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We’re Learning A Lot About What We Can Do

Article by Rich Donnell, Editor-in-Chief, Timber Processing June 2020

A special thank you goes out to the nearly 200 softwood and hardwood lumbermen who completed our annual Sawmill Operations & Capital Expenditure Survey, the results of which range over 43 pages in this issue, and include 40 charts prepared by Shelley Smith of our production department.

A few main points from the survey: After feeling good about where their businesses were heading at the beginning of the year, lumbermen quickly lost those good vibrations once the coronavirus hit. No surprise there. Many of them were planning or just getting into some machinery project work, and a healthy percentage of that group has chosen to move forward with that work, virus be damned, while those who have halted the action for now plan to pick it back up when the dust settles. And for the most part it seems the lumbermen are sensing a positive bounce-back at some point down the road, given that it hasn’t been an economics misfire (hello sub-prime mortgage) to initiate the downward trek this time, but rather some bizarre monster that will eventually be controlled. That is, the monster came first, then the economics.

Usually with our annual survey we run the results of the softwood lumbermen in one issue and the numbers from the hardwood lumbermen in the next. But with so many questions in the survey about the impact of the virus, and given the daily developments we are experiencing ourselves and reading about with regard to the virus, we felt waiting even another month would render some of the data as dated. Heck, some of it may be anyway. As one lumberman said, it’s difficult making decisions about your operations and employees based on information that is nearly obsolete and changing almost as soon as you make those decisions.

As with every business in the world, we’ve made our adjustments – a core group of employees still manning the office and the others mostly working from home. I’ve been working from home, mainly because I didn’t want to add another body in our editorial office, and because I’m able to work effectively from home. The technology in the publishing world easily allows the editor to work from one site, and the production director to work from another site, and other editors and production personnel to work from their respective sites. One thing I quickly noticed is the improvement in our efficiencies toward meeting magazine deadlines – in fact we’ve been beating deadlines by a day or two. I think part of the reason is because those of us who are working at home never venture far from our computers and laptops, and so our production never really ceases. (For example, it’s 6:50 p.m. on a Saturday and I’m writing this column, when I should be watching a baseball game.)

A leader of a large forest products company with several sawmills said to me their plants seems to be running better because there’s less distraction, and meanwhile their corporate group has adapted to WFH well. “The experience has forced all of us to learn how to better use our IT based knowledge systems to keep driving continuous improvement,” he said. (When he sent the e-mail I have to confess I didn’t know what WFH meant, until I googled it.)

We all want to get back to physical social interaction, distractions or not, but businesses are noticing and have even been pleasantly surprised by how some results have been enhanced. Certainly a portion of this will find its way into the modus operandi post-coronavirus.

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