Since I can remember, every August one of my favorite commercials would play while I was watching television. The commercial from school and office supply store Staples, featured a father riding around on a shopping cart picking up school supplies with the croons of Andy Williams in the background singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was looking forward to seeing this commercial because it would have a different meaning for me this year as my 5 year old son was going to be a kindergartner and I could finally understand the father’s elation.
Instead, like millions of parents with school-aged children, this is not my experience. Rather than my son riding the school bus for the first time (with me inevitably crying as he marched up those stairs) and learning to be independent while finding new friends, I’m now moonlighting as an assistant kindergarten teacher.
Chances are this may sound all too familiar to you. And while I’m more stressed than I would like to admit and the days seem hard, I have one thing that I’m grateful for: my position and my employer which provides the flexibility I need to work and support my child during remote learning. Unfortunately, for many Americans, this is not always the case, especially for those working in the manufacturing industry.
What happens if employees don’t have an alternative or a flexible work schedule?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many manufacturing employees need to stay home to watch their children who no longer have a daycare to attend or to support their remote learning. In fact, in a recent Wall Street Journal article, the head of human resources at Huntington Ingalls Industries, is quoted saying “the reason workers stay home has shifted from concerns over contracting the virus to the need to care for children.”
In some industries, the idea of having an alternative or flexible work schedule makes sense but that isn’t always the case in manufacturing. What happens if a flexible work schedule isn’t an option? What can manufacturers do to not only keep operations running, but accommodate those employees who are impacted by school and daycare closures?
Faced with massive disruption, manufacturers are trying to keep production on track but with unexpected absences – along with the need to schedule based on experience, capabilities, work hours, union regulations and other restrictions – a dynamic scheduling strategy is paramount.
Here are 4 flexible employee scheduling practices manufacturers should consider:
1. Reskill and redeploy existing resources
To maximize existing labor capacity, many manufacturers are reskilling and upskilling their existing workforce (no onboarding of new employees needed) to perform new or different tasks within the company, outside of their typical duties. With employee scheduling software you can track employee skills and certifications and quickly deploy a qualified replacement to fill an unexpected absence.
2. Allow employee shift-swapping
Empower employees with the flexibility they need when it comes to time away from work. The ability to swap shifts on their own not only promotes employee well-being, but also helps prevent unexpected absences enabling manufacturers to keep operations running. Through the device of their choice, employees can request to swap a shift with another qualified employee and in a matter of moments, get a response back, allowing them to take the time they need to care for family or themselves.
3. Experiment with shift schedules
Manufacturing work is typically run on shifts. Recently, manufacturers have been implementing new strategies to support the safety of their employees like cohorting and staggered shifts. It’s also important to consider flexible shift schedules or even different shift patterns. For example, if an employee’s shift typically runs from 8-5, can they move to 3-11 allowing caregivers time to fulfil their family duties before arriving for their scheduled shift. Employee scheduling software can keep track of an employee’s shift preferences and automatically generate a schedule that will work based on their availability – while taking into consideration production demand requirements.
4. Consider leveraging a temporary workforce
Hiring temporary workers can help alleviate some of the backlog caused by absences or help support production of higher demand products. With a workforce management solution, manufacturers can easily identify gaps in coverage alerting to the need for temporary labor. And if temporary labor is needed, with workforce management software, manufacturers can accurately track the hours and cost of temporary labor and streamline timekeeping and payroll processes.
Flexible Scheduling – Most Likely the New Normal
As we consider the post-COVID-19 manufacturing environment, it’s likely that flexible scheduling practices will be here to stay. In order to attract the next generation of workers and retain the current workforce, manufacturers need to focus on creating a differentiated employee experience, which includes supporting a work/life balance which an employee can gain with flexible scheduling practices.