People & Perspectives

A Day in the Life at WBA: Warehouses across the world during COVID-19

The pandemic has changed work and life for a Walgreens distribution center manager in Windsor, Wis., and a Boots warehouse picker in Nottingham, England.

Workers at U.S. distribution center smiling at the camera

Tim Schmelzer

In Tim Schmelzer’s 47 years with Walgreens, he’s never seen toilet paper fly off of the shelves faster than he has in the last month. And paper towels, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer – you name it. Schmelzer, function manager at Walgreens distribution center in Windsor, Wis., talks about how his team has risen to the COVID-19 challenge.

During the last month or so, our team members have volunteered to stay late, changed course as the situation evolves and supported one another throughout it all. Some people refer to it as “Midwestern work ethic.” To us, it’s just what we do.

The pace is new, though. Lately we’ve had to fill emergency orders on a daily basis, helping to get much-needed items to our stores as quickly as possible. As a function manager at our distribution center – one of 17 locations across the U.S. – I help to make sure the building’s technology, even down to the telephones, runs smoothly. This is critical so our warehouse team members, who process, pick, pack and ship product orders around the clock, can continue to serve 871 Walgreens stores in five states.

What’s changed because of the virus

We’ve put many safety measures in place throughout the building – regular cleaning of high-traffic areas such as restrooms, break rooms, locker rooms, cubbies and offices. One of the other things we’ve done is open up our auditorium for additional space for people to take breaks while practicing social distancing. We have a planning meeting every morning that we've relocated to part of the auditorium, so we can spread out. We do other meetings by phone instead of in offices. And we've canceled non-essential meetings altogether.

My role in helping customers

We provide a valuable service of keeping as much product in stores as we can – especially the things customers are running out of lately, like cleaning supplies. Walgreens traditionally has these items, and we’re in nearly every community in America. But these are unprecedented times, and it’s painful to see empty shelves. So the message we're trying to send by working so hard to stock our stores is that we're supporting the customer … that we care about the customer.

General warehouse team member Clayton Adams (left) and group supervisor Andrea Moore move a pallet stacked with paper towels at the Walgreens distribution center in Jupiter, Fla.
General warehouse team member Clayton Adams (left) and group supervisor Andrea Moore move a pallet stacked with paper towels at the Walgreens distribution center in Jupiter, Fla.

Team members are my customers, too

Some of the emergency orders we’ve had recently are for items meant for our team members in stores. One Sunday afternoon, we got an order for cleaning supplies that we needed to get to 1,352 stores – some in Florida and Texas, more than our usual. We had a voluntary workforce come in to help. One of the things this distribution center has always had is extremely hard-working team members. Everyone understands this is unprecedented, so people were just working together and supporting each other. We got five truckloads shipped out within 24 hours. The other day, I was shopping in a Walgreens store, and the customer service associate was cleaning the checkout constantly. It’s important for customers coming into our stores to see store team members actively cleaning in an effort to keep not just themselves safe, but also our customers. Knowing that part of my role is providing these cleaning supplies in order for that to be done … it’s big.

My responsibility as a caretaker

My mother is older, and I'm her primary caretaker. She and her partner live alone in a house, and I stop there every morning on my way to work and again after work to help them and make sure they have their meals delivered. I’m taking as many precautions as I can so that I’m not putting them at risk.

How I decompress

For me, the best way is by taking a walk outside. I live in downtown Madison, and sometimes it’s hard to find a parking space on my block. At work, I park far away from the building – the equivalent of about two city blocks. So I park, and then I walk. It gives me an opportunity to collect my thoughts.

How I stay positive

Whether you’re worried about child care, the potential risk of getting sick or fulfilling a responsibility as a manager or as a caretaker, fear is a totally rational response. I think a lot of people are afraid, and there are times where I'm afraid, too. I try to be as understanding as possible, as patient as possible. We're all in this together. We don't have all the answers, but we need to be kind to one another. Having a positive outlook, not just at work but outside of work, can do a lot for a person’s ability to stay healthy. As much as it’s body, it's mind.

Lisa Shaw

Lisa Shaw, warehouse picker at Boots in Nottingham, England, explains the many measures taken to help ensure colleagues can stay safe and support each other during this challenging time.


Safety First

Arriving at the warehouse for work is a completely different experience now. There are a lot of new measures in place that are helping us keep safe. Hand sanitizer and wipes are available at the entrance and many points throughout the building, and a quick temperature scan before entering helps to check that everyone is feeling well. A dedicated cleaning team is also making sure that surfaces such as railings, keyboards and door handles are washed every day.

From a distance

Our morning huddles have been postponed, and colleague shifts have been staggered so that there are not a lot of people congregating around the turnstiles when arriving or leaving. Markings on the floor serve as further reminders to keep social distance, and we’ve changed how we sit in the canteen (cafeteria) with only one person allowed per table. Even the stair system has changed to being one way. Colleagues have be great at sticking to those rules even if it’s difficult (we’re social people!). Boots has really put everything in place to help make sure we are as safe as possible and that we feel looked after.

General warehouse team member Clayton Adams (left) and group supervisor Andrea Moore move a pallet stacked with paper towels at the Walgreens distribution center in Jupiter, Fla.

All in it together

I’ve worked here for seven years and I love coming to work. At a time like this, it’s only bringing colleagues closer together. If you’ve got something on your mind or are worried about an issue, you can talk to a team member because we’re all going through this together. So even though we have to be physically distant, it’s pulling our teams closer. You find yourself having conversations and checking in with people you wouldn’t usually speak to, asking if they’re alright and how they are coping. It’s in the back of my mind the whole time, and it’s not just one person going through it, it’s everybody. I found I have also spoken to my family a lot more, even if it’s by phone call rather than face to face.

Thinking positively

I feel lucky to be at work, as I know a lot of others are on furlough or unable to work at the moment. We are still delivering our service and doing our part to support stores, pharmacists, doctors and even the National Health Service (NHS). I try to think positively and enjoy my free time outside of work, for example gardening when it’s sunny, painting the house, taking the dog for a walk, or working with my husband on our motorbikes. At times like this, you can learn how strong you are and how to find ways to support others to think positively, too. There’s a lot we can do to help each other, and it’s important that we talk about the good things, such as the wonderful support of our colleagues and the sense of togetherness that this situation has reinforced.