The Unique COVID-19 Challenges Faced by Manufacturing Operations Leaders
Table of Contents
Updated August 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic introduced unprecedented challenges for everyone. Across all lines of work, there were stoppages, supply chain issues, difficulties with internal resourcing, the struggle to adjust to remote work, not to mention the unsettling sense of uncertainty in our personal lives.
While all industries were impacted by the disruption of COVID-19 to varying degrees, many of them were able to develop remote work setups and reorganize an efficient return-to-work plan. Most manufacturers, on the other hand, were considered essential businesses and had to maintain production without sufficient time to rethink their operations.
As a result, they were left handling unique challenges with little guidance in today's organizational safety best practices.
Despite their early hurdles, many manufacturers found new methods and technologies to help them stay afloat. As we start to transition into the post-pandemic era, there’s a lot to learn from the tools that manufacturing industries successfully leveraged during the pandemic. Plus, the examples they’ve set have become particularly useful indicators of what the future holds for their industry and others.
Let’s take a look at some of the core problems the industry solved.
Without sufficient time to reevaluate and pivot their operations for a new normal, manufacturers were amongst the first to be hard hit by the realities of the pandemic.
In the very first months of the pandemic, the National Association of Manufacturers had already discovered significant impacts on the industry. Their March 2020 study outlined the following:
Of manufacturers expected a financial impact
Anticipated a change in operations
Expected a disruption in the supply chain
These anticipated disruptions to the industry all came true for manufacturers. Luckily, many of them discovered new opportunities for innovation and paved the way for smarter, more resilient modes of work.
It’s not easy working as an operations leader in manufacturing. On any given day, they’re responsible for coordinating internal resources like staff, equipment, and inventory, and overseeing external factors like suppliers and supply chain timelines to ensure goods are delivered accurately and on time. That’s why some even suggest that operations and supply chain leaders should be future CEOs.
As you can imagine, when COVID-19 hit, their jobs became nearly impossible. Before the pandemic, losing visibility meant a few sick-day absences or delivery delays here and there. Now, they were dealing with indefinite supply chain delays, barriers, and large numbers of employees who couldn’t make it to work due to fears of catching the virus or having caught it.
How did these operations leaders learn to cope with the pandemic?
For one, many leaders in manufacturing were quick to establish a crisis nerve center that streamlined communications and approvals between decision-makers and employees. Especially for companies with a larger and more spread-out workforce, it proved crucial to leverage collaboration tools that allowed individual employees to report their health and workability statuses remotely.
Having a digital nerve center like Go Evo successfully provided manufacturing leaders with real-time visibility over their daily operations. Technologies like this had been used by specific large-scale industries and public sector operations, but the pandemic accelerated this trend and expanded it into other industries, effectively putting it to the test—with great results.
Pandemic or not, the manufacturing industry had been facing a hiring crisis for a while. It was never easy to find employees with the right skills and credentials for a manufacturing environment. In today’s high-tech industries, where operations run 24/7, individuals are willing to work those unusual hours outside the 9-to-5, including night shifts.
The pandemic made things worse than ever. Manufacturers recognized that they were in critical need of more back-up staff to fill sickness absences from COVID-19. They also discovered that job seekers were now looking for work-from-home positions where they didn’t have to worry about their health and safety working in large manufacturing plants.
How did manufacturers find skilled talent during COVID-19?
Organizations across industries were able to attract more talent by offering remote work options, while others relied on better storytelling like increased healthcare benefits and paid leave policies.
In manufacturing environments, however, what proved most effective was decisively addressing job seekers’ concerns for their safety and wellbeing, both physically and mentally. Many manufacturers responded with stringent screening and COVID-19 safety protocols to reassure potential applicants of the culture of health at their company.
By bringing in technologies that allowed workers to safely report in and out of work in case of illness or mental health issues, such as vaccination and test tracking, these companies were able to build reputations as reliable employers throughout and after the peak of the pandemic.
Maintaining Onsite Health and Safety
During the pandemic, it was easier to maintain a good level of health and safety awareness in the workplace. As we transition into a new normal, employees still have lingering anxieties about their personal safety in returning to the office.
In environments that require constant onsite work, like manufacturing, how can leaders reassure their teams that the workplace will continue to be vigilant about their health and safety?
Implementing regular cleaning and disinfection routines and spreading hand sanitizer stations are great ways to maintain health and safety in the workplace. But, when your operations involve multi-location teams with varying vaccination statuses and existing health conditions, it’s important to consider other systemic solutions to help increase your visibility and contain health risks before they spread.
How can leaders in manufacturing keep the post-pandemic workplace safe for everyone?
In workplaces where physical distancing may be difficult due to frequent employee movement and interactions, leaders can leverage technologies that give them visibility over high-risk situations.
Workplace health and safety solutions like Go Evo are built with comprehensive reporting features and administrative dashboards so administrators and managers can assess daily workplace conditions and act on possible health risks immediately.
With our comprehensive form builder, any operational process can be digitized operational, which helps mitigate hazards by creating a custom document to keep managers and employees aware of any potential risks. For example, you could create a comprehensive due diligence document and start looking into gaps in your safety procedures.
Even so, there’s only so much leaders can do to ensure everyone in the workforce has the same level of safety awareness. That’s why it’s also important to ensure all workers have access to education materials through an easy-to-use central hub with workplace safety protocols and other helpful information on how to protect themselves and the people they work with.
Manufacturing In The New Normal With Digital Transformations
When it comes to maintaining a safe and healthy manufacturing workplace, it’s ultimately up to leaders and employers to do what’s best for their teams. It’s not always easy, however, to balance the priorities of business expansion and workplace safety.
Of manufacturers had invested in a new supply chain management solution
implemented new automation processes to address the hours lost due to COVID-19 work shortages
In the manufacturing industry, one of the main changes brought on by COVID-19 was the adoption of new technologies to help automate operations and employee health.
A recent study found that 39% of manufacturers had invested in a new supply chain management solution and 25% implemented new automation processes to address the hours lost due to COVID-19 work shortages. In order to adopt solutions in a timely manner, it was important that these remote monitoring and operations management software could be implemented quickly and easily usable by employees of all levels of comfort in technology.
Go Digital and Tackle Manufacturing Challenges with Go Evo
Having worked with many manufacturing companies throughout North America, our team has heard the unique needs of the industry, and we’ve worked hard to develop solutions that cater to manufacturing environments.
As we continue to navigate the post-pandemic workplace, we’re eager to help more manufacturers move successfully into the new normal. Talk to us today about how you can join the workplace health and safety digital transformation.