Why manufacturers should invest in technology for those operating it

By Cristian Grossman
Over the last decade, the ways in which we work have changed drastically. The digital age has transformed production across industries, with manufacture...

Over the last decade, the ways in which we work have changed drastically. The digital age has transformed production across industries, with manufacturers specifically embracing new technologies such as automation and robotics to increase output and efficiencies. Yet, as we approach the Fourth Industrial Revolution have we forgotten to apply digital advances to an organisation’s basic operations such as communication, engagement, and HR?  Cristian Grossman, CEO, Beekeeper looks at how new technology investment shouldn’t be limited to the production line and should involve those operating it as well.

Efficiency and growth are at the heart of any successful manufacturing business. In order to thrive in a competitive market it’s vital to assess one of the core foundations of a company: its people. We all know that effective internal communication throughout a company has multiple benefits: increased job satisfaction, improved productivity and efficiencies, and better employee engagement. However, a recent survey found that 82 percent of 1,500 small to mid-size manufacturing companies felt that speaking to their employees was either difficult or very difficult.

Beyond the bulletin board  

What’s going wrong? For many it’s the reliance on traditional internal communication methods such as bulletin boards and company intranets, which are rarely effective tools in reaching all staff and offer no opportunity for interaction. For companies with dispersed workforces in various locations, updating everyone with printed announcements on bulletin boards or by sending group emails can be a time-consuming process. These methods also lack both the ability for management to know that messages have been received, and for employees to respond immediately.

One company that experienced these common internal communication issues is Seaboard Foods, a US-based food manufacturer with over 5,000 employees across six states and multiple sites including 500 pig farms, a pork processing plant, two biodiesel plans, feed mills, and a large logistics team. When Seaboard Foods conducted an audit, the company found that less than 12% of employees had access to email or intranet meaning that information distribution was very challenging. Production workers in isolated areas relied on word-of-mouth updates and printed documents—or at worst, didn’t receive any information at all.

The scenario faced by Seaboard Foods is not unique; there are a number of manufacturing companies experiencing difficulties when it comes to facilitating effective communications with a dispersed, mobile workforce.

Embrace smartphones as a company asset

How does a manufacturing company best address internal communication challenges? One solution is to embrace smartphone technology. Chances are that the majority of your workforce now has smartphones, and you can leverage this access for the benefit of the business. Adopting a secure team communication app has far-reaching positive impacts on business communications by ensuring that staff can access relevant information wherever work takes them. With a team app, companies can also integrate a variety of useful HR operations directly into the platform such as payroll, shift management, and distribution of training manuals and onboarding materials. This encourages employee engagement while creating a virtual, interactive company community. A mobile team app can even be used to administer employee polls and surveys to vote on where to host the Christmas party, or what colour the breakroom should be painted.

Put HR in your pocket

Having a digital communication platform that provides employee access to common HR processes via a smartphone app will save time and money while improving efficiencies and increasing workforce satisfaction. Rather than going through the labour-intensive process of having to request forms or documents from HR, fill out and then scan, email or physically return those forms when there is limited time, an app enables this activity to be conducted at the convenience of your workforce. This helps to eliminate frustrations when requesting annual leave, making shift changes, or asking payroll-related questions.

Team apps offer enhanced company collaboration, understanding and knowledge sharing

Shared learning and the ability to combine skills can make a big difference in how we work but becomes tricky with geographically-dispersed teams. Traditionally, company news or operational updates would first have to be communicated to HR or management and then this information would be shared company-wide. A digital employee platform empowers workers to post their own work-related content in real-time, allowing for instant feedback from and collaboration with colleagues.

For Seaboard Foods, using Beekeeper’s team communication app increases employee engagement and creates a sense of pride amongst all employees through sharing customer insights and stories, as well as what restaurants and supermarkets they supply.

Real-time safety and manufacturing updates

News spreads quickly in a large organisation. If the topic is sensitive, such as a merger, leadership transition, or an important safety update, it’s vital that this information is effectively managed to avoid confusion and ensure everyone receives the same information. Since safety is the top priority, immediate, efficient internal communication is especially significant in a manufacturing context. With digital employee communications, product recalls, equipment malfunctions, or production changes can be dispatched immediately to your entire workforce for faster response time across manufacturing teams.

Workforce recognition and support

Facilitating employee engagement is an increasingly recognised factor that contributes to thriving workplaces that many companies are keen to invest in. Seaboard Foods’ Beekeeper team app hosts initiatives such as ‘everyday heroes’ where employees are consistently and visibly recognised for their achievements and contribution. New hires are onboarded to and announced on the app so that employees can post welcome messages creating a sense of instant community for those just joining the team. The Seaboard Foods app has also been used to support staff experiencing personal hardships, such as to coordinate donations and assistance for an employee who lost their house in a fire.

Invaluable organisational insights

It can be difficult for management or HR to have a presence on the factory floor within a large manufacturing organisation. This means that key issues often aren’t flagged to those who can respond to them, one of the key signs that companies are out of touch with their teams. These internal communication gaps can be successfully managed with a two-way digital communications platform so that both employees and management can raise concerns and find solutions by collaborating quickly on the platform.

Incorporating the Beekeeper team app into the internal communications strategy at Seaboard Foods has been transformational. 87% of those that use the app do so via smartphone, clearly demonstrating that mobile devices are the primary way employees prefer to access these services. 40% of active users contribute to the content which proves that workers want to interact and engage with their company; they just need the opportunity to do so. 44% of those using the app are hourly workers who are now able to participate in company discussions, raise awareness of their roles, and feel included on a consistent basis.

Thinking of investing in new technology? Start with empowering your workforce with mobile team communication tools and watch as employee satisfaction, productivity, and safety awareness soars.

Cristian Grossman is the CEO of Beekeeper


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