The COVID pandemic has changed the way Americans live their lives. Not only has it has impacted how we work, shop and get our entertainment, but it has also changed how manufacturers do business as well. The question is, how long term are these effects and how does the U.S. manufacturing sector plan for a post-COVID world?
First, let’s look at some ways the pandemic has affected everyday life in the U.S.
How COVID-19 Impacted Work and Everyday Life
Work life has changed considerably for many industries since much of the American economy has shut down. In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus many businesses have transitioned much of their employees to work out of their home offices. As a result, most people have realized how productive they can be, working from home. They have also saved quite a bit of time and money by not having to commute every day. The internet has already given us the virtual infrastructure and tools to be just as effective working remotely as being in the office.
Some analysts believe many of these changes will continue for the foreseeable future. More people working from home cuts down on daily commuter traffic and all that goes with it: carbon emissions, gasoline usage and time wasted sitting in traffic. Technology has been leading businesses to realize the value and cost savings of letting their employees work from home, so it is likely many of them will move to make these policies permanent.
One of the biggest way society was impacted is the way we shop. The move toward online shopping was happening long before 2020 but the pandemic certainly accelerated the trend. Curbside pickup and home delivery services are now commonplace among most grocery and retail stores. Moreover, people are also tending to stockpile items in order to cut down on how frequently they need to go out.
As with shopping for goods, the trend toward home entertainment was already in place prior to the pandemic. But now the growth of streaming services has exploded, not only offering studio movies but also creating their own content for exclusive viewing. More and more, people are staying home rather than going out for their entertainment.
How the Pandemic Impacted Manufacturing
So how does all of this impact the U.S. manufacturing industry? And how do manufacturers move forward in a post-COVID world?
A new reality for employees
Like in many industries, the pandemic took its toll on manufacturing workforces. To start, employee engagement is severely down. Despite attempts at virtual get-togethers, enhanced communication, and small gestures of gratitude, it’s hard to keep the engagement going when you can’t get together as frequently as before. For some manufacturers, there’s added stress on employees as a result of being an essential business. HR leaders are trying to encourage companywide mental health initiatives and keeping an eye on employee mental health overall.
Manufacturers have had to get creative when scheduling in order to accommodate distancing requirements as well as employees who need to be home due to illness or a child’s homeschooling. And an ever-present concern about skilled labor shortage took on a new dimension as COVID deterred new hires and manufacturers were forced to pivot to training employees virtually instead of in-person.
Manufacturers have always been close to OSHA, but the added element of new regulations (that often vary by state) have made it very difficult for HR and finance leaders in manufacturing to keep ahead while keeping their employees safe. Most manufacturers, however, have instituted several extra health and safety measures such as mask-wearing, hand sanitizer stations, taking temperatures and completing a COVID-symptom questionnaire before employees are allowed to begin their shift. Some or all of these policies may continue post COVID to help mitigate the effects of future outbreaks.
Paycor has tools to help with scheduling, training, documentation, managing compliance. Tools like Analytics can also give you vital insights into productivity that will help you identify potential problem areas before they become problems.
Supply Chain Management
One of the biggest changes U.S. manufacturers made during the pandemic is how they manage their supply chains.
The COVID pandemic highlighted the danger of sourcing too much product from a single location or country. Manufacturers with supply chains heavily vested in China or other foreign countries that risk becoming embroiled in geopolitical turbulence have begun moving them back to the U.S. or other, closer and safer countries.
Manufacturers will need to continue diversifying their suppliers and finding back-up and alternate sources to fill in gaps should shortages occur in the future.
In addition, manufacturers will need to be more proactive in monitoring demand shifts in the marketplace in order to maintain a better view of finished goods and inventory needs. Technologies for cargo-tracking, cloud-based GPS, and RFID can improve visibility of the supply chain. This real-time data can help companies react faster to unexpected events.
Technology in Manufacturing
Automation and e-commerce technologies will continue to take on more vital roles for manufacturers moving forward.
While robots don’t get sick, they do present other challenges around maintenance and vulnerability to cyber attacks. Manufacturers should develop robust back-up and auxiliary systems to avoid over-reliance on any single system. That can include eliminating paper files for HR and payroll software, so you have a system to track and report on people and compliance data.
Companies should also work on front end sales, marketing and customer service technologies to better serve their customer base. Online forms, chatbots, an advanced small business phone system, or even remote customer support staff can help respond to customer questions or complaints. This can also reduce overhead expenses and even improve the customer experience.
Crises like the COVID pandemic can cause significant upheaval and challenges for manufacturers. But they also bring great opportunities for growth and expansion. Manufacturing companies that can face future challenges with creativity and an optimistic mindset stand a much better chance of surviving and thriving through adversity.