Welcome to 2020 – wow.
Our situation is clear enough. Nonessential businesses are shuttered. Workers in essential businesses are risking their health and even their lives to provide vital goods and services. Many of those workers have fallen ill or succumbed to Covid-19. And many experienced workers now on furlough may never be coming back to work in their old jobs.
Although thousands of businesses are stuck in suspended animation, this is no time to be idle.
In the weeks between now and the gradual re-opening of nonessential businesses, managers and executives must figure out how to generate a year’s worth of productivity in something like five months. Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has cautioned the country that the virus is likely to reassert itself when cold weather returns in late fall. When that occurs, businesses may be forced to close again, and sick workers will be highly incentivized to stay home until healthy.
Companies that prepare now for the new normal to come will be in the best position to transition smoothly into that uncertain future. But how to prepare? Each business will have its own set of issues with which to deal, but a few general concepts could apply across wide swathes of the economy.
Social distancing will likely remain the rule until reliable testing and contact tracing ramp up to the level necessary to contain the virus. What changes does your business need to consider to ensure the safety of your workers and customers? Many companies may decide to increase their number of shifts and decrease the number of workers per shift to keep personnel at a safe distance from each other. Others are ramping up their capabilities to train customers remotely rather than in person.
Yet social distancing is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to defining the new normal. Additional measures will be necessary across the entire organization and smart companies will use the time available to them now to convene teleconferences of executives, managers, and representative frontline workers to first define what the new normal will probably look like in their organization and then plan for how they can thrive in that environment.
Machinery and other equipment left idle for weeks or months may need maintenance or repair that you had not planned for a year ago. What better time than now to do what is necessary to ensure that your machinery and equipment will have the capacity you need when the time to re-open comes? How will you clean and prepare your equipment to minimize the amount of virus transfer that occurs on handles, keyboards, and other high touch/high traffic areas?
You may find that your facilities themselves need to be reconfigured. Beyond planning for social distancing, you could be looking at a need to produce more in a drastically shortened annual cycle. What changes can you make in floor plans or in technology that could enable you to deliver significantly more value in significantly less time? What planning, changes, and trainings would you need to be sure that you’re ready when you return to full production?
And then there is the workforce itself. How will industrial enterprises deal with a reduced number of skilled workers? How will you train new workers in an era of social distancing? How will you retain your company’s unique tribal knowledge if a significant number of older workers decide that their risk of illness outweighs their need for the salary they have been earning? How can you capture the knowledge of your most experienced skilled workers and pass that on to younger, less-experienced workers with minimal workflow disruption?
When more businesses begin to re-open, we can expect that even well-trained workers will be rusty and more error-prone than usual after spending four months not working. How do we get them back to full speed quickly?