5 Reasons Why Hybrid Work in the Manufacturing Industry Is Here to Stay

Microsoft Product Marketing Director for Frontline Shares Why Hybrid Work Model is the New Way Forward

by Mayank Verma and Megan McDonagh

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the manufacturing industry scramble to make major historic operational changes. In a matter of weeks, frontline work was both reimagined and transformed across the world to accommodate travel restrictions and social distancing requirements. Today, most industrial organizations have hit their stride with a mostly remote, highly productive frontline workforce.

Mayank Verma is Director Product Marketing, Frontline Solutions for Microsoft Teams
Megan McDonough is Global Vice President of Marketing at RealWear, Inc.

But now that a post-pandemic era is being realized, what’s the new normal? According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, more than 80% of managers say they expect more flexible work-from-home policies post-pandemic. And it’s clear that organizations — even industrial ones — can thrive with workers working from home. 

Here we examine the key reasons why the hybrid work model in the industrial industry will — and should — continue long after pandemic ends.

1. The hybrid model simplifies frontline collaboration

Large facility or installation projects require stakeholder validations for final approvals. Before the pandemic, it’s common practice for dozens of senior engineers, project managers and technicians from all over the world to gather on a single site to sign off on their part of the validation testing.

These are costly logistical feats.

A hybrid model that supports remote collaboration reduces the necessity for large gatherings (and the logistics that surround them). The same experts who would need to spend hours or days traveling for just a few hours of work can simply tour the facilities virtually with a click of a button.

That’s how Honeywell did it with RealWear and Microsoft Teams.

“When the COVID-19 crisis struck, we still had customers who needed us to run our tests on schedule,” says Hank Wrenn, Vice President and General Manager of Americas Projects and Automation Solutions at Honeywell Process Solutions. “We switched over to Microsoft Teams and started using RealWear head-mounted computers, which allowed us to get everyone connected and continue our work.”

Honeywell customers are enjoying the benefits of these streamlined tests. Without the need to wait for traveling experts to arrive, they’re able to start production sooner.

“Typically, half the people who travel to a facility only need to be there half the time,” says Wrenn. “By using Teams and RealWear wearable computers, we can cut our travel costs in half and, at the same time, gain efficiency since our employees no longer have to wait around all day for a specific task. They can continue their daily work from home and join a Teams meeting when needed to witness the test.”

2. Work travel isn’t as necessary as we thought

As restrictions ease, it’s unlikely that organizations will return to the amount of traveling they thought they needed pre-pandemic. The pandemic showed organizations that work travel isn’t always crucial. The right technology kept workers connected when traveling was dramatically restricted and reduced.

By making it easier and more cost-efficient to collaborate remotely, it’s difficult for organizations to justify the costs of traveling. It’s not just the monetary costs of flights (especially to sometimes difficult to reach locations) or lodging. Traveling simply isn’t the best use of a worker’s time and often resulting in zero productivity for hours or even days.

Mars Petcare operates 14 factories in North America. Its recent initiative to empower frontline workers also helped ensure productivity during the travel restrictions.

“In the past, I spent three weeks of the month on the road visiting various factories around the country, but today I work from home 100%,” says David Oswald, Global Autonomous Maintenance Pillar Leader at Mars Petcare. “Microsoft Teams and RealWear devices have become an essential part of how my colleagues and I continue to collaborate remotely and get work done.”

Mars Petcare has plans to reduce traveling in favor of expanding its use of collaborative technology.

“The plan is to scale back travel,” says Oswald. “It’s likely that the coaches will no longer spend 80% of their working life traveling. That time may be reduced to half. Our traditional way of doing things was to jump on an airplane and fly to a factory for a week or even a day.”

3. Collaboration will thrive with a hybrid work model

Virtual collaboration through applications such as Microsoft Teams has long been a staple in the modern workforce. However, it wasn’t until 2020 that we saw the degree it can be used to facilitate business continuity and workflows for industry.

