How Will Remote Work Affect the Manufacturing Industry?
Roughly six months into the Great Remote Work Experiment and the data about telecommuting is starting to roll in. All signs point to a great success for American workers and companies that have made the transition. According to a new survey by Mercer, American workers feel better, are more productive, and are well-adjusted to their new remote work reality. A breakdown of the survey indicates that remote work is here to stay. The question remains: how will manufacturers adapt?
Data from the survey is staggering, to say the least. An astounding 94% of employers surveyed say they’ve seen no change in the productivity of their teams since going remote. 72% plan to continue offering flexible working options to employees moving forward. Of those, 60% plan to make flexible schedules part of their approach to remote work, further distributing teams and shaking up the traditional concept of work. It’s clear that remote work is here to stay.
What about manufacturing?
The joke about remote work and manufacturing is that you can’t build a plane from home. While that might be true, it doesn’t mean you can’t design one from home. You could just as easily create CAD (computer-aided design) drawings and engineer components by dissecting aggregated test data. Put differently, you can’t do the physical labor at home, but manufacturing today goes far beyond physical labor. Needless to say, there are plenty of remote work opportunities in manufacturing.
Yet, manufacturing lags behind other industries in the migration to remote work. On the surface the reason may seem obvious, but as the benefits become clearer — through quantifiable sources like the Mercer study — manufacturers won’t be able to ignore telecommuting for much longer.
What’s standing in the way?
In another survey of 700,000 employees around the world, this one by U.K. firm Leesman, manufacturing’s challenges in a remote work migration are illuminated. Some 52,000 respondents to the survey work in manufacturing and roughly half of them have zero work-from-home experience. Moreover, the tools and resources that potential telecommuters require simply aren’t available to them from a distance.
If manufacturing is going to participate in the future of remote work and flex work, it needs to make significant investments in digitization. This references not only the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and smart factory technology, but also cloud infrastructure and integrated data systems. Manufacturers need to decentralize operations before they can bring them to a distributed workforce.
Start slow and continue to roll out remote work
As manufacturers begin to experiment with remote work, it’s important to start small and scale up. Pushing inexperienced telecommuters into the field without the training or resources to do their job will weigh heavy on operations. Further, it’s likely to alienate talent and stymie production.
Start with these non-invasive migration efforts and pay each one the attention it deserves to slowly get your remote teams up and running right.
- Identify remote work candidates and their needs.
- Enable remote work through digital systems and upgrades.
- Invest in cybersecurity and secure data handling.
- Install a dynamic operations strategy.
- Explore third-party partnerships.
Most of the workforce was forced to adapt to remote work overnight. Manufacturing has the opportunity to phase in and transition to telecommuting. Companies that take initiative to do it right will be rewarded with the same results other companies have found: higher productivity, happier workers, and new growth opportunities.