How should manufacturers approach getting their people back to work safely? Consider five things.

By Laura Gurski, senior managing director, North America lead Consumer Goods & Services, Accenture

Ramping up operations presents new challenges
Ramping up operations presents new challenges.

This has been an extraordinarily challenging time. The COVID-19 pandemic is putting virtually every aspect of manufacturing to the test. Companies have had to act quickly and decisively to support their people, help communities fight the pandemic and ensure their businesses come through the crisis stronger.

Now, as economies and societies start to reopen, a whole new set of challenges are emerging. Consumer brands will need to balance ramping up their operations whilst ensuring the mental and physical health and wellbeing of their workforce. It will require exceptional levels of flexibility, resilience and resourcefulness, particularly because in most markets around the world it is likely that there will be a pattern of opening and closing.

There is now broad consensus that we won’t go back to how things were before. It means addressing some fundamental questions about how the business should reset and renew itself for the new reality.

The ability to manage and capitalize on uncertainty has become a massive strategic differentiator. A key feature of this is creating and executing a highly effective physical distancing strategy that allows people to be both productive and mentally feel safe.

There are five objectives manufacturers should consider when considering how best to get their people back to work safely:

The first is to bring centralized coordination and coherence until your workforce is fully comfortable with operating in the new era. This could be a while. The initiatives and structures created to deal with the immediate challenges of COVID-19 (such as any crisis command center or internal communication strategy) should be kept in place to help manage a staggered return to work. Maintain a constant communication with the workforce, keep gathering feedback and be clear and compassionate in your tone.

Second, reassure your people about their physical and mental safety, and rapidly take steps to address any areas of concern. The pandemic has been an extremely uncertain and stressful period for many. That anxiety won’t simply go away overnight. Your people need to be sure they’re not risking their health when they return to the workplace. Carefully monitor healthcare recommendations and legal requirements in each geography, be ready to update your protocols, and keep the workforce informed as soon as things change. Accenture research suggests that in most organizations there will be 20 to 30% of people who will be particularly concerned about this transition, identify them and stay close.

Third, consider how to remodel your ways of working. Flexibility will be key. Be prepared to quickly redeploy people to areas of high demand. Review your training programs to ensure they’re upskilling the workforce for the demands of the future. Carefully prioritize who in the business needs to travel internationally and update HR and travel policies accordingly. Accept that home working, video-conferencing and remote digital collaboration will most likely be a permanent feature of how you operate. Rethink how time management, performance monitoring, and career progression need to change for this more physically dispersed workforce.

Fourth, reenergize your relationships with your workforce and your partners. These last few months have been an unprecedented interruption. A key part of the post-pandemic ramping up will be restarting these relationships in a safe but productive way. Inevitably, this will need to be a carefully controlled and staggered process. It means working with employees to prioritize who wants or needs to be onsite and who can or should stay at home for longer. Be hyper-attuned to people’s psychological wellbeing and mental health needs, both for those in the workplace and those who are potentially feeling isolated at home. Be open and honest with customers, supply chain partners and the media about the implications of this gradual ramping up process.

Fifth, prepare for the reopening of your physical sites and facilities. Consider what personal protective equipment (PPE) you need to offer the workforce, and how its use should be enforced. Consider how to communicate hygiene and social distancing rules onsite (reminder notices, signs, floor markings, etc.) and when to offer body temperature measurements. Put in place guidelines for face-to-face meetings, including seating arrangements and handwashing before and after. Be prepared to reorganize supplier and postal deliveries to minimize physical contact and rethink and restrict the use of shared spaces and canteens.

Digital technologies can play a key role in ensuring safety throughout the return to work. By creating a “digital twin” of the workplace, for example, it’s possible to simulate and test out different layout configurations digitally and assess how well people would be able to comply with social distancing rules, particularly in high-risk areas like canteens, sanitary facilities and meeting rooms. And consider whether you want to deploy “safe worker” apps and temperature monitoring facilities to alert workers when they’re breaching proximity limits and detect areas of overcrowding in the workplace in real time.

The world is longing for a return to normalcy, but the reality is, the world as we know it has changed. By working towards these five objectives, manufacturers will be better placed to manage the uncertainty of the coming months, ramp up and renew their operations, and ensure their people stay well and stay safe.

In the end, it will be those organizations that are most adaptable to change that will be best positioned to ride out the disruption and help both their businesses come through stronger.

This is what we mean when we talk about the post-COVID world.

laura gurski accenture
Laura Gurski

Laura Gurski is senior managing director and North America lead of Accenture’s consumer goods and services practice where she oversees the development and delivery of marketing, customer service, commerce and sales transformation services.

www.accenture.com