How Manufacturers and distributors can Enhance and Benefit from the Remote Working Experience

SYSPRO-led research reveals that remote work will become a permanent fixture, but how can industry decision-makers prepare for the shift?

By Terence Moolman, Chief Human Resource Officer at SYSPRO

It is clear that the pandemic has been a catalyst for change and one notable shift has been the rise of the remote workforce. As social distancing became the new normal, entire workforces needed to connect as well as collaborate remotely.

In order to understand how manufacturers and distributors handled the shift towards remote work during COVID-19, we conducted a research study. The online survey was shared with industry professionals of different managerial levels within the United States, Canada, EMEA, and APAC. The survey was directed to both office workers as well as operational workers in departments including operations, the office of finance, IT, logistics, marketing, and sales. In total, 144 responses were received.

Key Findings indicate that remote working could become a permanent fixture

Even before the pandemic, traditional business models have mostly been defined by the gathering of the white-collar workforce within a centralized, communal office. There was also a perception that manufacturers needed to operate on-premise in order to succeed. According to the survey, once global lockdowns shifted the workforce to off-premise locations, 47% of businesses were unable to function effectively.

Additionally, 29% of businesses stated that their systems lacked in providing them with the availability and accessibility during this time and they would be pursuing cloud-based business systems to deal with any possible future disruptions. This included office workers, that had been reliant largely in manual processes in their day to day operations.

In a shift towards remote work and increased collaboration, 73% of businesses stated they would need to invest in technology to facilitate remote working capabilities in the future.

While the investment in the cloud and collaborative technologies has been highlighted as an essential next step, the question is whether workforces have the necessary skills aligned to these advancements.

Addressing the skills mismatch

The rise of the cloud for collaboration is here to stay. A report by Mckinsey stated that advances in technologies such as cloud computing and online collaboration tools have enabled remote working in many jobs that once required in-person interactions.

Businesses, therefore, have an obligation to include ongoing and online training initiatives in emerging technologies as a part of their business strategy. Furthermore, it is not only skills in emerging technologies that will be high in demand. According to a report by the World Economic Forum,  some of the skills needed for remote workers in the fourth industrial revolution include critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and the ability to coordinate with others. The skills necessity also extends to the ability to engage with e-learning platforms to ensure continuous development. New roles should also be considered to make remote working a reality, such as the introduction of instructional designers who can design courses best suited to engage with virtual employees.

Despite this obvious responsibility, few businesses have positioned skills training as a priority area within their organizational strategy. In fact, the Mckinsey report goes on to say that although 87% of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected them within a few years, only 28% said their organizations were making effective decisions on how to close that gap. As the famous saying goes, ‘What if I train them and they leave?” What if you don’t and they stay?’

Sustaining your corporate culture in a new digital world requires a new approach

With the rise of the remote workforce,  there was a sudden increase in digital collaboration, online calls and one-way interactions. The truth is that human connection was largely lost because team members opted to switch their cameras off, communication became disparate and company cultures became complex.

This also impacted corporate culture. According to a Glassdoor survey, 56% of employees find a good workplace culture to be more important than salary. Because culture is about rituals, presence, and the stories that people share, managers require a new approach to sustaining corporate culture.

For one, businesses should incorporate organizational values into day-to-day operations. Internal communication can also be improved by leveraging the right communications channels. Face-to-Face video meetings should also be a priority. Ultimately, without a combination of trust, engagement, transparent communication, and accountability, the remote workforce would simply not work.

While the remote workforce may be here to stay, it is important for manufacturers and distributors to not only consider the technology that is required to enable it. There is also a responsibility to enable employees through the right upskilling initiatives. At the same time, company culture should not be an afterthought.

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