The global pandemic has made life interesting for all of us, both on a personal level, and in our work lives. Many companies have had to cope with furloughs, remote work, and how to keep essential employees safe in the workplace. New strategies are sometimes formed week to week as we work to accommodate all the changes necessary for our employees, vendors, and customers.
For many companies, COVID has presented an opportunity, and an obligation, to rethink the way we work. How we manage and view our workforce has become center stage for many manufacturers, and many are looking at their options to become a more agile, fluid, and resilient organization.
Whether it’s new health and safety protocols, working remotely, collaborating differently, adjusting supply chains, or improving overall communication, this ‘new normal’ is a challenge for many manufacturers. While we all want to believe that many of these changes are just temporary, the pandemic has permanently changed how many of us work now and how we will work in the future.
Here are a few of the things that have helped our company cope and adapt to the ‘new normal’.
Communication has always been an important aspect of running a successful organization, even before COVID. With so many of us now working remotely, effective communication is one of the most important things you can do for your organization to keep employees connected to the company, the work, and other employees.
As a result of the pandemic, many companies are changing the ways they communicate with employees. Checking in with individual employees happens with much more regularity. In organizations where there was previously centralized communication with employee groups, managers are doing more one-on-one conversations and taking regular pulse checks with individual employees.
In addition, lots of manufacturers and other companies are utilizing alternate ways of keeping their employees connected. Whether it’s using an intranet or employee-only website to disseminate information, or using Zoom to engage employees in a virtual “Happy Hour”, businesses are getting creative with their communications strategies.
Regardless of how you connect, helping employees feel as if they are valued in your organization is probably the most important aspect of internal communications. Employees want to feel that they matter and the that work they do is important.
For many manufacturers, the workforce has been forced to split between on-site work and remote work. Some functions in a company, such as accounting, marketing, and sales, are easily adapted to working remotely. Other work functions, such as operations, must continue to work at a manufacturing facility, even during a situation such as the one we’re currently in with COVID. Without employees continuing to do the work of producing goods and getting them to the marketplace, there would be no manufacturing.
But this type of situation presents some very interesting complications. We recently discussed some of the health and safety issues facing manufacturers and their essential workers, but there are also some challenges in having a large part of your workforce working remotely.
Keeping remote workers engaged in the organization can be very difficult in this type of environment, especially if they’ve always worked on-site in your organization. It’s easy for remote workers to feel disconnected from their co-workers and from the work, and this is were we go back to communication. Video conferencing, collaborating across departments, and personalizing your individual communications are all great tools to help remote employees feel like they’re still part of the team.
One thing you don’t often hear experts talk about with regard to remote work, is how on-site employees feel about those who are allowed (or forced) to work from home. Before COVID, remote work was considered a perk or reward that those folks working on the operations or production side of the house would never get. For many manufacturing companies, there has always been a bit of friction about remote workers and it wasn’t worth the headache.
Since the pandemic began, however, we’ve seen the mindset shift tremendously. On-site workers now see themselves as essential and the attitude towards remote workers has become more resigned. Some work is better done remotely, and some employees work better remotely. COVID has changed attitudes and remote work has been adopted across many different industries, including manufacturing.
In some ways, that shift in attitude helps both on-site and remote workers stay engaged with each other and with the company. Over the last few months, simply trying to keep everything moving during a pandemic has helped keep everyone engaged, but there are other things you can do to keep the momentum going.
- Cross-departmental collaboration ensures that employees stay connected.
- Leadership and management must lead by example, whether a remote or on-site employee.
- Connecting through internal virtual events like morning coffee, virtual mentoring, and virtual “Happy Hour” help to maintain positive work relationships.
When the pandemic began, many people believed that we’d all be back to work and the country would open back up in a few weeks. Well, it’s been months now.
Some states still haven’t fully opened back up, a lot of employers haven’t brought their furloughed employees back to work yet, and a lot of companies still have their employees temporarily working remotely. In many locations throughout the country, this situation isn’t set to change soon.
Personally, many of us find the situation exhausting. Professionally, it can be difficult to keep the energy up within your organization. After all, suddenly having large portions of your company’s workforce working remotely can be a little depressing. Having that situation last months longer than expected can have a real dampening effect on everyone.
Again, communication is key to keeping the team energized, but there are also some other things that will help:
- Connect to employees personally and let them know that what they do matters.
- Collaborate across departments about key initiatives, policies, meetings, etc. Make sure you’re inclusive.
- Lead by example, whether working remotely or on-site.
- Acknowledge hard work on a regular basis.
- Create special projects that get employees involved.
Coping with this ‘new normal’ comes with a lot of challenges. As a manufacturer, you’ve likely made adjustments to vendors, supply chains, and in how you work with your customers. You’ve probably also had to make a lot of adjustments to how you work with your employees. Keeping essential workers safe, furloughing workers, and remote work situations have forced us all to build new strategies to make it all work.
For many of us, COVID has created an opportunity for us to re-evaluate the way we ask our employees to work. Many organizations have created temporary remote workforces, and others have found remote employees a better way to run at least part of their companies. For many, what started as a temporary measure will likely become a permanent employee option.
The pandemic has also obligated many organizations to look for ways to become more fluid, resilient, and agile. Whether COVID will end up precipitating a ‘new normal’ for how companies work in the U.S. or not, the pandemic has certainly caused us to address the status quo and look at a different solutions than many organizations would have previously considered.
Time will tell whether this is truly the ‘new normal’ or not.