Strategies For The Remote Workforce In Manufacturing
Remote work is nothing new. Ever since the internet entered nearly every home in America, some people have been working at home regularly, often just for one or two days a week.
That’s changed. Shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders have moved a lot of workers home full-time, often under extremely sudden circumstances.
However, in manufacturing there is a certain segment who can’t work remotely. Those employees who push the buttons, flip the switches and handle the product are largely remaining on the factory floor, while their supervisors may be working remotely. Those supervisors need to up their management game to make sure that they’re communicating successfully with their teams, and that their teams have all the support they need to excel at their jobs.
Communication between Remote Management and the Shop Floor
As managers supervise remote teams, they must evolve their communication style and tools. Without face-to-face contact and body language, there is a narrower margin of error, so it pays to be as precise with words as possible.
Managers also should take care to suit their delivery channel to the message. There are three general categories of communication: broadcast (sending messages en masse, like with email), community (via group chats) and one-on-one over phone, conference apps or email (which builds relationships).
Broadcasting info by email is very fast and efficient, but it’s smart to not overdo it, and to make sure that people are only receiving methods pertinent to them. Resist sending blanket emails to everyone unless they will truly benefit by receiving it.
Community communication brings us back to our long-lost office environment. Many platforms are available – choose one that’s suitable for the technical acumen of all participants.
One-on-one communication is crucial for building relationships. It’s useful for critical back-and-forths, but it should also be used for maintaining relationships via virtual lunch dates and casual check-ins.
Remote Data Monitoring to Track Production
The collection of tools which track data and enable remote monitoring are critical to tracking performance and otherwise providing operational visibility. For example, dashboards show production metrics which enable performance evaluation, and Pareto analysis and data exploration tools enable root cause analysis.
A successful remote monitoring plan depends on the three A’s of data: Availability, Accuracy and Aggregation.
Data Availability: A good platform provides both real-time and easily-accessed historical information, allowing remote teams to address problems as they occur. Automated data from sensors around process conditions, as well as qualitative data that provides context to process data, are both critical to successful remote monitoring. This helps factories avoid disruption and enhances continuous improvement efforts.
Data Accuracy: Processes that accurately capture data must be in place before remote monitoring can succeed. Such data is critical to understanding why a machine is down, why production is slower than anticipated, and more.
Data Aggregation: Aggregated data provides useful additional context. Factory data from sensors, machines and floor personnel should be aggregated with data from MES , ERP, and quality systems through a historian, SCADA or OPC UA server. Once data is aggregated it can help remote employees compare manufacturing performance across shifts, products or lines. The data can also be provided to machine learning and applied analytics technologies.
While the remote work revolution crashed on most of us like a sneaker wave, polishing our processes now will only benefit us in the long term. Disasters and disruptions are never far, and establishing and perfecting remote work practices will pay off over years to come – even when we do return to the office.