Critical Issue: COVID-19: What's Next for Manufacturing?

Building a Digital Return-to-Work Strategy

Countering disruption with resilience and agility

COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruption and pushed organizations to find new ways of staying competitive and relevant. Business leaders have realized the need to build resilience for the long haul as they come to terms with never-seen-before challenges every day. The domino effect has not spared any function within the organization. The focus has rapidly shifted to building business resilience across multiple areas, including employee and workplace safety.
While some industries have figured out ways to continue their operations by activating work-from-home (WFH) programs, for sectors like manufacturing, hospitality, retail, and construction, WFH is not a viable option. 65% of the CXO executives believe that no field employees will be able to WFH indefinitely, reports a recent McKinsey survey1. The same study states that the executives expect 80% of their employees to be back in the office by this month, September.
The long and short of it is that organizations need to go back to the drawing board and work on building and executing safe return-to-work programs. However, any such return-to-work strategy must be based on the following principles at the core:

  1. Containing the spread: Nations continue to struggle with controlling this contagion; some nations are now seeing a second wave of the spread. While social distancing is becoming the new normal, many field personnel across multiple industries work close to each other, which raises the risk of spread. This is a concern for the environment, health & safety (EHS), and facility managers. What furthers adds to the problem is that 40% of COVID-19 spread happens before a person develops symptoms, according to the U.S. CDCThe threat of proliferation from asymptomatic patients is massive. Hence, manufacturing companies need to continue to activate all programs that help them stop the spread.
  2. An assurance on safety and revving up employee confidence: As organizations resume their business, they need to assure their stakeholders of the importance of vital safety measures to boost their confidence and morale. This requires them to develop processes and systems that ensure prevention of the spread, building safety protocols for early detection, monitoring and enforcing social distancing, and responding faster and effectively.
  3. Adhering to regulations and compliance standards: In response to COVID-19, governments are continuing to lay out health & safety laws to define business operations. For instance, the UK government has passed The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020, which mandates concrete measures for employee safety2. In the US, OSHA has issued guidancefor preparing workplaces for COVID-193. All of this must factor into an organization’s compliance and risk management blueprint in the COVID world.

Need for Speed and Digital Adoption

Adopting and adhering to these principles will require organizations to be open and agile and embrace technology with a heightened sense of urgency. The good news is that some have already taken swift actions on building strategic digital programs for resuming operations. Organizations have adopted and executed digital programs at an alarming rate: compressing what would have been a five-year cycle into just eight weeks, says McKinsey.4 That’s the level of paradigm shift the marketplace has witnessed in recent months.
While there are numerous ways in which digital technologies such as image analytics, artificial intelligence, internet of things, etc. are helping enhance the health and safety quotient of a workplace, particularly with regards to COVID-19, a return-to-work plan must cater to the following four tenets and organizations must ensure they are technologically equipped to address each of them:

  1. Prevent: This is the first line of defense for any organization, and it worked well during the initial phase of the pandemic. The adoption of remote collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams helped organizations mitigate potential in-person interactions, as they managed business continuity. While returning to work at some level is now inevitable, organizations should not rush into it. Having fewer people in a space lowers the risk significantly, saysan epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco.5 Moreover, office real estate, especially in the subcontinent, are structurally not designed to support social distancing. Therefore, in addition to adopting a staggered approach to opening offices, organizations must accelerate investments in digital workplace infrastructures and smart buildings to balance safety with productivity.
  2. Avoid: Any organization planning to reopen its offices must necessarily invest in technologies to facilitate contactless operations. There are multiple options available to choose from, such as facial recognition, voice sensing, and gesture sensing (some of which even come bundled with advanced thermal screening cameras). Additionally, compliance with the occupancy-levels in facilities and enforcing social distancing norms as per local government regulations is paramount to avoid the risk of spread. Several proximity control technologies can be leveraged to implement these norms and to block access to non-compliant or at-risk personnel.
  3. Detect: When prevention and avoidance fail, the next best thing to target is early detection. Organizations must, therefore, put processes and systems in place to implement thermal screening across the facility to monitor employees, workers and visitors alike, and track individuals’ temperatures for multiple days to detect any anomalies early. It is equally important to trust the employees and include them in the process by extending to them mediums that can be as simple as a mobile application to allow them to self-declare about their travel history, contacts made with high-risk individuals and/or any symptoms they encountered. These simple measures will help identify early warning signs and leading indicators to reduce the chances of proliferation.
  4. Respond: We have already seen numerous false starts globally wherein some enterprises reopened their offices, plants, etc. but had to shut them down shortly after as some suspect cases were reported. While such shutdowns led to significant financial losses, they also caused a massive dent on the confidence and morale of the workforce due to the organization’s inability to quickly identify personnel who came in contact with the suspected individuals during their pre-symptomatic stage and/or the premises that needed to be sanitized. As important as detecting the coronavirus symptoms in an individual early, it’s equally helpful to respond fast and surgically to avoid panic. Organizations should explore implementing track & trace technologies to supplement their efforts on prevention, avoidance, and detection.

Digital Drives Faster Recovery
To summarize, this crisis has created several challenges that have pushed organizations to embrace digital. It’s now a matter of sustenance, not just about staying competitive. Digital will be the cornerstone of any business resilience program that an organization executes now. Any return-to-work strategy program must have digital at the core. We are already seeing that the organizations that had invested proactively on digital infrastructure are showing a faster recovery. This pandemic is a tipping point in the evolution cycle of the modern-day workplaces. As we all navigate these tough times, organizations will need to stay open, agile, communicative, and be receptive to embracing digital technologies for some time to come.