As it becomes safe to return to work, remote collaboration presents a strong case for a hybrid model. In fact, collaboration can thrive. People can engage with their peers more efficiently and with more flexibility.

That’s exactly the case with Goodyear.

“We were focused on how to provide support and training to our resources out in the field, address challenges in our factories, or facilitate helping strategic partners — i.e. machine builders with questions,” says Dallas Olson, VP Global Manufacturing and Engineering.

Having the ability to provide engineers with a remote video connection and talk with an onsite technician can help teams resolve issues faster. This was evident in a recent weather disaster. After the disruption, Goodyear’s leadership was able to regroup and prioritize recovery resources after virtually touring a damaged facility.

“Right after the weather event, we were able to take the Latin American leadership team on a plant tour of the site to see the damage,” says Olson. “It allowed us to visualize – through the eyes of the person walking through the plant – where to put additional resources to recover. We were able to assess where damage was most significant, and we had to get contract engineers in place.  Also from the production side, it gave them an idea of how much time it would take to get the plant back online.”  

4. We’ve proven that in-person activities can be reimagined for virtual

Many industrial tasks can be complicated.  It’s important for new or inexperienced workers to build skills and knowledge under the guidance of expert supervisors or senior technicians.

However, global organizations hiring new employees to work in facilities all over the world can stretch mentors thin. This results in slow onboarding and growth. But with the right collaborative tools, training can be done remotely.

Total S.A., a global company with more than 100,000 employees spanning 130 countries understood the need to reimagine their training practices.

“Normally when there is a problem, operators start by collecting data,” Eric Duchesne, Total Refining and Chemicals’ Senior Vice President of Manufacturing and Project Division. “Then they work to answer subject matter experts’ questions, so the experts know exactly what is occurring.”

With onsite workers wearing RealWear hands-free devices, remote experts can get live video from the perspective of the onsite worker. Combined with real time audio, the experts can guide onsite frontline workers with contextual information at the point of need.

“The ability to react to the facts and interact with people in the field is crucial,” says Duchesne. “The solution brings subject matter experts to the location of the issue and enables everyone involved to leverage images, videos and documents to make decisions. Experts can ask questions as well — making it extremely effective when helping diagnosis issues and providing support whenever people are struggling with problems.”

5. The hybrid model ensures business continuity and resiliency

There’s no denying that the pandemic was a great industrial disruption. The global response was to turn to cloud-based technology to power a remote workforce. Despite the initial scramble and panic, organizations survived — and some are even thriving.

Now that the right technology in place, organizations are better equipped to handle any business disruption. Power Generation Engineering & Services Company (PGESCo) launched its digital program long before the global pandemic. It wasn’t necessarily out of fear of a potential disruption, but its foresight for a hybrid culture created that added benefit.

“We aligned our work culture with the current generation’s nomadic behaviors,” says Ahmad ElGhazouly, IS&T Manager at PGESCo. “As a result, we were able to temper the lockdown’s impact on our day-to-day business.”

PGESCo’s digital transformation to support remote work capabilities gave it greater flexibility in how its workforce completed tasks.

“We use Microsoft Teams as a gateway for all collaborative projects involving file sharing, as an applications gateway, and for online meetings and calls. All project-related items are available in one place,” says ElGhazouly.

The manufacturing industry is ready for the hybrid model

The pandemic response served as a proof of concept: the hybrid model works, even in the industrial industry. The hybrid model has demonstrated advantages over the traditional way of collaborating and working. In fact, with more than 70% of employees saying they’ll take advantage of more flexible work-from-home policies, organizations should consider using the hybrid model as a recruiting strategy.

Of course, the industrial industry requires a unique technological infrastructure that can combine durable and purpose-built hardware that can run collaboration applications. Enter the RealWear voice-activated, hands-free devices. RealWear is a wearable hands-free headset that comes equipped with a powerful camera and two-way audio that enables real-time video calls with remote collaborators.

RealWear and Teams meet the worker where they work — at the frontline or at home.  To get started with Microsoft Teams for RealWear, click here.

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