Standardization News

Organizational Resilience: Member Perspectives

ASTM International members agree that in our current virtual environment, standards work thrives.
By: 
Cicely Enright

How do organizations become resilient? By planning and preparing before any disruption ever takes place.

But resilience goes further than just business continuity, which can be characterized by a plan-do-check-act cycle that helps ensure readiness for unexpected occurrences. 

Resilience takes in processes and products — and people.

ASTM International members have shown resilience over and over in the 15 months since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The processes put in place to facilitate the mission of “Helping Our World Work Better” have been used, and the business of standards never paused. But it’s the people who make the difference.

Laura Hernandez, director of Verity Labs Inc., is an officer of the forensic sciences committee (E30) and also works on the cannabis committee (D37). She sums it up this way: “We’re all passionate people, or we wouldn’t show up.”

READ MORE: A Resilient Organization

Let’s take a look at some perspectives on resilience from ASTM’s membership.

Standards Development

Thomas Walsh, Walsh Consulting Services, is involved in several committees, including cannabis (D37), plastics (D20), fire standards (E05), and more. He says, “The need hasn’t changed. I don’t think work is slowing down.”

As an example, Walsh points to the critical need for cannabis standards as countries change their legislative stances on its medical or recreational use. In response, cannabis committee members — more than 1,000 — are driving to advance and complete needed documents. “The pace of ballots is almost a constant stream,” he says. As of March, the committee had completed close to two dozen standards since organizing in 2017, with many more underway. 

Another example comes from the committee on personal protective clothing and equipment (F23). With mask-wearing now essential worldwide, the committee responded to the need for a barrier face-covering standard by completing one in just seven months. The resulting specification for barrier face coverings (F3502) addresses minimum design, performance, labeling, and care. The new the Global Collaboration Forum for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has also kicked off to further communication and outreach, partnerships, and innovation in these areas.

Brian Shiels is a senior PPE engineer at ArcWear, an F23 officer, a member of additional protective gear committees, and an ASTM board member. He has been involved in the barrier face-covering standard and additional related work and says, “The industries we serve have always been essential, so we have had to continue to do our day jobs. For F23, it has almost been business as usual.”

FOR YOU: PPE Efforts Accelerate

That holds true for many ASTM International committees and members, who continue to contribute to the process.

In March, the consumer products committee (F15) completed the specification for marketing, packaging, and labeling adult magnet sets containing small, loose, powerful magnets (with a flux index ≥50 kg2 mm2) (F3458). The standard supports child safety through labeling and warning information for these magnets. 

And these are just a few of the many new and revised standards completed over the last several months. 

Agnes Winokur is associate laboratory director, Drug Enforcement Administration, at the U.S. Department of Justice, and forensic sciences committee vice chair. Of standards work overall, she says that her members advance the field of forensic sciences through standards. And of the all-virtual environment, she says, “I think it is each other’s energy that keeps us going with full force. We are staying strong and committed as we navigate together through this new normal.”

Standards help save lives, notes John Crocker, business development manager at SDL Atlas Textile Testing Solutions and chair of the 700+ member textiles committee (D13). That’s a tremendous motivation for standards development. He says the ASTM system verifies that testing standards are effective and fit for purpose, including D13 standards referenced in other mask and gown standards. “The members of D13 not only develop these standards, but they also use them and know that their work is important to solving this crisis and getting everything back to the new normal,” he says. 

Tools for the Work

The challenge of the standards process is also its beauty, according to Shiels. It ensures due process, and due process takes time. Supporting the process and participation are a number of online capabilities, many developed specifically for ASTM International standards work.

The tools enable participation 24/7 — anytime, from anywhere — and have been implemented and refined over time. (This year, a cross-divisional staff group is evaluating virtual platforms and investigating others to ensure the usefulness of what is offered.)

Many groups had already embraced a virtual component, making use of Webex and conference calls for regular meetings in between (or including) a full committee’s yearly or twice-yearly gatherings. (Guides to using Webex for meetings can be found HERE. If you have questions, please check with your staff manager.) 

Fully remote work has been a natural, if not fully welcome, extension. “We were prepared for this whether we knew it or not,” Shiels says. “The infrastructure was in place.”

At times, completely virtual standards development has come with unexpected benefits. Melanie Thom says, “Strangely, going virtual has meant more participation on my part because I have it at my desk. I slide it in among other work activities. And when you are a volunteer, being able to continue to work is critical. I feel more able to fulfill my committee responsibilities because of the ASTM e-support.” Thom is president of Baere Aerospace Consulting and a member at large on the executive subcommittee of the committee on petroleum products, liquid fuels, and lubricants (D02).

