Manufacturers Face Business Interruptions Like No Other: A Roundtable Recap

As industries across the U.S. are impacted by the COVID-19 crisis— from having to temporarily shut down operations or limit employee on-site work hours to implementing extensive safety protocols and being forced to furlough staff—I was eager to hear from local manufacturers, who are no exception to these business interruptions.

Continuing with our Manufacturing & Distribution Roundtable Series, in which I meet with leading manufacturers in the Midwest to discuss their challenges and best practices, we took this roundtable discussion to a virtual setting and talked about the state of the industry and the impact of COVID-19 on their production. Here’s what I learned.

State of the Industry

The manufacturing industry has experienced varying degrees of impact depending on their business type and model. Those companies with the ability to provide staff with remote working capabilities (which are few and far between) have adapted with ease and have moved to a telework environment. However, manufacturers are suffering more cases of forced shutdowns or reduced workforces. When businesses aren’t deemed “essential,” employers have halted production and obliged with widespread “stay at home” orders. With that, some employees are forced to file unemployment.

Essential manufacturing businesses have continued to work in distribution centers and warehouses, with strict enforcements of social distancing and safety precautions. For an industry that is already concentrated on security and safety measures (such as wearing helmets and retaining licenses to operate heavy machinery), many essential manufacturing businesses have maintained a safe working environment.

Further, supply chain businesses that rely on imported products are faced with complex challenges. Some businesses have adapted and increased their usage of non-global products, while others have undergone a delay in receiving supplies or even a temporary cessation.

Management, according to the industry leaders I gathered with, are in constant communication with their banks and accounting firms, obtaining information and insight to get their business back up and running or to ensure a smooth flow of their continued operations.

The local leaders I spoke with are bracing for survival mode in the coming six-to-nine months (or more). Preparing for potentially more months of ceased or limited operations, manufacturers are taking the steps they can to keep their workforce employed and their clients engaged. The general consensus was this: everyone wants the same for their business, their employees and employees’ families. To come out on the other side healthy, strong and financially stable.

Employee Engagement

Business leaders who have continued production are finding new and different ways to engage their employees during difficult and unpredictable times. Staggering shifts to promote social distancing and catering boxed or wrapped lunches so employees don’t have to leave the premise over the lunch hour are just a couple of the many creative ideas discussed during this roundtable.

Beyond that, some employers have implemented hourly pay increases, extended sick leave (for employees that can’t work on-site) and hazard pay. Management teams have also strived to increase virtual communication with employees—sending emails, check-ins and informative updates at least one to two times a week.

Industry leaders are also using this time as an opportunity to strategize efficiencies. As a result of hosting most meetings virtually, manufacturers are reevaluating meeting structures and frequencies both internally and externally, noting what works more efficiently for their workers. A clever leader will take what she/he learns from this and implement it post-coronavirus, too. Travel requirements are also being scrutinized, as manufacturers seize work travel. In some cases, sales staff who formerly traveled are now experiencing more meaningful sales discussions via video conferencing than when they spent the majority of their time on the road.

COVID-19 Continuity Plans

Manufacturing companies have implemented and begun practicing continuity plans to both ensure the safety of their workers and the continued operations of their business. This includes:

  • Providing face masks to on-site staff
  • Testing temperatures but not recording it on health records
  • Creating dedicated plans for facility cleaning

When an employee tests positive for the COVID-19 virus, manufacturers are taking further steps, such as:

  • Identifying other employees or clients that the infected worker came in contact with
  • Enforcing two-week quarantines

Moving Forward

Business leaders are concerned. What will become of the economy? What will become of the industry? While no one can predict the future, manufacturing leaders can create new strategies to increase productivity, prioritize your workers, concentrate on planning for post-COVID-19 operations and be a resource to your workforce.

Take a step back and look at the accomplishments your business has made during these difficult times. Have you successfully implemented digital processes that were once manual? Is your sales team more productive working remotely than they were when traveling weekly? Encourage a “we’re all in this together” mantra within your workforce versus an “every man for themselves” mentality—you’ll see the difference it can make.


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