Why manufacturers should invest in technology for those operating it
Over the last decade, the ways in which we work have changed drastically. The digital age has transformed production across industries, with manufacturers specifically embracing new technologies such as automation and robotics to increase output and efficiencies. Yet, as we approach the Fourth Industrial Revolution have we forgotten to apply digital advances to an organisation’s basic operations such as communication, engagement, and HR? Cristian Grossman, CEO, Beekeeper looks at how new technology investment shouldn’t be limited to the production line and should involve those operating it as well.
Efficiency and growth are at the heart of any successful manufacturing business. In order to thrive in a competitive market it’s vital to assess one of the core foundations of a company: its people. We all know that effective internal communication throughout a company has multiple benefits: increased job satisfaction, improved productivity and efficiencies, and better employee engagement. However, a recent survey found that 82 percent of 1,500 small to mid-size manufacturing companies felt that speaking to their employees was either difficult or very difficult.
Beyond the bulletin board
What’s going wrong? For many it’s the reliance on traditional internal communication methods such as bulletin boards and company intranets, which are rarely effective tools in reaching all staff and offer no opportunity for interaction. For companies with dispersed workforces in various locations, updating everyone with printed announcements on bulletin boards or by sending group emails can be a time-consuming process. These methods also lack both the ability for management to know that messages have been received, and for employees to respond immediately.
One company that experienced these common internal communication issues is Seaboard Foods, a US-based food manufacturer with over 5,000 employees across six states and multiple sites including 500 pig farms, a pork processing plant, two biodiesel plans, feed mills, and a large logistics team. When Seaboard Foods conducted an audit, the company found that less than 12% of employees had access to email or intranet meaning that information distribution was very challenging. Production workers in isolated areas relied on word-of-mouth updates and printed documents—or at worst, didn’t receive any information at all.
The scenario faced by Seaboard Foods is not unique; there are a number of manufacturing companies experiencing difficulties when it comes to facilitating effective communications with a dispersed, mobile workforce.
Embrace smartphones as a company asset
How does a manufacturing company best address internal communication challenges? One solution is to embrace smartphone technology. Chances are that the majority of your workforce now has smartphones, and you can leverage this access for the benefit of the business. Adopting a secure team communication app has far-reaching positive impacts on business communications by ensuring that staff can access relevant information wherever work takes them. With a team app, companies can also integrate a variety of useful HR operations directly into the platform such as payroll, shift management, and distribution of training manuals and onboarding materials. This encourages employee engagement while creating a virtual, interactive company community. A mobile team app can even be used to administer employee polls and surveys to vote on where to host the Christmas party, or what colour the breakroom should be painted.
Put HR in your pocket
Having a digital communication platform that provides employee access to common HR processes via a smartphone app will save time and money while improving efficiencies and increasing workforce satisfaction. Rather than going through the labour-intensive process of having to request forms or documents from HR, fill out and then scan, email or physically return those forms when there is limited time, an app enables this activity to be conducted at the convenience of your workforce. This helps to eliminate frustrations when requesting annual leave, making shift changes, or asking payroll-related questions.
Team apps offer enhanced company collaboration, understanding and knowledge sharing
Shared learning and the ability to combine skills can make a big difference in how we work but becomes tricky with geographically-dispersed teams. Traditionally, company news or operational updates would first have to be communicated to HR or management and then this information would be shared company-wide. A digital employee platform empowers workers to post their own work-related content in real-time, allowing for instant feedback from and collaboration with colleagues.
For Seaboard Foods, using Beekeeper’s team communication app increases employee engagement and creates a sense of pride amongst all employees through sharing customer insights and stories, as well as what restaurants and supermarkets they supply.
Real-time safety and manufacturing updates
News spreads quickly in a large organisation. If the topic is sensitive, such as a merger, leadership transition, or an important safety update, it’s vital that this information is effectively managed to avoid confusion and ensure everyone receives the same information. Since safety is the top priority, immediate, efficient internal communication is especially significant in a manufacturing context. With digital employee communications, product recalls, equipment malfunctions, or production changes can be dispatched immediately to your entire workforce for faster response time across manufacturing teams.