AR and How We Work: The New Normal

Digital transformation has arrived for the first time in frontline work. Augmented reality technology has the power to boost frontline worker productivity by as much as 50% and reduce human errors by up to a whopping 90%. Transforming frontline work is in its early stages, and rapid learning is underway. But the effect on overall productivity may prove to have the greatest digital impact so far.
By Michael E. Porter and James E. Heppelmann



The coronavirus crisis of 2020 has changed the way we work, perhaps indefinitely. Travel bans, lockdowns, and social distancing policies disrupted business around the world, forcing companies to find new ways to work. The trend toward a more distributed, mobile, and agile workforce was already unmistakable, but the crisis has dramatically accelerated this shift and brought the use of digital technology to a new level. This is especially true for knowledge workers with the skills to operate in the virtual world. The even bigger news coming out of the crisis, however, is the change in frontline work. The far broader frontline workforce, who work in the physical world, have become for the first time part of the digital transformation in a meaningful way.

Knowledge workers, typically in roles such as management, finance, marketing, scheduling, or product development, trade in information that is readily captured in digital files and databases. Their work is easily exchanged via emails. Virtual meetings to collaborate with peers around the globe are a few clicks away. When the work is digital, location doesn’t really matter. When knowledge workers around the globe were forced into a massive work-from-home experiment with little planning, the results proved better than many thought possible. Not only did productive work continue, but additional time and cost savings were realized from reduced commuting time and business travel.

The work-from-home Genie probably won’t go back into the bottle, even when the crisis passes. This way of working will become part of the new normal because of its inherent advantages. But for frontline work, a new revolution is in the making.

How Frontline Work is Different 

Not all workers spend their day behind a desk, engaging the virtual world via their computers. Approximately 75% of the global workforce consists of frontline workers whose jobs are done in the real world and involve physical work.

While knowledge workers transitioned easily to work-from-home, frontline workers cannot do their jobs from home. In fields like retail and hospitality, many were furloughed because their businesses were closed, sometimes by mandate. Yet work at factories, farms, repair shops, distribution centers, and other types of physical worksites continued, deemed essential to the economy. The Brookings Institution estimates that between 49 million and 62 million frontline workers in the U.S. alone were asked to continue reporting to work.

“AR enables front-line worker solutions that parallel the well-established digital technologies that came to the rescue for knowledge workers.”

But frontline workers also need knowledge and training in order to do their work. Rather than depend on electronic files and video calls, such knowledge and training has traditionally come in the form of personal experience, paper documentation, training classes, over-the-shoulder mentoring, and face-to-face troubleshooting. None of these modalities have proven ideal even in the best of circumstances. But they have been seriously impaired by having to work remotely, travel bans, and social distancing. In addition, the coronavirus has also exacerbated an already serious problem for many companies beyond health risks – the increasing shortage of trained frontline workers.

Bringing Digital Technology to the Frontline 

Technologies like Microsoft Office allow knowledge workers to capture and share information. Videoconferencing tools like Zoom or WebEx work great for knowledge worker collaboration with computers at each node of the information exchange. Yet we have lacked powerful tools to facilitate collaboration between frontline employees, such as a factory assembly worker, and an expert knowledge worker such as a manufacturing engineer or a service technician. Traditionally, such collaboration has required the engineer to travel to the factory. But suddenly, the crisis made this not possible. How can frontline workers collaborate when one is a veteran technician who needs to explain a laboratory process to a newly-hired technician? Traditionally, this takes place through mentoring or job shadowing, but this is costly and social distancing makes this difficult.

Augmented reality (AR), the next generation of digital technology, makes this productive and efficient by enabling collaboration and knowledge transfer across disparate, frontline workers. This emerging technology supports and significantly enhances the productivity of physical work throughout the economy. We have discussed the concept and impact of AR technologies in our earlier Harvard Business Review article titled, “A Manager’s Guide to Augmented Reality.” In the simplest terms, AR allows actual, relevant digital information to be transmitted and displayed in the context in which it is used in the physical world.

AR has allowed Toyota to save time and money by helping experts eliminate an average of four trips per month to production plants.

AR: A Better Zoom for Frontline Workers 

AR enables frontline worker solutions that parallel the well-established digital technologies used by knowledge workers. However, instead of a Zoom video call, AR technology allows remote experts to see the companion worker’s physical world on video and annotate physical objects with information and instructions during the call. Rather than a flat PDF document or a Web page, AR can map instructional content directly onto the 3D physical environment in which the work takes place. Instead of a YouTube how-to video on a computer screen, AR can capture, in detail, the work of the frontline expert using a wearable device that shows every step. This creates an interactive and step-by-step guide mapped onto the work environment that other workers can follow using a wearable device.

The power of AR is its ability to deliver needed digital content and expert guidance into the context of the physical environment where frontline work actually takes place. This substantially reduces the cognitive distance1 that inevitably gets in the way when a worker must translate digital information from a screen and decide how to apply it to the real world. Eliminating this gap substantially increases worker productivity while reducing errors.

Expert Collaboration and Remote Support 

AR is a powerful real-time tool for collaboration between a remote expert and a frontline worker who needs input. The frontline worker, using an AR app on a mobile phone, tablet, or AR headset, can request help from an expert at another work site, the office, or even from home. The remote expert can see and digitally annotate what to do on the on-site worker’s physical work environment using a finger pen or a mouse, with these annotations on the physical objects involved moving as the worker’s perspective moves.

AR does for frontline workers what video conferencing does for knowledge workers — allowing expertise to be shared electronically. But unlike video conferencing, which is solely digital and displays information on flat computer screens, AR has one foot in the digital world with the other foot in the physical world, serving as a bridge between them. This application of AR is akin to sportscaster John Madden’s famous “chalk talks”, where he diagrammed NFL football plays on the TV screen to improve viewers’ ability to follow. With AR, a real-time chalk talk by an expert is overlaid onto a worker’s remote work environment.

