Is manufacturing ready to make the change to remote work?

There are a lot of questions swirling around in leadership teams these days as they are working to move their operations to more remote-based work. Those questions might include: Will we stay productive? How am I going to monitor performance?  How can we keep everyone connected and engaged? 

So as a manufacturing company how do we address this?

I started out in manufacturing back in the early 2000s and remember at that time I did everything at work. I don’t really remember ever taking anything home.  In 2005, I moved into a global product marketing role and found myself traveling around the world to other manufacturing facilities.  I’ll never forget around that time entering one of my first automotive plants and walking into a control room that looked like NASA, and I had been to NASA’s.  The entire plant was run from a few chairs.  The push for remote monitoring and control has only increased in the past 15 years with technologies like IIoT paving the way for more and more remote operation.  It probably shouldn’t come as a big surprise then that a 2017 Gallup report on the State of the American Workforce showed manufacturing had the 3rd highest growth rate in remote work of any sector.  Process engineers are always working for better automation and control systems and they want to be able to manage them from anywhere.  So why the concerns over remote work today?

To answer that question, let’s break down each functional area to see the real impact.  Sales and marketing have been working remotely, well, pretty much since sales and marketing started.  Most of their systems are already cloud-based and between road time and external customer interactions most of what they do is focused outside the office.  IT teams are often already utilizing remote desktop systems and are often the most tech savvy. So, for them, it’s business as usual. People might think Engineering would have some challenges working offsite but consider how often they are on the road working on applications with customers.  Yet they likely have some of the biggest opportunities to gain efficiency in their use of project management tools to keep them connected and aligned with tasks.  Operations and support functions, however, are often the last to make this move as many shop floor operators must go to the office to perform their tasks anyway.  In these cases, the challenges are more often around getting a hold of the right people during the day, as all their tools are in their work area.  So, what are the real barriers?

The obstacles are often less about systems and people and more about us as leaders.  According to a study by the International Workplace Group in 2019, the number one business challenge of implementing a remote workspace was “changing a long-standing, non-flexible working culture at a company”.  Number two and three were “fear of how remote work may impact culture and the company”. and “its leaders had a lack of understanding about the benefits of flexible working.”  Culture is driven from leadership, and as leaders of our organizations we are really where the real discussion begins. What we are failing to realize is all the benefits that remote work brings.  More on those benefits in our next post…

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