#65 – Inside Our Industry – The Future of Flexible Work in Manufacturing

Posted on | Inside Our Industry

We have learned a lot about flexible workspaces over that past 18 months, thanks to COVID-19. Those primarily related to office settings. But can flexible work work in manufacturing? Following is the Executive Summary of a study undertaken by the Manufacturers Alliance Foundation and Aon that outlines the emerging trends and outlooks for manufacturing leaders.

The Future of Flexible Work in Manufacturing
Manufacturers Alliance Foundation & Aon, July 2021

As industrial manufacturers shift from their pandemic response for business continuity to focus their energies on recovery and growth, many are already advancing toward reshaping their business for a new era. Acceleration in organizational change, not a reset to the pre-pandemic norm or pace, is the consensus view.

The Manufacturers Alliance, in partnership with Aon, conducted survey research and executive interviews to understand the emerging trends and outlooks to help leaders benchmark and prioritize future-of-work initiatives in 12 critical areas during the next 1-3 years. Future competitiveness will continue to demand more organizational agility and resilience.

Five findings reflect key considerations for executives to manage in this immediate post-pandemic future of work.

  • Talent acquisition, development, and retention are the defining, high-stakes challenges for the post-pandemic future of work– More than half of executives rank talent availability among top factors shaping the future of work in the next 1-3 years. Along with retention challenges and the acute digital skills gap, organizations’ needs are foundational for change management: skills for leadership, adaptability, collaboration, and communication.
  • Hybrid work will be the prevailing model for salaried workers in manufacturing– 80% of manufacturing respondents expect their organizations will formalize a flexible remote and in-person work model (at least one day virtual) for employees during the next 12 months, a nearly 7x increase from the pre-pandemic level. At the factory level, expectations for flexibility in alternative schedules are also rising amid workforce shortages.
  • More companies are developing inclusive taskforces, not a one-size-fits-all strategy, to define their hybrid model– Only 15% of organizations report a top-down, corporate-led approach to defining the company work model; few have documented a uniform approach across locations; and indications are that a third expect employee preference, not company policy, to be the primary driver of work arrangement – a 4x increase from before the pandemic.
  • Cultural resistance to change is the primary barrier to future-of-work strategies and priorities– 59% of executives report that cultural resistance, not resources or expertise, is the primary organizational challenge, signaling an imperative for workforce adaptability and change management.
  • Emerging work priorities reflect likely shifts in focus longer-term– Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have seen renewed attention during the pandemic period and are the areas with high expectations for integration with future of work. Uncertainty remains in areas such as onshoring in the U.S.

Read the full report to see how manufacturing companies are primed for change, emerging from historic disruption and now planning future-of-work initiatives while building an adaptable culture to retain talent in a hybrid world.

Full Report