AR Markups Overlaid on a Video Call. This factory worker is being guided through a machinery troubleshooting process using AR markups by a remote expert overlaid on the worker’s physical objects and environment during a video call.

The use of AR technology for collaboration and remote support of frontline workers has soared in the COVID crisis, enabling experts to be much more productive in helping to debug problems and resolve production issues remotely. Toyota, for example, has used AR video calls to save time and money by allowing experts to eliminate an average of four trips per month to production plants because they can oversee plant modification tasks and monitor plant worker safety remotely. Using an AR-powered tool, non-expert workers such as outside subcontractors are able to tackle complex or unfamiliar challenges with the help of a Toyota expert where and when they need one.

Frontline Worker Training and Learning  

AR is also a breakthrough technology for training frontline workers. AR enables the creation of next-generation instructional content such as training materials and step-by-step or standard operating procedures (SOP) for work. AR can deliver pre-defined training (and avoid the need for real-time collaboration and remote support) that maps the content directly onto the 3D physical environment in which the work will take place. This results in a step-function improvement in comprehension and retention versus traditional training using PDF or Web-based documents that explain procedures via text or 2D pages. AR creates a 3D web where instructional content is delivered via a 3D experience that mirrors an object or a workspace, rather than on the traditional flat web page.

Augmented Reality in the Industrial World. Industrial machinery in the physical world is decorated with an AR digital display showing status and key operating parameters of oil system, gearbox, air system, and main motor.

To access AR work instructions, a frontline worker launches a web browser app on an AR headset, a smartphone, or a tablet. AI-based computer vision technology identifies the real-world machine and workspaces of interest using the AR device’s video camera. AR delivers the relevant content to the frontline worker, superimposed on the appropriate physical object or workspace. The AR device can “see” the real world the way the worker does, while projecting digital information to guide a worker in performing tasks, such as a repair procedure, more efficiently.

A striking example of this capability is Volvo’s use of AR work instructions to improve the productivity and accuracy of its final quality checks on newly manufactured truck engines. This application provides visual guidance to the quality assurance inspector such as where to stand relative to the engine, what part of the engine the inspector should look at first, and so on. The AR app shows the inspector what she or he should expect to see in each view, compared to the actual parts. This is repeated for each step in the quality control process, while recording the whole process to verify it and measure any non-conformance.

AR work instructions have a striking productivity impact. The training time for Volvo QA inspectors has been reduced by 60%, or about three weeks per inspector. Superimposing digital information onto the physical objects in the actual work environment using AR avoids the cognitive distance problem that complicates all training – the need to translate abstract 2D information to the 3D real world.

AR, then, is rapidly emerging as a powerful tool for accelerating how frontline workers learn, and how they can conduct their work at substantially higher productivity levels. Technology analysts at ABI Research estimate that AR and VR-based training will be a $6 billion industry by 2022.

AR-Enabled Welding Training. Seeing welds digitally through an AR-enabled helmet, welding trainees can improve their skill in welding straight and strong joints while eliminating the costly use of consumables such as welding rods.

Capturing Expertise and Optimizing Frontline Human Work

In addition to enabling collaboration, training, and mentoring across distance and time, AR technology solves three other important challenges many companies face with frontline workers. First, how to capture the expertise of retiring workers as they depart. Second, how to take advantage of knowledge of experienced workers without the need to travel. And third, how to enable all workers performing a given process to do so in the same way as the best, most experienced worker.

As best practices evolve, AR can also digitize process improvements and disseminate them to all workers, bringing the whole team along.

Wearable AR headsets are not just tools to deliver pre-defined digital AR content to the physical work environment. Central to AR’s value proposition is the ability of the headset to capture, digitize, and store human work processes and associated expertise in a specific physical environment for training or real-time guidance, delivered later when needed.

Experienced technicians and engineers can use a wearable device to capture a task or perform the SOP in real-time as they perform it. This replaces the need for Frederick Taylor’s mapping of process steps, and the need for stopwatches to measure physical work. AR content can then be turned into a step-by-step guide with instructions for other workers to follow, accessed through the same type of wearable device in a training setting or in the field.

Using AR to capture and replay work processes is a huge step forward from YouTube how-to videos. When AR maps the interactive digital content directly onto the actual work environment, comprehension by the recipient is dramatically greater. Academic studies in recent years have shown with statistically significant results that AR and VR training and teaching methods improve learning comprehension, reduce cognitive load, and improve achievement outcomes.2

AR also allows the digital knowledge of retired experts to be used not just to capture their own work, but to digitally shadow and coach new hires in training. And, the captured work processes of all the workers performing the same function can be analyzed and compared in order to further optimize the process.

AR Playback of a Previously Captured Work Process. A new worker watches visual content captured from an expert showing what operations she should perform at this machine, with relevant tips anchored in the physical environment and each step in the procedure.

A good example of expertise capture and exchange is Smiths Medical, a medical device manufacturer participating in the Ventilator Challenge UK to transfer knowledge on how to manufacture scarce ventilators in response to the COVID crisis. Smiths used AR to capture frontline manufacturing process knowledge and procedures for ventilator production, and deliver those instructions to production workers at GKN, an automotive and aerospace manufacturer. Using AR, Smiths is able to digitally guide workers in other companies, and even in different industries that have no medical device expertise, in how to make the ventilators properly and efficiently. The Ventilator Challenge has been heralded as a success, producing 14,000 ventilators in just three months. There are many such examples of companies that used AR during the COVID emergency and were impressed by its power.

