By: Felecia Brasfield
Hybrid-remote work is becoming increasingly popular within many industries, but is remote work in manufacturing possible? Manufacturing workers are naturally adaptable, continually looking for solutions to issues as they arise. However, the pandemic and what has transpired since have shined a spotlight on manufacturing companies and their workforce versatility.
Manufacturing is about raw material being bought and changed into products by humans or machines, then sold. It involves the physical world and real-time processing. Many of these processes can be automated; however, some still require a hands-on approach to be completed.
Engineering and manufacturing processes are often repetitive and depend upon collaborative procedures. The collaboration requires involvement from several individuals, departments, and systems within the organization to meet actual and immediate objectives.
The Rise of Hybrid Work
The McKinsey Global Institute compiled data in 2020 on what remote work will look like in the future. According to survey results, 18% of manufacturing companies reported that creating organizational resiliency is a top concern as they move forward post-pandemic. While an additional 17% of manufacturers shared that they need to focus on customizing products for the consumer and be able to react accordingly to customer requests.
The manufacturing sector also faces gaps in skill sets and qualified individuals. Shortages of talented workers pressure companies, potentially pushing them to adopt a more flexible work model. Looking ahead, manufacturers may soon start to see value in including employee preferences in policies and procedures. An engaged workforce is essential to the business’s long-term vision and goals.
What Are Some Issues With Remote Working?
While the hybrid-remote model might work in some industries, many processes and services aren’t well-suited within the manufacturing industry. Only a certain percentage of companies find remote work a viable option. Some places where hybrid-remote work may not be possible are within the construction and engineering sectors. The McKinsey survey shared that workers within the construction industry could only spend 15% of their time working remotely.
In 2021 Riverbed and Aternity conducted research and published a Hybrid Work Global Survey. Their detailed report covered the benefits and challenges of a hybrid workplace. The findings shared what several manufacturing IT decision-makers felt were barriers to a hybrid-remote work environment:
- Increasing security concerns
- Unreliable at-home hardware and software
- Unreliable internet connectivity
- Inability to pay for & access dependable technology stacks
Can Manufacturing Jobs be Done Remotely?
Individuals who hold hands-on positions like concrete workers, material handlers, and machinists all fall within the category of positions unlikely to be conducted remotely. Physically unpacking pallets in receiving, loading materials for shipping purposes, and daily equipment checks are responsibilities that often require physical labor that’s situationally dependent. Safety requirements and daily equipment checks are reasons certain workers can’t work from home.
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For example, a ‘machine operator’ is required to not only load the machine but also conduct safety checks of the machine being used to manufacture products. A physical presence is needed to detect unstable parts or rusty screws. Even though the device is working, early detection of faulty pieces can save the company from a machine breakdown, which is likely to be costly. Seeing rust on the machine or a bend in a rotator isn’t easily detected on a Zoom call.
“I think it would be foolish of me to say that there’s a way we can completely make the construction management operation a remote one entirely. If you need to physically test a valve to make sure that it’s operating correctly before you put that building into commission, that’s something that you’re just not going to do remotely.”
The future of remote work in manufacturing is not clearly defined but is continuing to adapt moving forward. The competitive nature of the manufacturing industry continues to require agility and grit. Each company will determine whether hybrid or remote work is feasible, weighing out the benefits and challenges.