Offering Work-from-Home Flexibility to Plant-Floor Workers
Many employees feel squeezed between a need to earn a living, and the need to keep themselves and their families safe.
The answer for many employers of white-collar workers was to allow (or require) employees to work from home. Offices went dark, but employees stayed productive – or even improved output – while working from home.
Is there room to offer more manufacturing-sector workers the chance to do their work remotely?
For an answer, consider the fact that when the coronavirus first hit, many employers were surprised at how easily they could pivot to having a remote, work-from-home workforce, at least for office work.
This was due to the recent availability of high-bandwidth home networks, powerful laptop computers, and the remote-working solutions such as MS Teams, Zoom, Skype, and Cloud-based technologies.
Many manufacturing operations can continue to have their office employees work from home, reducing the headcount that is physically on the company’s premises. But manufacturers can also look for other work that can be done remotely. A Manufacturing Execution System (MES) can be operated as easily from a screen in a home office as it can from the plant’s control room.
Just be sure to have proper security protocols in place. The idea of controlling a manufacturing operation from a phone might sound attractive. But why would you entrust your factory’s integrity to such an insecure device – and one on which you might cause a malfunction of a machine through an inadvertent butt-dial?
And remember that people just aren’t built for sustained attention to a situation. In my younger years, I worked as a lifeguard – and there are good reasons why we worked in 15-minute shifts. Continually scanning a pool to see if a child has been underwater too long, or may have fallen, or there’s been an injury – it’s just not possible for anyone (particularly a teenager) to pay effective, sustained attention for long.
It can be the same for remote monitoring of operations on a factory floor. Sitting in a spare-bedroom home office, watching camera feeds and sensory output for hours at a time, can be intensely boring, and bored employees may miss potential problems. This means you need to have frequent changes of who’s responsible, and sensors and alarm systems set up.
In this next normal, manufacturers will benefit from having flexibility on where their employees actually do the work. Some employees will prefer to go into the workplace on a daily basis, and others will prefer to work at home. All will appreciate choice and flexibility, so your company has an edge in recruiting the best workers.
This article is second in a four-part series discussing how manufacturers can prosper in the “next normal.”