The Emerging Platform for Frontline Work 

AR is a major productivity driver for frontline work, in both good times and bad. According to the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s 2020 Factories of the Future survey, gathered just before the COVID-19 crisis, 48% of manufacturing companies had already adopted AR or planned to deploy it by 2022. During the crisis, thousands of additional companies adopted AR to sustain and optimize operations irrespective of travel restrictions and social distancing.

Capturing and digitizing the expertise of experienced workers is also a foundation for optimizing the overall productivity of frontline workers. Case studies suggest that AR can reduce worker training time by 50%, increase worker productivity on physical work processes by 30-50%, and reduce human errors by 60-90%.

One of the positive outcomes of the coronavirus crisis has been to bring to light how AR technology enables major productivity improvement in distributed and mobile workforces across multiple settings. AR provides frontline workers with learning and productivity that parallels the conventional digital technologies that have come to the rescue for knowledge workers. In a world where a remote workforce will be the new normal, AR is a technology whose time has come.  M

Considerations for Deploying Augmented Reality
While advancements in AR technology and adoption are accelerating quickly, three common challenges could derail an AR initiative as it gets underway. It’s therefore important to keep these in mind from the outset:

  • Prioritization: AR is a broadly applicable technology. Dozens of opportunities exist across the value chain, from engineering, to marketing and sales, manufacturing, and field service, which requires disciplined use case prioritization to maximize business value capture. Start by defining measurable challenges that have financial consequences for your organization, documenting the as-is state to quantify the opportunity and later measure ROI, and then prioritize the AR use cases that best achieve that business value.
  • Hardware: Different use cases call for different devices, so each AR solution should be designed with a device type in mind to ensure a good user experience. Start by deciding whether head-mounted or hand-held is best suited for your use case. While a standard mobile phone or tablet work well for many use cases today, hands-free operation will require head-mounted devices from Microsoft, RealWear, Vuzix, or others. While that technology is improving quickly, companies should develop an AR strategy that is compatible with many devices, to avoid getting locked-in.
  • Content: AR solutions are only as good as the quality of the content and data that companies use. Getting access to the data or creating new content, and combining it in a meaningful way, can be challenging. Leading companies today reuse 3D content from CAD systems and leverage data from IoT systems to accelerate this process. Companies would also benefit from a digital thread— a single source of data truth by real-time synchronization of systems — to link interrelated data across all the processes, products, and people in the value chain.

1 Cognitive distance is the gap between the form in which information is presented (e.g., a computer screen), and the context in which it is applied (e.g., the real world). Cognitive distance increases the “cognitive load,” or the mental capacity required to interpret the information, hold it in the working memory and translate it into implications in the physical environment.

2 For examples of academic studies examining the comprehension benefits of AR on teaching and training, see: Gonzales, Alexis A., et al, “Augmented reality-based learning for the comprehension of cardiac physiology in undergraduate biomedical students,” Advances in Physiology Education, June 22, 2020, or Küçük S, Kapakin S, and Göktaş Y, “Learning anatomy via mobile augmented reality: effects on achievement and cognitive load,” Anatomical Sciences Education 9: 411–421, 2016.

Thought Leadership

The Connected Enterprise Shouldn’t be Next for Manufacturers – It Should be Now

The Connected Enterprise has been a priority for manufacturing companies in recent years but has experienced unprecedented acceleration due to COVID-19 in 2020.

Manufacturing leaders from Lockheed Martin, VirTex Enterprises, and IBM discussed major drivers of this acceleration, including enablement of the virtual workplace and data-driven decision making, in “Learning for the Future,” the fourth and final installment of the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s What’s Next for Manufacturing? virtual meeting series, which took place July 28. Based on the theme of the June Manufacturing Leadership Journal, this meeting was focused on how manufacturers are planning for the new normal.

Enabling the Virtual Workplace

Having a Connected Enterprise doesn’t just mean systems that talk to each other and share data; in the era of COVID-19, it enables employees to work and communicate from anywhere, with minimal disruption.
Panelist Brad Heath, President and CEO of VirTex Enterprises, a provider of electronic manufacturing services, shared that many customers declared VirTex to be a critical business, requiring it to remain operational throughout the pandemic.

To minimize disruption, VirTex enhanced its customer product lifecycle approach with virtual collaboration and data sharing, meetings, and product prototyping. For new customers, VirTex began offering virtual sales calls and factory tours. To facilitate all of this, the company utilized technologies like Microsoft Teams and Zoom for product and site metrics meetings, as well as Microsoft Government Cloud and Egnyte as a secure server.

Heath added that tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams need to continue to evolve. “[They] don’t fit the bill yet as one solution for collaborative communication and planning, said Heath, a member of the MLC’s Board of Governors. “They do a good job of replacing meetings, but we need to find a way to fully integrate our data analysis, whiteboarding, planning with integrated meetings.”

However, more broadly, virtual approaches with suppliers and customers have been successful; VirTex has maintained 94% on-time delivery with suppliers and 96% on-time delivery for customers. Heath said they will use their internal collaboration tools with suppliers and vendors. For example, VirTex recently conducted a full MES implementation remotely with its software vendors, which resulted in a $10,000 savings on travel costs for vendors and a 20% decrease in implementation costs.

Similarly, panelist Dr. Don Kinard, Senior Fellow, Aeronautics Production Operations at Lockheed Martin, said with the help of technology, 80,000 Lockheed employees have been able to work effectively from home, conducting virtual meetings with suppliers and hosting virtual industry and customer events. The company has continued hiring but has shifted new hire onboarding to a virtual orientation.

Connecting the Enterprise with Cutting Edge Technologies

The Connected Enterprise is built upon cutting edge technologies like IoT, AR, blockchain, and more. But to get the most out of those technologies, especially during a pandemic, companies need those systems to collect and analyze data to empower workers to make rapid, intelligent decisions.

