Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Considering a digital transformation? Don’t go it alone


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The world of work is changing: How we do our daily jobs and the environments in which we do them are more innovative than they’ve ever been; workplaces are often overwhelmed with an abundance of technology built to streamline and simplify processes; and, with people living longer and retiring later, for the first time ever, five generations are coexisting in the workforce.

With all of this happening around us, the question arises: How can we bear any more change? The good news it seems as though workers aren’t just ready for change – they crave it. A recent survey from The Workforce Institute at Kronos indicates that 34 per cent of Canadian workers, in all the generations in the workforce today, consider themselves early adopters eager to use new technology and express strong opinions about how new technology should perform.

With this in mind, it’s not surprising that many organizations want to run full-force toward advanced workplace technology. However, it’s important for organizations to realize that today’s workforce isn’t just a beneficiary of the digital transformation movement – it’s an integral part of it.

Manufacturers can digitize their plants with all the technology they want, but unless business leaders consider the expectations and needs of employees – both hourly and salaried – as part of their holistic digital transformation strategy, they may find their workforce uninspired and unprepared to drive innovation and deliver the business results they expect.

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Understanding workplace expectations

Employees today expect their entire experience at work, from pre-hire to retire, to be as technologically advanced as possible, but crave an intuitive user experience. This means that leaders need to consider all aspects of a worker’s day-to-day routine and evaluate what may be causing challenges so they can adopt the appropriate technology to meet the needs of employees.

Workplace tech was once far more innovative than and superior to anything that was available for consumer use, but the opposite is true today: Close to half (49 per cent) of manufacturing employees globally, and more than half (52 per cent) of all Canadian employees, agree it’s easier to search for new movies on Netflix than to check the details of their employee benefits.

It’s important for organizations to realize that today’s workforce isn’t just a beneficiary of the digital transformation movement – it’s an integral part of it.

Nearly half of employees (48 per cent) wish their workplace technology performed just like their personal technology, and 35 per cent of all global employees (and 39 per cent of Gen Zers) feel their job is harder than it should be because of outdated processes and legacy technology.

It’s vital for manufacturers to understand the dual importance of fostering a technology-friendly work environment and investing in their people resources. For example, a different survey from The Workforce Institute at Kronos found an undeniable demand from the workforce for technology to improve daily tasks like scheduling and shift swapping.

It’s vital for manufacturers to understand the dual importance of fostering a technology-friendly work environment and investing in their people resources.

Nearly half (47 per cent) of employees have had a time-off request rejected by their employer within the last year, with manufacturers most commonly rejecting vacation requests. At the same time, a staggering 90 per cent of employees worldwide think their organization can improve scheduling – which would inherently impact the work-life balance of the workforce.

Frustrated with how long it takes managers to approve time-off and schedule requests, more than a quarter (28 per cent) of employees wish their organization would embrace self-scheduling, which would allow them to build their own schedules or select preferred shifts that make it easier to manage personal responsibilities outside of work.

By and large, employees want solutions that make it easier to work their way: swapping shifts, seeking coverage from colleagues, and opting into open shifts for more hours – especially via a mobile phone or tablet.

Make the transformation conversation a team effort

When embarking on the digital transformation journey, manufacturers should consider both technological and people-centric upgrades, which means including the human resources (HR) team from the get-go.

This will ensure HR-specific aspects are evaluated such as: real-time labour analytics to help managers make informed operational decisions; intelligent self-scheduling and shift-swapping technology; and real-time performance data that can help managers have constructive conversations and provide transparency to employees about what is required of them to advance in the organization.

When embarking on the digital transformation journey, manufacturers should consider both technological and people-centric upgrades, which means including the human resources (HR) team from the get-go.

Involving HR throughout will also help to ensure that manufacturers’ most valuable resource – their people – remains a top priority throughout the process. After all, digital changes that emphasize a positive employee workplace experience are one of the most important differentiators for recruiting and retaining top talent.

Employee-centric solutions powered by the latest emerging technologies are not only transforming the future of smart factories – they’re integral in engaging employees as the lifeblood of the business, and a competitive differentiator in the war for talent.

By investing in the workforce today, organizations can begin to fundamentally improve engagement and drive productivity, both of which are essential parts of any manufacturer’s digital transformation.

Spiros Paleologos is the vice-president and general manager of Kronos Canada.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 edition of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.