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Manufacturing Community

Returning to a more stabilised vision for your workforce

Author: Neil Philpott, Partner, PwC

Published: 19 May 2021

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Neil Philpott, Partner, PwC shares his thoughts with us.

Monday, 17 May 2021 represented a significant day for the UK with lockdown restrictions easing and calculations from the Centre for Retail Research and VoucherCodes suggesting that around £2bn was spent as hospitality venues were allowed to welcome consumers indoors. As people returned to pubs, eateries, shops and attractions, around £2.8m was spent a minute at peak times.

This welcome return represents a small element of returning to how things used to be before the pandemic arose. However, my recent discussions with business leaders keep coming back to the question of how we will work in the future rather than returning to the old norms.

Many of these considerations had been happening in the past couple of years to reshape how, where and why people work, now the COVID-19 pandemic has turbo-charged those trends. Technology, diversity and social awareness have all increased in importance and the result is a new world of work to which organisations must adapt to remain relevant and competitive.

I found it fascinating to see how quickly my teams adapted to working remotely, utilising technology investments which had been made, but not fully embraced, and similarly captivating are the discussions about how we grapple with what a post-pandemic working environment will look like, a hybrid way of working, embracing the benefits of remote working but also reintroducing the benefits that being together with colleagues and clients can bring. It is definitely something everyone has a view on.

This is no different for the manufacturing sector, as outlined to me recently by a CEO, ‘how do you start to balance the fairness of the need for the factory worker to be present on site every day, with other functions keen to retain the flexibility remote working brings?’

A significant strength for manufacturing businesses can often be a loyal workforce, reflecting a care and personal commitment shown to employees which makes it absolutely critical to ensure any changes impacting the workforce are planned and executed in the right way.

However, the sheer scale of the transition to the new world of work can make it daunting, especially for a board with limited resources who have been responding to rapid change for over 12 months now. PwC has gathered reflections from across the globe, including our annual CEO survey, and it is important to consider what we can learn from other organisations who have taken the opportunity to be bold to experiment and to help engage, motivate and support employees through future challenges.

The common themes among organisations that have really got this right:

They had closely aligned business and people strategies

The most successful organisations had a clear action plan around their people strategy, with buy-in from top-level leadership, which acted as a framework for swift and informed decision making on workforce issues.

They had already invested in people-related change activities

Most successful organisations we worked with were familiar with the latest workforce trends and had invested in keeping up with them. They had the technology in place to enable flexibility and remote working. But it wasn’t just about tech: they also understood the importance of culture and shaping this as a tool for competitive advantage. They had invested in the development of their leaders, and they had the skills they needed in the wider workforce. And they were already planning to expand their people strategy to include emerging areas such as wellbeing, diversity and inclusion and sustainability.

They worked hard to engage their people during the first 12 months

At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw successful organisations listening to their people and acknowledging how difficult the situation was. They understood how important it was for their people, many of whom were anxious about their jobs, to receive regular updates on business performance, including transparency and rationale around organisational changes. Leaders communicated confidently and clearly with their people in a human and empathetic way, while also providing more wellbeing support as the situation evolved. We saw leaders engaging with their people to come up with exciting ideas to enable new ways of working and improve virtual collaboration. And most importantly, organisations took their employees on the journey with them, keeping a continued focus on recovery, moving forwards positively together, and supporting one another.

A reflection point therefore on your business – how do you shape up? And then going forward what are the areas to focus on? A daunting prospect, but here are a few areas we think are worth considering:

  1. Map out your workforce of the future: Some tough questions! Is your current workforce right for the work that you need to do to be successful in the future? For example skills in digital – our recent Family Business Survey 2021 reported that only 39% of family businesses say their digital capabilities are strong.
  2. Update your value proposition for employees’ changing needs: What is the “deal” you’re offering your people? Has it changed as a result of the pandemic and what does it need to look like in order to deliver successfully in the future? Going back to physical location, a key for manufacturing businesses to consider. Your future vision for the business should include the removal of costly, outdated practices, reflect the flexibility desired and the creation of a working environment and experience that helps people feel engaged, driven and included.
  3. Work out what virtual working will look like for you: The initial switch to homeworking happened at speed. But it’s now time to advance from immediate responses to a sustainable model of virtual or hybrid working for the long term. This means understanding and planning for new, often hybrid – working patterns and office use, including understanding where roles can be most effective. But whatever changes are made, top-down edicts won’t work: it’s vital to engage with employees and take their views into account. This is even more the case when needing to engage those workers who must be site-based against those that can operate more flexibly.
  4. Reset performance management and incentives: For many businesses, the events of the past year have provided a great opportunity to press the reset button on the whole reward package but specifically on incentives – focussing on how to set targets and determining what performance should be rewarded.

On reflection the pandemic has accelerated the need for businesses to embrace change and in particular how we will work going forward, and it is key that the necessary steps are taken to ensure organisations remain relevant by adopting new hybrid ways of working.

*The views expressed are the author’s and not ICAEW’s.