Panelist Ron Castro, Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer at IBM, said the company had previously invested in digital platforms, allowing it to take quick action during the pandemic. He emphasized the importance of real time, saying that cracks in the global supply chain often happen because of three main reasons – lack of real-time information, lack of ability to respond to rapid changes, and lack of real-time collaboration.

Castro, also a member of MLC’s Board of Governors, shared that IBM has moved to agile development for digital transformation and is now delivering new capabilities every two weeks. They’re also doing both collaborative planning and intelligent workflows in real time and rely on digital twins to enable training and remote work.

For example, with much of its supply coming from China and other locations around the world, IBM uses  VR to meet with suppliers and manufacturing teams, and digital twins have helped minimize the number of people required to go onsite at plants.

Toward the end of the session, all panelists agreed that the Connected Enterprise has never been more important, but there is still more work to do.

“We believe that connecting our enterprise is a fundamental thing… we’ve been on a journey to connect our equipment, to get all that data collected,” said Kinard. “COVID has slowed us down a bit because the factories have been occupied with [it], but I don’t see that it’s changed our approach.”

Recordings of all four What’s Next for Manufacturing? virtual meetings are now available on demand at:

COVID-19 Recovery: A Rocky Road Ahead?

Can leveraging digital technologies help manufacturers along the potentially long and difficult road to recovery over the next two years?
Despite welcome upticks in manufacturing performance over the last few weeks, the road to industrial recovery from the devastation of this year’s COVID pandemic is going to be long and difficult for the industry.
For the next two years at least, it seems, manufacturers are going to need patience, agility, determination, and a fresh openness to the adoption of new digital approaches to survive.

Chad Moutray, NAM

“I don’t expect to get back to normal production levels until 2022,” warns Chad Moutray, Chief Economist at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and Director of the Center for Manufacturing Research at the Manufacturing Institute.
Moutray was speaking to a virtual gathering of senior level manufacturing executives on the second What’s Next for Manufacturing? meeting hosted by the NAM’s Manufacturing Leadership Council. He was joined by Doug Carson, Assistant President of Strategic Planning, Business and Product Development at tier 1 auto supplier the BWI Group.
“We’re still wondering if we’re bouncing back, or just bouncing along?” admits BWI’s Carson. “At this point, we are just trying to stay safe, stay focused and flexible, and focus on what we do well.”
Worst Downturn Since the Great Recession
Manufacturing performance figures for the last few months are certainly sobering. “This is the worst downturn since the Great Recession,” noted Moutray, “but the good news is that we seem to be over the worst of the slump.”
The NAM’s latest quarterly Manufacturer’s Outlook survey, for example, revealed a steep collapse in positive expectation for the future, from a high of 95% two years ago, to a mere 34% in May this year, the lowest level since Q1 2009.
It’s the same story wherever you look. Q2 12-month growth forecasts for sales are down by 4.3% compared to the previous quarter, capital investments are down by 2.5%, full-time employment down by 2.2%, and export growth expectations down by 1.4%.
Signs of Recovery
Nevertheless, compared to the record lows of earlier months this year when industrial lockdown was at its height, the ISM’s Manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) for June saw a welcome return to expansion and growth. The latest Federal Reserve figures also show industrial production rebounding for the second straight month rising by 3.8% and 7.2% in May and June, respectively.
But while all major manufacturing sectors showed some welcome production gains in May and June, almost all sectors are still showing significant declines year-on-year, with primary metals down 27.3%, motor vehicles and parts down 24.6%, and aerospace and transportation down 23.7% over 2019.
The only exception is computer and electronic products which was up by 2% since June last year, no doubt reflecting the massive surge in demand for virtual and remote tools for both  industrial and domestic markets during the COVID crisis.
Uncertainty Ahead
But perhaps most importantly for the longer term as manufacturers continue to strive to recover from the pandemic and resume some semblance of normality in their production activities, Moutray suggests that the industry will still see a an 8.5% drop in production for this year before regaining some of that lost ground with a predicted 3.5% increase in 2021.
“We haven’t controlled the virus yet,” he points out, “so the worry in the worst case scenario is that the fear of another bout of COVID in the Fall, along with the political uncertainty of the U.S. elections, may hold back capital spending until perhaps late next year.”
BWI Group’s Front-Line Response

Doug Carson, BWI

It’s precisely that level of uncertainty about the future that concerns front line manufacturers like BWI Group as they struggle to adjust to the devastation of the last few months and put in place strategies that will help them to stabilize and recover the business.
“In April we didn’t sell one auto part anywhere except China,” recalled BWI’s Carson. But while China began to bounce back, the company still struggled in other areas around the world like India and Mexico. “It left us wondering, ’Is this the new normal?”.
Extensive Process Restructuring
BWI took a lot of cost cutting steps early on and then focused on four key areas: safety, by introducing extensive on-site safety procedures; keeping it local, by following state guidelines and local site-specific cultures; keeping it simple, by cancelling standing meetings, reducing agendas, and suspending normal reporting cycles; and cranking up communications both internally and with customers and suppliers. He also noted that one of the biggest supplier issues in automotive manufacturing right now is the absenteeism after a workplace COVID incident. That potential issue is making it more important than ever for BWI’s management and human resources teams to stay busy ensuring worker safety across all areas of the company.
“The crisis initiated the largest business process restructuring for the last 10 years,” reflects Carson. “We are trying to make things more efficient for the future, to make faster decisions, and to adopt a strategy of higher frequency, lower content communications to ensure we continue to stay more open and transparent.”
Leveraging Digital
One of the key outcomes of the last few months, note both speakers, is an increasing recognition and reliance among manufacturers on new digital technologies to help them survive and recover from the crisis.
“In a dynamic situation, access to information and validating that information as quickly as possible is most important,” adds Carson, “and for BWI, that’s the number one asset of M4.0 and digital transformation, the ability to know what is going on in your operation in great detail.”
Moutray also believes that harnessing digital tools is likely to be fundamental to how the recovery journey develops. He notes that around three quarters of manufacturers in a recent NAM survey said, where possible, they were going to have remote working as an option, and two thirds said that they see production processes being reengineered with social distancing in mind.
“It will be an interesting time for increased investment in automation on the shop floor,” he added, “and I think we will soon start to see how far technology and reengineering will change manufacturing in the longer term as we emerge from the crisis.”
Dancing in the Rain
Like many manufacturers facing future uncertainty on the road to recovery, the way forward will be about learning to thrive in the new normal, concludes BWI’s Carson. “For us that means focusing on safety, flexibility, and recognizing for sure, that virtual is here to stay.”
And to underpin his view of where the company is going, Carson cited a telling quote from writer, Vivian Greene: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
Upcoming Virtual Meeting on What’s Next for Manufacturing?
The Manufacturing Leadership Council will be hosting its fourth virtual meeting, Learning for the Future, featuring speakers from Lockheed Martin, IBM, and VirTex Enterprises, on Tuesday, July 28 at 11 am ET.  Contact: [email protected] for an invitation.

