Cohen Architectural Woodworking adopts seven-step plan to deal with COVID-19
April 20, 2020 | 4:57 pm CDT
Before entering the plant each day, workers at Cohen Architectural Woodworking in St. James, Missouri, must be tested for fever and high temperatures as part of a seven-step plan to deal with COVID-19.

SAINT JAMES, Mo. – One prominent architectural woodwork firm has developed a straightforward seven-step plan to keep safely working during the COVID-19 crisis.

Cohen Architectural Woodworking, is a design/build woodworking firm that supplies custom cabinetry and millwork nationwide, developed a plan so it not only could successfully work through the economic downturn caused by the virus, but also maintain full staffing and safe work conditions for all of its 88 employees.

“We will make it through this because we are anchored in our core values. We are a little village helping each other. The strength of our company is with our people,” said Phillip Cohen, Founder and CEO. 

In an effort to help other woodworking operations, they wanted to share their Seven-Step Plan:

Step 1: Address the situation early. Cohen began responding to the threat early in March by assigning three key team members to do research and meet daily, and work with an human resources attorney.

Cohen sent 23 office staffers home to work remotely. Only six essential employees operate from Cohen headquarters. All participate in daily and weekly meetings via Zoom and other virtual applications.

Step 2: Quickly adopt remote working. Cohen sent 23 office staffers home to work remotely. Only six essential employees operate from Cohen headquarters. All participate in daily and weekly meetings via Zoom and other virtual applications.

Even with it fully functioning, the plant looks empty because Cohen split the plant workers into two shifts to aid social distancing.

Step 3: Split shifts for safety. Some 59 plant workers, who were working Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., were separated into two shifts. Thirty-four, Assigned to Team One, 34 employees work from 5 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. The other 25 work from 2:30 p.m. until 11 p.m.

Step 4: Check temperatures, social distance. Before entering the plant each day, workers must be tested for fever and high temperatures, and use hand sanitizers. Inside the plant, workers are spread out, easily maintaining social distancing in the 54,000 square foot facility.

Step 5: Special projects. To keep workers sharp and motivated, as well as maintain fluidity and a professional edge during the downturn, management assigned the plant team several special tasks. In addition to maintaining production for client orders these include an office remodel and rearranging the plant to make it more efficient.

Step 6: Collaborate with area businesses. Cohen continues to modify its approach as needed. It participates with other business owners in the Saint James area, mostly in manufacturing and transportation, to share best practices.

Step 7. Limit physical interaction. The company maintains safety standards on the exterior of the facility with drop-off of products and supplies by delivery services with little or no human interaction. Cash flow is preserved by limiting the number of projects and fees of outside vendors.

Even in presenting awards, the company maintains a policy of social distancing.

To date there have been no layoffs at Cohen and none of the employees is known to have contracted the virus. The firm is actually looking to add to its workforce depending on the qualifications of job applicants.

“We have a healthy and established culture with an emphasis on caring for all team members, keeping them strong and focused. We will come out better on the other side when this is over,” Cohen said.

Founded in 1982, Cohen Architectural Woodworking is a family-owned architectural design/build woodworking firm headquartered in St. James, Missouri. Cohen standardizes and builds high-quality custom millwork components and casework for healthcare, airports, education, retail, transportation, hotels, and more, for new construction, renovation, and disaster reconstruction.

“Two things are obvious to anyone walking through our doors–we care about relationships and we care about excellence,” said Cohen. The firm has won multiple awards including the Architectural Woodwork Institute’s Award of Excellence for six separate projects, and the 2016 Small Business of the Year award from the Rolla Chamber of Commerce.

Recently, Phillip Cohen, President and Founder, was presented with the 2017 SBA Small Business Person of the Year award for the State of Missouri and was given a Lifetime Achievement Award while being named to the St. Louis Small Business Hall of Fame.

Additional accolades include qualifying for the Inc. 5000, named to the list of Best Places to Work by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and named a Top Family Owned Business by St. Louis Small Business Monthly. For more information visit


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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.