Companies that demonstrate safety readiness, innovation, and adaptability will not only survive but thrive in a post-crisis economy.  By Bill Duffy and Olivia Grev

All businesses would agree that COVID-19 has caused significant disruptions to human interaction, business operations, supply chains, and governmental policy. These impacts can be traced back to one single issue: public health and safety. Manufacturers, retailers, and distributors have struggled through facility closures, social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and cleaning measures and are seeing dramatic impacts on service, productivity, and operating costs as a result.

As the economy continues to reopen, companies are focused on their journey of recovery in this new reality. Their path forward needs to prioritize long-term health and safety solutions for their workforce and workplace.

A virtual workforce is an option for some businesses. But for many others, especially in the retail, distribution, and manufacturing industries, the reality is workers must remain onsite; 58% of jobs cannot be done from home 1.

Adopting a breadth of health and safety measures enables business continuity and establishing preventative regimens (PPE, distancing, cleaning) will be a critical first step. However, these new safety measures will impact productivity, service levels, and operating costs. The most successful and innovative companies will look beyond preventative measures and establish proactive and predictive operating safety strategies. Furthermore, by looking at operations through a safety and productivity lens, companies will innovate and adopt new ways of working to overcome the health and safety impacts and thrive in the post-crisis economy.

Adopting a breadth of health and safety measures enables business continuity and establishing preventative regimens (PPE, distancing, cleaning) will be a critical first step.

The Impact of Health & Safety Measures 

While deploying and adopting new health and safety measures is an imperative, they will come at a cost. Productivity will decline, operating costs will increase, service levels will change, and the employee and customer experience will be altered. With that in mind, companies have choices to make: How much change should be implemented? How permanent will these measures be? What can be done in both the near term and long term to offset and address these impacts?

Doing nothing or simply taking minimal measures in reaction to COVID-related safety risks will result in an extreme loss in productivity for facilities that are forced to shut down for multiple days or weeks due to outbreaks.

However, companies that go above and beyond the necessary health and safety measures by innovating and adopting new ways of working will be able to recover quickly and bring operations back to a stronger, more productive, cost-effective, and nimble way of working.

Speed of Recovery  

Health and safety policy readiness, maturity, and execution, combined with how essential each business is, will determine an organization’s ability to mitigate the risks of these potential business impacts and maintain service, productivity, and cost-to-serve.

Essential businesses have been adapting operations in real time and have been establishing new operational health and safety measures since the spread of COVID-19 shut down much of the economy. Grocery, food, beverage, life sciences, and the packaging industries are rewriting the workforce and workplace safety rule book.

While there have been some high-profile breakdowns, many essential businesses have rapidly developed and adopted new ways of working and are operating safely and effectively. As more of the economy starts to recover, businesses will be looking to the innovators among essential industries for insights and best practices.

Where to Start 

In the triage phase, organizations must assess their current health and safety procedures and protocols and adapt to new requirements. Most organizations have already implemented preventative measures during COVID-19. But to manage through the unknown timeline of the crisis, these need to become efficient, effective, and still allow for appropriate service, productivity, and cost-to-serve.

Many companies have already completed some parts of their triage phase and implemented basic foundational elements to address employee health and safety measures. They should now shift their focus to perfect the following four preventative measures and leverage technology and analytics to maintain their speed, productivity, and service.

Organizations will find that while COVID-related restrictions have significantly decreased their productivity, they can still uncover opportunities to improve productivity, service levels, and operating costs.

Along the way, they should always be asking themselves: Are these processes and procedures as efficient and effective as possible? Can they be rapidly reimplemented if there were to be a boomerang effect to the COVID-19 virus?

1. Employee health and wellness: Organizations must start putting employee health and wellness at the forefront through PPE and on-site health monitoring. Utilizing employee health data in the interest of workforce safety will become standard for many organizations. Historically, health data privacy laws have prevented employers from accessing this information. However, there will now be a shift in governmental policies. For example, the EEOC recently approved the use of temperature checks at worksites to detect sick employees. Some examples of the utilization of new technologies that we will see emerge in recover and transform phases include:

  • Smart thermometer temperature recordings or thermal imaging/biometric screenings daily, and limiting access to facilities to healthy employees
  • Analytics to monitor COVID-19 cases in the vicinity of facilities to see real-time danger zones
  • Onsite healthcare to increase preventative measures and decrease overall benefits costs
  • Virtual mental health resources to help employees cope with the COVID-19 crisis

2. Workplace procedures and design: Companies should limit human interactions on the line and during changeovers as much as possible. They should leverage analytics to determine the best way to maintain speed and productivity, with social distancing measures in place within the walls of their facilities. Some examples include:

  • Leveraging existing analytics from shop floor machinery to identify capacity/throughput options with new shop floor design
  • Utilizing digital twins to reimagine the shop floor procedures
  • Practicing innovative deployment of automation/robotics to displace repetitive, labor-intensive, low value-added work
  • Distributing RFID bracelets to warn employees when they are within six feet of someone else

3. Employee training and communication: Organizations must upskill or reskill the workforce based on procedure changes and ensure knowledge continuity across roles. However, they should be prepared for up to 40% of the workforce to be unable to work due to illness or family illness. With rapidly changing demand and processes due to social distancing, it is critical to educate workers on both operational changes and health and safety measures. Traditional, in-person training is no longer feasible, so organizations should consider new methods of communicating and training employees, especially as procedures and protocols rapidly change, such as:

  • Mobile apps to push out new processes and procedures and health and safety guidelines
  • Return-to-work virtual training to upskill or reskill workforce on new procedures

4. Policy & governance: Ensure a proper response team is in place to govern changes, manage union relationships, and align new policies to governmental guidelines. As companies continue to manage and monitor their workforces through the crisis, they should consider how to stay one step ahead on predicted changes by:

  • Adapting company culture to the new normal
  • Ensuring proper return-to-work procedures and contingency plans are in place
  • Adopting flexible sick leave policies to ensure that associates do not feel obligated to enter the workplace when feeling ill, jeopardizing the remaining workforce
  • Redefining operating norms to ensure the health and safety protocols remain effective at scale
  • Designating a safety board of directors representative of all areas of the business to monitor and maintain current health and safety levels and identify innovative new ways to achieve higher levels of health and safety compliance

As companies work through employee health and safety response plans, it is important to consider the value that each initiative creates beyond employee health and safety. Organizations will find that while COVID-related restrictions have significantly decreased their productivity, they can still uncover opportunities to improve productivity, service levels, and operating costs. M

1. “How Deep will Downturns in Rich Countries Be?”, The Economist, April 16, 2020