Critical Issue: COVID-19: What's Next for Manufacturing?

Pella Accelerates Adoption of AR Technology During Pandemic

In the 12th town hall meeting of Manufacturing Leadership Council members, Don Lanke, Director of Engineering at Pella Corporation discussed how the window and door manufacturer is leveraging augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) and remote assistance technology in response to the pandemic.

The pandemic forced many Pella employees to work from home, leaving them without access to the 10+ physical plants and equipment that are necessary to their jobs. Because of that, the company looked into cutting edge technologies that can recreate physical environments and interactions for its workers.

For example, if a piece of equipment needs maintenance or reconfiguration that only an expert can provide, Pella needed a way to share the physical environment virtually, in real time, to communicate, exchange information and ultimately resolve the problem.

Their goal was not only to connect physical and virtual environments, but to reduce downtime and impact of quality issues and safety hazards, enhance training and troubleshooting, and reduce travel requirements and costs.

In mid-April, Pella decided to begin trials with two technology platforms:

  • PTC Vuforia Chalk: this remote assistance product uses AR to facilitate collaboration between onsite and offsite workers to maintain and repair products. PTC describes it as a “video call with augmented reality superpowers for industrial settings.”
  • Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist: this solution unites technicians from multiple locations via video calls from Microsoft HoloLens or iOS or Android devices and allows the documentation of repairs through photos and videos that are sharable.

Lanke said they identified these solutions because they didn’t require a lot of training for employees to learn them – and given the pandemic, the sooner they could start using them, the better. He also noted that the technologies could support a wide range of use cases, which he and his team are currently testing out, including:

  • A coatings development project with a supplier: This project would’ve been halted due to COVID-19 travel challenges, but technology allowed Pella to collaborate virtually, in real time with chemists
  • Robotic programming support: Pella automation engineers that are working remotely can connect to the physical environment, for example, they can draw arrows on screen to indicate where to look for problem areas on a machine
  • Commissioning supplier equipment: Another use case that was initially impacted due to travel challenges and rectified with technology
  • Maintenance projects: With Pella’s planners and schedulers working remotely, technology allows them to see equipment virtually and quickly get images of certain features
  • Machine build team: Technology allowed team leaders to seamlessly work from home and continue working on a physical machine

In terms of challenges, Lanke said that although the technologies were easy and quick to deploy, Wi-Fi connectivity was briefly an issue. He said they moved quickly to increase the strength of the Wi-Fi in one of the physical plants to accommodate the technologies.

Going forward, Lanke and his team are testing out the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist solution and exploring how it integrates with Microsoft Teams and Microsoft HoloLens. He believes that the AR, MR and remote assistance technologies will be here to stay, even after the pandemic blows over.

“I 100% believe this is here to stay,” Lanke said. “COVID or no COVID, the ability for technical people and others to interface with one another, to see the situation and annotate back and forth to better understand the problem and get to some options to solve and resolve, it’s always been there, but it’s accelerated now and it’s going to be there after COVID for that very reason.”

He also said he believes these technologies will dramatically reduce travel time and costs as well.

“That’s a business value proposition that stands on its own, long after COVID.”

Learn More from MLC/NAM

For more shared resources to help your manufacturing business in its COVID-19 response efforts, visit the MLC’s online COVID-19 Operations Practices and Shared Resources.

In the meantime, if you have any tips or best practices on how your company is keeping employees safe and/or is acting to minimize business disruption during this time, please share them at [email protected].

Critical Issue: COVID-19: What's Next for Manufacturing?

IPG Rolls Out COVID-19 Response Playbook

In the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s 12th town hall since COVID-19 began, two leaders from leading tape manufacturer, IPG, shared details of their company’s response plan.

Council members tuned in to hear Jai Sundararaman and JK Perumal, both of IPG’s Business Transformation Office, outline their approach to protect employees, assets and customers as regions begin reopening and recovery from the pandemic continues.

Here are the highlights from their presentation.

Coordinating Key Stakeholders and a Response Framework

For IPG, a company with 3,700 employees and 31 locations (including 27 plants), strong cross-functional communication and collaboration is key to following the processes of their COVID-19 Response Playbook.
Sundararaman said key stakeholders meet periodically in five groups to discuss various topics: COVID process implementation, functional leadership alignment, best practice sharing and lessons learned, executive alignment, and sales, operations and corporate town halls.

