Advanced Software (return to the homepage)

How manufacturers can bring flexibility into the frontline

01/02/2024 minute read OneAdvanced PR

Since the pandemic, flexible and remote working has become a cultural norm, with 14 per cent of UK adults working exclusively from home and 24 per cent enjoying a hybrid work model. Although these numbers do not form the majority, when compared to the 5.7 per cent of exclusive home workers pre-pandemic, the cultural shift is sizeable. With home working comes an acknowledgment that employees have a variety of needs - spanning their health, parental and caring responsibilities, preferences and hobbies - that can be better catered to with flexible, individualised working patterns. Now, 77 per cent of employees would actively look for a job if their company’s flexible work policies were reversed, and employees have a legal right to request flexible work from day one. 

Given this new attitude to working hours, manufacturers face a dilemma. 51 per cent of manufacturing employees would like to have more flexibility in their working conditions, yet for most frontline workers, physical presence at the warehouse or factory floor is required. It might seem nonsensical to introduce remote or flexible working for those who operate machinery, for example, or are involved in packing. However, there are ways that forward-thinking leaders can introduce elements of flexibility and demonstrate respect for their team’s work/life balance. Think outside the box to bring working conditions into the flexibility-focused future.  

Remote opportunities  

Even frontline workers will be required to do administrative tasks, which could include safety training, reporting machinery failures, inputting mileage, performance reviews or logging shift availability. This is especially the case when it comes to frontline managerial roles, with the average plant line supervisor spending 40 – 50 per cent of their time completing administrative tasks. Leaders can utilise digital tools to allow workers to complete these jobs at home, perhaps offering an afternoon a week where employees can work remotely and complete all the tasks where physical presence is not required.  

Using cloud-based software means that supplier management, time sheeting, tracking performance goals, rostering and more can be undertaken using an online solution, accessible from both the factory floor and at home. Companies can also make use of tools such as Zoom to conduct meetings and performance reviews remotely. Leaders should examine the daily, weekly and monthly tasks that frontline workers undertake with a fine toothcomb, identifying any opportunities for remote work and then assessing whether the team has the accessible, secure software needed to make these tasks no longer location dependent. Investing in software solutions for administrative tasks will also unlock a wide range of other benefits, such as reducing human error, allowing for real-time reporting and enabling planners to analyse trends and make predictions.   

Digitalising administrative, people management, financial and HR tasks is the first frontier of enabling remote work. However, innovative manufacturers can go a step further by looking at the machinery itself and introducing remote monitoring so that operations can be managed from home. Unilever, for example, retrofitted one of their factories with sensors to collect real-time data, which could then be analysed on the cloud so certain key capabilities of the factory could run remotely on a laptop. From significant investment in hardware to optimising management tasks through software as a service, each business can find ways to accommodate remote work, to suit their budget and capabilities. 

Expanding choice  

Even for physical work that must be undertaken onsite, there are opportunities to introduce flexibility. For example, employees can work overtime and later take it back in lieu, adjust their start times or work at weekends to fulfil their hours quota. Where manufacturers have multiple sites, they can also allow employees to choose where they work.  

However, a variety of options for working patterns raises issues of security and safety. Manufacturers may worry about having to leave areas unlocked, to allow workers to enter at changeable times, or being unable to account for everyone onsite at a particular time in the event of a fire or other emergency. These issues can be countered with a strong access control system, offering workers more choice of when they clock in and out without sacrificing managerial oversight. Clocking terminals synced with Time and Attendance software allows for workers to securely enter sites using fobs, swipe cards, fingerprints or facial recognition. This means leaders can rip up the rulebook when it comes to set working times and locations, whilst remaining reassured operations are secure and maintaining an accurate, real-time overview of their team.  

Finding and retaining frontline workers is a key priority for manufacturing leaders, with more than one third of manufacturers experiencing frontline attrition rates over 10 per cent. Flexibility is key to attracting and holding on to talent, and with digitalisation, it can be achieved even in this predominately “in-person” sector.