As Manufacturing Goes Back to Normal, the Focus is on Trust

Today’s post comes to us from one of our newest board members: author, journalist, and speaker, Ivonne Vargas Hernández.

Although all industries have been impacted by COVID-19, perhaps no other industry more than manufacturing. In Mexico, there are over 579,000 manufacturers, according to data from Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática (INEGI, for its acronym in Spanish).

According to Salesforce’s Trends in Manufacturing, 72% of manufacturers said there was a significant change in their production capacities because of the pandemic.  

Specifically, Salesforce surveyed 750 world leaders in the manufacturing industry in North America, Latin America (including Mexico), Asia-Pacific, and Europe. The research broke organizations into two groups: the “prepared for the future” manufacturers, as in those that believe their systems and technology can help them face the next decade; and the “unprepared” manufacturers, those that do not believe their systems are ready for the next 10 years.

One of the main differences with “prepared for the future” manufacturers is that, even though they have not been immune to the interruptions caused by COVID-19, they have been more resilient. In another survey, the 2021 KPMG U.S. CEO Outlook, 99% of CEOs say they have felt a stronger emotional connection to their purpose – and to their employees – since the pandemic began.

With these numbers, we can determine the key elements to a return to “normal” within this sector. The answer is, among other things, looking at how companies connect and collaborate, and how Human Resources works together as one team with Information Technology (IT). Both are key pieces to providing trust and security to employees in several areas (e.g., protocols at the office, virtual tools for emotional support, and more).  

HR AND IT WORKING ON “BACK TO NORMAL”

According to a report published by ManpowerGroup, 83% of companies in Mexico expect to go back to work full time within the next three months. Only 3% will continue to allow workers to work remotely. Also don’t forget: many workers never left the plant to begin with. For instance, General Motors, which has more than 500 employees in the country, restarted operations with 30% of its personnel in the plant and, little by little, more workers have been incorporated.

In this return to normal, the Mexican manufacturers expressed that their main priorities for the next 24 months are updating their ERP (84%) and increasing their efficiency processes (82%) to enhance productivity – especially in times of turmoil.

Production levels in the factories was also affected, not only in Mexico, but globally in two important aspects:

On the one hand, we have manufacturers that, due to the economic impact produced by the pandemic, had to dismantle a structure of work teams with efficient collaborators – those who already had overcome their learning curve – achieving high-impact performance and stability in their positions. By disintegrating these teams, where talent with great potential and years of experience were surely involved, that workload is transferred to the people who remained in the factory, having to do more with less, and greatly impacting productivity.

On the other hand, the company that saw the need to make changes with its personnel very likely no longer has the liquidity to regain that structure, and not having an experienced team can put the spirit of innovation at risk. In addition to the impact on productivity, delivery times and quality of work are also affected, and the organization is likely hindered from investing today in the innovations of tomorrow.

In Mexico, there is great concern about the return to the offices, due to the low percentage of people who have received the vaccine, in addition to an imbalance between the expectations of both the worker and the employer.

Also, according to the ManpowerGroup report, employers speak of returning the majority to full-time offices. Moreover, 83% believe they will return in the next three months because they are concerned about people’s productivity. However, employees are overwhelmed by returning “to the way things were before” and losing the gains during the pandemic in flexibility and in terms of avoiding contagion.

It is important that we all understand this phenomenon, regardless of the industry since that is where human resources plays a very important role in returning to normalcy.

For many companies, there is an opportunity to acquire competencies where they should have invested before:

  • Becoming digital companies, based on data, and with a cloud presence.
  • Having price-variable structures, automated and fluid operations.
  • Creating sturdier capacities in e-commerce and security.
  • HR and IT both working together as a real team.

It is very important that HR and IT work together on the immediate challenges (i.e., security at the workplace, wellness programs, and business continuity), so they are adjusted now and strengthened for the future for difficult and disruptive times.

This agility will be critical for the long haul. Executives should see the reopening of their businesses as the beginning of a journey toward a bigger transformation.

Whether the person is at home or in the factory, the focus must be on people. And companies cannot open again as if nothing has happened. Employees have become used to the new ways of working and some will refuse to change. The transformation in the long run requires new processes and capacities. Reopening is a new opportunity to create a better future for employees and customers.

This is an invitation to remember two key words: trust and security. HR and IT need to develop, together, a strategic focus around it.

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