The company also has its response plan broken down into four key parts:

  1.  Proactive Communication: Microsoft SharePoint portal to get communications out to employees, including the latest company policies and procedures and updates on federal, state, and local guidelines.
  2. Prevention: Cleaning and sanitization processes as well as social distancing and remote working rules.
  3. Response Plan: How to respond to incidents with minimal interruption and activate ‘ready-to-go’ resources like cleaning kits.
  4. Best Practice Sharing and Technology: Quicker knowledge transfer across locations as well as the evaluation of technologies to manage risk and automate processes.

Communication in All Forms

Since IPG has multiple locations with essential employees still on the job, it’s critical that policies are clearly communicated to employees no matter where they are working.

The SharePoint portal, which gained 9,300 visits in eight weeks, communicates the latest information to employees and acts as the single source of truth. Sundararaman said the portal includes a ‘hot button’ section where workers can quickly see whether an emergency has occurred and how the company is handling it.

Outside of the portal, employees also receive multiple forms of communication on a regular basis, including emails, virtual town halls, memos, videos and more.

Onsite at their facilities, IPG has posted detailed signage with COVID-19 state and federal requirements as well as the same information that appears in SharePoint.

Cleaning and Sanitization Processes

Across its 27 plants, IPG needs to ensure that thorough cleaning and sanitization processes are followed as employees continue to work onsite.

Sundararaman showed a spreadsheet that tracks 60 items that need to be cleaned on a regular basis throughout the facilities. The company bases its cleaning procedures on CDC recommendations, with one- or two-hour cleaning rotations and new centralized cleaning stations. For example, equipment that needs to be cleaned on a regular basis now includes a red sticker indicating that it’s a shared surface and should be wiped down.

Employees are also given written instructions (with step-by-step photos) on how to clean equipment, as well as the necessary supplies.

Social Distancing Policies

Sundararaman said 95%+ of the common areas in their plants have implemented social distancing. The company keeps track of those areas, how frequent they’re used and their risk factors in a detailed spreadsheet. At facilities, they’ve installed plexiglass barriers, screens and curtains between workstations and floor markings to help employees stay six feet apart or more.

Cutting Edge Technologies

Perumal explained how IPG is continuously evaluating new technologies that can help activate their response plan. Some of the solutions they’re considering include:

  • UV/Ozone disinfection using UVC light and ozone to sanitize areas and objects
  • Camera monitoring to assess social distancing performance
  • Social distancing wearables to alert workers when distance is not maintained
  • Touchless entry and exit
  • Temperature monitoring

Learn More from MLC/NAM

The MLC/NAM is arranging additional calls to discuss how manufacturers are dealing with COVID-19. The next town hall will take place on June 16 at 11 am ET. Details on additional calls will be released as they are available.

In the meantime, if you have any tips or best practices on how your company is keeping employees safe and/or is acting to minimize business disruption during this time, please share them at [email protected].

CLOUD: A Flexible IT Ally

Will cloud adoption accelerate as a result of COVID-19?

For manufacturers, the cloud can be a source of flexibility, scalability, cost savings, and more – all things vital to business continuity during the COVID-19 crisis.

As a result of the pandemic, some manufacturers may accelerate their cloud strategies, putting more systems in the cloud, faster. Others are simply validating the confidence they’ve placed in the cloud strategies they’ve already adopted and will likely continue with the same approach.

But there’s no doubt companies are seeing real evidence that the cloud is an asset that needs to be prioritized, says Kevin Prouty, Group Vice President at IDC Manufacturing Insights.

“Everyone already realizes we wouldn’t be operating if we didn’t have systems in the cloud,” Prouty says. “We’re at a point where we’re actually taking cloud applications for granted, like the telephone. If we start to look at the cloud as critical business infrastructure, that’s the sea change we need because post-COVID, the default for manufacturing companies will be the cloud.”

An IDC report, “Manufacturing Resiliency in the Age of COVID-19,” found that cloud and digital collaboration were critical to business continuity, especially as workforces moved to remote modes of operation.

“Like any business, manufacturing company employees, whether executives or plant management, need to stay connected — to keep the business moving forward and to maintain a sense of normalcy and community,” the report says. “Providing digital conferencing tools and shifting to a digital way of collaborating, communicating, and learning that is typical for executive management needs to also be available to the rest of the organization.”

Facilitating Remote Work 

The cloud facilitates the flexibility, rapid decision-making, and digital collaboration needed to support the pivot to work-at-home arrangements. Gary Cantrell, CIO at manufacturing solutions provider Jabil, said cloud systems allowed employees to start working from home immediately and has enabled them to sustain productivity and engagement.

The company has about 40% of its core applications in the cloud, with the goal of 80% over the next few years. Cantrell says Jabil has a cloud-first methodology and the pandemic has “certainly validated both our need for, and use of, the cloud for critical systems.”

In the future, Cantrell believes manufacturers will accelerate their cloud adoption. “The industry was already moving in this direction and the variation in business seen during this pandemic will reinforce the need to have a higher level of agility, scalability (both up and down), and the best cost controls,” he says.

Similarly, with the help of the cloud, printer manufacturer Lexmark executed its global business continuity plan in just two days, shifting from few employees working at home to 94% (with some plants still open), without impacting the latency and performance of its systems. The company has all its systems in the cloud, with about two-thirds in the public cloud and one-third in a private cloud.

“If we start to look at the cloud as critical business infrastructure … post-COVID, the default for manufacturing companies will be the cloud.”

CIO Brad Clay says Lexmark hit its first quarter goals, even as 9,000 employees across Latin America, Europe, the U.S. and other regions transitioned to remote work.