Other members note the usefulness of MyASTM offerings. “It’s easy to put an agenda together with the online tools,” Walsh says. 

Victoria Bunchek agrees: “The tools for general meeting organization are the most helpful. They help in bringing things to ballot: agendas, minutes,” she says. Bunchek is a lubrication program consultant for Trico Corp. and also a member of the petroleum products committee.

For the forensic sciences committee, electronic balloting itself spurs standards development, according to Hernandez. She says much of their work has progressed virtually in recent years, with balloting playing a significant part. “A lot of development ends up happening in balloting. As a result, you might capture viewpoints you wouldn’t get with in-person development,” Hernandez says. “We do a lot of balloting.”

Richard Culbertson, chair of the asset management committee (E53), agrees that the electronic balloting system is important. “The electronic tools of ASTM are great. The most important are the tools for easy voting – the reminders for voting and the handling of negatives,” he says. “The ASTM electronic tools are effective and efficient — and operate to high standards, as we would expect from ASTM.” 

Other members cite collaboration areas, ASTM’s specially developed virtual workspace for standards development (and administrative functions, too), as essential. With the capabilities of posting drafts, commenting, choosing milestone dates, involving both members and nonmembers, and emailing participants, collaboration areas are tailor-made for their purpose.

John Hadjioannou, P.E., is chair of the wear and erosion committee (G02), a member of the Committee on Standards, and principal/managing member, EPI Materials Testing Group. He summarizes it this way: “The robust virtual tools, collaboration, and virtual meeting platforms have seamlessly allowed our committee to continue our mission statement and grow our committee membership.” 

Virtual workshops and larger programs have been successful as well. Stephen Spiegelberg, Ph.D., president of Cambridge Polymer Group and secretary of the committee on medical and surgical materials and devices (F04), highlights last fall’s virtual PPE workshop sponsored by the F04 and F23 committees. “In a few short months, members from both committees put together a two-day workshop on reprocessing PPE, testing PPE, and manufacturing new PPE, all to address pandemic-induced shortages of PPE. This work, which involved establishing the scope, sending out the request for papers, reviewing submissions, organizing the speaker order, and finally executing the workshop, was all done remotely. The workshop went off without a hitch and we had attendees on the order of 400-500 each day.” 

RELATED: How to Lead a Virtual Task Group

The ASTM International Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence’s flagship program, the International Conference on Additive Manufacturing, also pivoted to a completely online program in 2020 and drew nearly 600 participants from 30 countries. The conference featured several management and industry-related tracks with dozens of presentations and live panels.

Missing the Face-to-Face

“There is a certain rhythm to the work. Over the years our work has been largely decentralized, so even with dealing with COVID-19, there has not been much change in our work pattern,” says Culbertson.

Even so, members agree, they miss face-to-face meetings, and there are challenges specific to an all-virtual environment.

“The biggest challenge has not been getting lost in the miasma of Zoom calls and email, but rather prioritizing the work,” Bunchek notes.

Members mention that they miss the side and spontaneous conversations that often advance the work, shop talk over a cup of coffee, unwinding together informally after meetings in the lobby or at dinner, connecting with old colleagues and new – even continuing a meeting through a break or after it’s scheduled to end. 

In addition, nonverbal signals can’t be seen as easily in a virtual environment — the look in someone’s eyes or a body language signal. And dialog, impacted by virtual meeting technologies, has given way to more formal or stilted exchanges.

But the reality is that standards are always needed to underpin the goods and services of the marketplace. The tools are there, and, members add, ASTM staff support — especially staff managers, as several members note — has been essential and welcome.

A bit of extra care has its place as well. “With all the extra emails and meetings we have right now, we recognize we can be scattered. So we check: Where are we in the process?” Hernandez says. 

Walsh adds, “I always try to inject some humor, even in this virtual environment.” 

Connections

“How people have come together to make this work has been great,” Bunchek says. “It’s about the unity we feel and the connections.”

Daniel Smith, ASTM’s vice president of technical committee operations, agrees: “It’s the people — members and staff — that make this organization great, and it has never been more evident than in this past year.”

“In this day and age, with so many international suppliers, ASTM standards are more important than ever, offering tools that will confirm the quality of materials. The society needs input,” Crocker says. “Please join and attend!” ■

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Issue Month: 
May/June
Issue Year: 
2021