This week I was fortunate enough to be gifted a bottle of hand sanitizer when I picked up take out from a local restaurant. When I looked at the bottle, I recognized the logo. Only it wasn’t the logo of a manufacturer that I typically associate with hand sanitizer, it was from Fabrizia, a local manufacturer of one of my favorite Limoncello liqueurs.  

Fabrizia is known for producing great-tasting liqueurs and cocktails, but during these difficult times, they decided to utilize their resources to produce much-needed hand sanitizer. Not only does this shift in production strategy help support the COVID-19 response, it also keeps their employees working and productive.  

Fabrizia is not alone in this endeavor. Many manufacturers are ramping up production to keep up with increased demand for medical supplies, food and other essential goods, such as PepsiCo who has hired over 6,000 new workers. Other manufacturers, like Fabrizia, are shifting their typical production capabilities to meet market demands for certain products. 

Manufacturers globally are continuing to successfully repurpose their factories to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, manufacturing giants like Ford and GE have retooled their complex technologies in order to make ventilators for hospitals and companies like Hanes and Steelcase are using their factories to make protective health-care equipment such as masks, face shields, and partitions. 

Supporting Employees Through Times of Uncertainty and Shifting Production 

A recent Business Insider article took a different spin on how manufacturers are adjusting to shifting production and focused on the perspective of the manufacturing employees who are deemed essential and how they are feeling about transitioning their efforts to making masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In the article, manufacturing workers described how their jobs are busier and more hectic than ever before. Most of the workers have had to learn a completely new skill as their factories transitioned operations. And most importantly, many were scared that they might potentially catch the virus at work.  

While manufacturers are shifting production needs to meet urgent demand, they must also focus on keeping their workforce safe, productive, and informed.   

Keeping Manufacturing Workers Safe (and having them feel safe) 

With factories and plants still producing, essential frontline employees are needed to work in these facilities. Here are a few ideas to help support employee safety: 

  • Stagger work shifts and breaks, allowing for enhanced sanitation procedures between shifts and for practicing social distance as workers clock-in and clock-out for their shift.   
  • Develop flexible leave policies and consider offering non-punitive “emergency sick leave” to allow employees to stay home to care for themselves or sick family members.  
  • Implement 2 or 3-week rotating shifts to reduce the total number of employees in a facility at any given time. 
  • Remove non-essential personnel from the front office and have them work from home. Only have those who need to be in the plant in the plant.  

Keeping Manufacturing Workers Productive 

Many manufacturers are still producing and, if they have adapted their operations to meet demand, their workforce is also pivoting. Many of their employees have never manufactured a face mask or shield before or may be using a tool they are not familiar with. As workers continue to adjust to their new normal, it’s important to implement a plan to cross-train employees to work in multiple roles to help reduce overtime, spread out workloads, manage increased demands, and ride out labor shortages. Using a skills matrix allows employers to quickly see who can cover which task and where short-term training might be needed.  

During these times, most manufacturers are likely working with a smaller workforce than normal. Employees are working long days and multiple days in a row. It’s important to closely monitor schedules, provide breaks, and pay attention to hours worked to help balance the workload and reduce the risk of employees burning out.  

Keeping Manufacturing Workers Informed 

The unknown can lead to fear. Communication is key to easing the fears and concerns of employees. Bulletins, memos, and announcements should communicate what a company is doing to prepare and protect the workforce. Furthermore, manufacturers need to educate employees on where they can find more information. One example would be to post social distancing and hygiene posters around the plant in languages that are appropriate for the workforce. Additionally, manufacturers should consider sending alerts and updates through their HCM solution directly to employees’ cellphones and emails to ensure everyone gets the same information at the same time.  

Essential front-line manufacturing employees have a sense of “we’re all in this together” and are honored and proud to work for organizations that are providing healthcare workers the tools they need to fight COVID-19. According to Universal Robots, many production adjustments have come directly from employees, suggesting how they can complete tasks more efficiently, or better clean a machine or tool. Remember to check-in with employees and provide a way for gathering their feedback and ideas.  

Click here to see how you can maximize productivity and maintain business continuity in a fluid environment.  

Published: Thursday, May 7, 2020