“[The pandemic] gave us the opportunity to leverage our [cloud] tools in a very rapid fashion,” he says. “We had really good use of the tools previously but weren’t taking them to the full capacity they were designed for, but this forced us to do that in the course of a week and it’s been pretty awesome to watch.”

When COVID-19 hit, Owens Corning went from five percent of its employee base working at home to 100% in two to three weeks. Cloud and digital tools have allowed them stay on top of the health and safety of the workforce as the crisis continued.

The company sends a daily survey via text message to employees asking them about their well-being and any possible exposure. The results populate into a visual dashboard showing the overall health of the workforce, which helps them better manage safety across physical facilities.

Many of Owens Corning’s systems are in the cloud and they operate under a ‘why not cloud’ strategy. But core systems such as its ERP system are still on-premise and that won’t change “until we get to a logical end-of-life period,” says CIO Steve Zerby.

He doesn’t expect that companies that are performing well with a combination of on-premise and cloud will shift investments to cloud-only immediately.

“I don’t think this has been a period of time where the cloud has enamored itself to a lot of enterprise technology folks,” Zerby says. “But the pandemic is going to make sure that people actually have a plan. ‘Do you have a plan to connect your company, whether it be on-premise or in the cloud?’ If you have to fill those gaps quickly, that’s where most of the real [benefits] are today.”

IDC “expects the key strategic initiatives of digitally connected platforms, integration of IT/OT, and embedding cognitive technologies across these systems will remain for manufacturers…They are critical to ensure the long-term viability and flexibility of these organizations.”

For manufacturing leaders, the cloud has, in many cases, proven to be an ally in helping to meet the need for flexibility. Looking ahead, one can only anticipate that the dependency will grow.   M

RECOVERY: Dim Outlines

Recovery is coming for manufacturers, but there will never be the same normal.

In the aftermath from the Great Recession of 2008-09, manufacturing was the leader on the path toward U.S. economic recovery. At that time, lower energy prices, high labor productivity, and volatility in international supply chains made the United States a favorable location for manufacturing goods. Durable goods manufacturing returned to its pre-recession output peak in the first quarter of 2013, well ahead of other sectors, and it took the overall economy until 2018 to meet its pre-recession potential GDP, according to the Federal Reserve.

The major question with this recovery is the type of normal to which the industry can return. While post-2009 manufacturers may have found themselves having to overhaul their financial or business models, they weren’t left with also having to do things like procure thousands or even millions of face masks for their employees, or install plexiglass shields between workstations, or suddenly switch to a virtual workforce with little time to prepare.

Manufacturing Leadership Council members have shared about some of these changes. It’s been big things like leave policies, with Amway providing workers with overtime and additional comp pay in the early weeks of the outbreak and temporarily suspending its leave policies. It’s smaller things, like General Motors blocking off chairs in meeting spaces and coaching its employees on the safe use of shop floor fans to prevent virus spread. It’s meant staggering shift start times and rotating breaks. Just about everywhere, employees are required to wear face masks, and a lot of them are subject to a temperature screening when they show up for work.

9/11 was the last major event that ushered in radical change to many aspects of our day-to-day life. Now we accept as normal that we go through a full-body scan before we get on an airplane, and that we can no longer meet our loved ones at the gate. We find security checkpoints at places like the art museum or the amusement park or at the entrance to a baseball game. We submit more documentation to obtain things like drivers’ licenses and passports. We seldom question any of this; it has become normal. What stays with us beyond the pandemic is yet to be seen.

In their factories and throughout their entire supply chains, manufacturers are discovering their own operational new normal. While worker safety has long been a business critical priority for manufacturers, it has expanded from the interface between employees and equipment to now encompass interactions between employees and other employees. Considerations for pathogen transmission, once reserved for healthcare and other sanitation-sensitive settings, have now moved into all areas of the factory, not just the clean rooms and labs.

It’s the industry’s tried and true values that lie at the heart of this recovery — resilience, the desire to find better solutions, the ability to adapt.

It also means tradeoffs. Bradley Rick, Director of Manufacturing at Amway, says his company has implemented staff and equipment grids to limit interactions between employees. While it’s been effective for minimizing the impact of potential infections, it has also limited production and the agility that is usually afforded through Amway’s skills-based team strategy. “It prevents the flow of people to work, which can limit our flexibility in production scheduling.”

Rick says their new focus is how to safely return employees who have been working remotely without disrupting the practices that essential employees have assimilated. “We are assessing the necessity of certain supply chain functions to work on campus, like planning and procurement, since many of those employees have been very effective working at home.”

Indeed, the future is likely to be one of a hybrid virtual and physical organization. “If there has been any light in this, it might be that we’ve discovered our ability to work in a more virtual world,” said Doug Carson, Assistant President and Director – Business and Product Development at BWI Group, an automotive supplier. But it’s not just for strictly back-office jobs. “We’ve had at least one customer ask that we investigate VR technology so they could perform site evaluations remotely.”

While remote shop floor operation is nothing new, the pandemic has given manufacturers the onus to accelerate and prioritize its uses. Operational activities like equipment service, verification, inspection, and monitoring are more often getting done remotely, making companies reconsider how often they need to send employees to outside facilities. “It is likely we will see a reduced level of travel which is, by definition, non-value added,” Carson said. That means even after travel restrictions have lifted, the engineer accustomed to getting on a long flight to visit a customer facility may now find themselves doing much of that work virtually.

But while it might be advanced technologies that will be manufacturing’s means of revival, it’s really the industry’s tried and true values that lie at the heart of this recovery – resilience, the desire to find better solutions, the ability to adapt. “In the end, events like these should make the entire enterprise stronger,” Carson said. “That might be the biggest benefit of all.”   M

Winning Recovery: Balancing Health, Safety, and Productivity

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.


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.


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


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