Increased safety measures and hybrid work models are par for the course as the manufacturing industry enters the future of work.

remote-friendly future of manufacturing

by Greg Dyer, Group President, Randstad US

In the U.S. at least, the dust from COVID-19 is finally settling. So it’s probably a good time for us to answer a key question that has come up a lot among manufacturing leadership during the pandemic: What key shifts has COVID-19 actually inaugurated in the manufacturing industry? More crucially, which of these shifts represent fundamental, enduring changes, and which are likely to prove temporary?

In this article, I’ll approach the question in piecemeal fashion, first calling out two things that emerged in the course of the pandemic and now appear to be here to stay — namely, new safety protocols and a new dependence on tech capabilities — before turning to look at a notable area where the industry is still playing catch-up.

We’re Still Doubling Down on Safety

Onsite temperature checks. Staggered scheduling. Significantly scaled-up directives around personal protective equipment (PPE). A few months back, I noted in this blog post that measures like these, which serve to critically ensure the safety of all workers (vaccinated or not), appear to be sticking around. And I stand by those words today. There’s not a lot to report on this front — the bottom line is that enhanced safety protocols aren’t going to go away just because something closer to “normal life” is resuming for most of the U.S. 

With that in mind, I recommend manufacturing employers regularly check in to see the latest guidance from OSHA. If you don’t, it might prove costly: One recent study found that workers who reported feeling unsafe at work for reasons related to COVID-19 were more than three times as likely to explore new job opportunities than colleagues who felt safe.

Of course, if attrition is one concern, compliance is something else altogether. Which is why you should know OSHA does a good job of updating the FAQ section of their website with new developments related to the pandemic. Bookmark that link and you’ve got an easy way of staying abreast. That, or setting up a smart Google Alert (think: “OSHA COVID-19 safety requirements”), is probably the best way forward.

Tech Has Penetrated Manufacturing’s Core

The onset of the pandemic was a period of forced improvisation. For manufacturing leaders, in particular, it meant that the ability to think quickly — and to make wise decisions on the fly, even without necessarily having all of the pertinent information on hand — probably never mattered so much.

And when it comes to agile thinking, you can no doubt appreciate the value added by new digital tech: Communication tools, for example, became organizational life lines. Meanwhile, a bevy of new tech tools like sensors, remote monitoring equipment and more were coming to the forefront  as hallmarks of digitally advanced manufacturing companies. And for those organizations sufficiently ahead of the curve, these tools meant that operations could continue, seamlessly and without jeopardizing the health or safety of employees, throughout the course of the pandemic.

In terms of core business value, technology also stands out as a differentiator when looking at pandemic-era M&A activity. Is it any surprise, for example, that technology-driven startups — those companies most adept at leveraging new tech tools to their advantage — were at the front of new deals in the automotive space? It shouldn’t be. And the same is true of many other industries that are manufacturing-adjacent.

The Future of Remote Work in Manufacturing

On the one hand, this might seem pretty obvious: Given the physical nature of much of the labor that goes into manufacturing output, the industry at large would seem to foreclose the possibility of remote work — or remote work at scale — right?

Well, it’s worth looking back at the start of the pandemic to recognize what it signals about the advanced digital-readiness of the industry at large. Take, for example, the following statistic: More than half of workers — 54%, to be exact — say they prefer a flexible work arrangement that allows them to work both remotely and on-site, according to Randstad’s Next Normal survey. If this suggests anything, it’s that flexibility will be a top priority for workers moving forward. 

Globally, what’s more, nearly half of manufacturing companies say they already have “remote monitoring processes” in place, according to the World Economic Forum. That, too, suggests that a remote-friendly manufacturing future (something observers are calling “Remote 2.0”) is somewhere on the horizon.

Needless to say, mass remote work probably isn’t an option that’s going to make sense for everyone in the near term. But the writing is on the wall right now, so it’s wise to heed my warning: This is coming. And it just might get here sooner than you expect. 

greg dyer randstad
Greg Dyer

About the author:
Greg leads Randstad’s in-house services concept and enterprise strategic accounts team, where he is responsible for strategic commercial sales, client delivery and account management for many of Randstad’s largest, most complex clients. Greg oversees a team of strategic account directors and in-house leaders and has a proven track record of establishing solid go-to-market strategies, setting and communicating clear vision and goals and executing and delivering outstanding results in terms of growth and profitability. Under Greg’s leadership, Randstad has significantly improved its strategic client delivery and fulfillment in many client staffing programs.