Workforce recognition and support
Facilitating employee engagement is an increasingly recognised factor that contributes to thriving workplaces that many companies are keen to invest in. Seaboard Foods’ Beekeeper team app hosts initiatives such as ‘everyday heroes’ where employees are consistently and visibly recognised for their achievements and contribution. New hires are onboarded to and announced on the app so that employees can post welcome messages creating a sense of instant community for those just joining the team. The Seaboard Foods app has also been used to support staff experiencing personal hardships, such as to coordinate donations and assistance for an employee who lost their house in a fire.
Invaluable organisational insights
It can be difficult for management or HR to have a presence on the factory floor within a large manufacturing organisation. This means that key issues often aren’t flagged to those who can respond to them, one of the key signs that companies are out of touch with their teams. These internal communication gaps can be successfully managed with a two-way digital communications platform so that both employees and management can raise concerns and find solutions by collaborating quickly on the platform.
Incorporating the Beekeeper team app into the internal communications strategy at Seaboard Foods has been transformational. 87% of those that use the app do so via smartphone, clearly demonstrating that mobile devices are the primary way employees prefer to access these services. 40% of active users contribute to the content which proves that workers want to interact and engage with their company; they just need the opportunity to do so. 44% of those using the app are hourly workers who are now able to participate in company discussions, raise awareness of their roles, and feel included on a consistent basis.
Thinking of investing in new technology? Start with empowering your workforce with mobile team communication tools and watch as employee satisfaction, productivity, and safety awareness soars.
Cristian Grossman is the CEO of Beekeeper
IMF: Variants Can Still Hurt Manufacturing Recovery
After a year of on-and-off manufacturing in the US, UK, and the eurozone, demand for goods surged early last week. Factories set growth records in April and May, suppliers started to recover, and US crude hit its highest price point since pre-COVID. As vaccination efforts immunise much of the US and UK populations, manufacturers are now able to fully ramp up their supply chains. In fact, GDP growth could approach double-digits by 2022.
Now, the ISM productivity measure has surpassed the 50-point mark that separates industry expansion from contraction. Since U.S. president Biden passed his US$1.9tn stimulus package and the UK purchasing managers index (PMI) increased to 65.6, both sides of the Atlantic are facing a much-welcomed manufacturing recovery.
Lingering Concerns Over COVID
Even as Spain, France, Italy, and Germany race to catch up, and mining companies pushed the FTSE 100 index of list shares to a monthly high of 7,129, some say that UK and US markets still suffer from a lack of confidence in raw material supplies. Yes, the Dow Jones has made up its 19,173-point crash of March 2020, and MSCI’s global stock index is at an all-time high.
Yet manufacturers around the world realise that these wins will be short-lived until pandemic supply chain bottlenecks are solved. If we keep the status quo, consumers will pay the price. In April, inflation in Germany reached 2.4%, and across the EU’s 19 member countries, overall prices have increased at an unusual pace. Some ask: Is this true recovery?
IMF: Current Boom Could Falter
Even as Elon Musk tweeted about chip shortages forcing Tesla to raise its prices, UK mining demand skyrocketed; housing markets lifted; and the pound sterling gained value. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, cautioned that manufacturing recovery won’t last long if COVID mutates into forms our vaccinations can’t touch. Kristalina Georgieva, Washington’s IMF director, noted that fewer than 1% of African citizens have been vaccinated: “Worldwide access to vaccines offers the best hope for stopping the coronavirus pandemic, saving lives, and securing a broad-based economic recovery”.
Across the globe, manufacturing companies are keeping a watchful eye on new developments in the spread of COVID. Though US FDA officials don’t think we’ll have to “start at square one” with new vaccines, the March 2021 World Economic Outlook states that “high uncertainty” surrounds the projected 6% global growth. Continued manufacturing success will in large part depend on “the path of the pandemic, the effectiveness of policy support, and the evolution of financial conditions”.
Mathias Cormann, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) concurred—without global immunisation, the estimated economic boom expected by 2025 could go kaput. “We need to...pursue an all-out effort to reach the entire world population”, Australia’s finance minister added. US$50bn to end COVID across the world, they imply, is a small investment to restart our economies.