brown says, “we have downloaded and, in many cases modified, posters from the CDC and other health organizations.”

It can’t neglect its workers in Europe and China, of course.

“Much of the content is also translated,” Brown says. “We’ve put all the posters on a special COVID-19 site on our intranet. That way people in our plants can download what they need when they need it.”

Johns Manville staffers compiled a catalog of the posters for easy organization and access.

At many plants, the counterpart to the digital kiosk is a physical presence, such as a bulletin board or even a breakroom wall, where documents and visual elements are posted. At a plant in Germany, the latest updates are printed on yellow paper to distinguish them from the older notices, which are on white sheets of paper.

Another tactic—one aimed at reducing gathering in one spot—is putting a bulletin board on wheels so it can be moved around, affording access to all employees in that location, while promoting social distancing.

To that end as well, visual aids—such as yellow strips and blue spots—have been distributed for use as floor decals and other markers for maintaining ample spacing between employees.

Because manufacturing is deemed an essential business, JM plants remain open.

“Not all our employees agree with that,” Brown says, “and it’s been a challenge in some locations, so we’re trying to connect what they do to something bigger.

“We kicked off a campaign using posters,” Brown says, “and digital signage to help give plant workers a sense of purpose by showing how the products they make are part of the solution to the larger crisis.”

For example, the company produces HVAC insulation that helps make work environments safer in hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores and even other manufacturing plants.

To show gratitude to its hardworking people, Johns Manville launched a “Thank you for keeping America moving” campaign. Similarly, there are German and Slovak versions, tailoring the overriding company message for employees in those locations.

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