The pandemic has disrupted the traditional ways of doing business, including how factories and manufacturing facilities are run. From purely facility-based operations before the pandemic, manufacturing companies learned to adapt to the crisis by allowing a big portion of their non-production staff to work from home, using cloud solutions that facilitate online interaction and collaboration.
A study conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services and sponsored by Autodesk noted the big shift in managers’ and employees’ perception—from a largely negative view of remote work and lukewarm opinions on the importance of cloud—to acceptance and embrace of these new work setup and technologies.
The study titled “Supporting Manufacturers’ Shift to Remote Work with Cloud-Based Solutions” gathered insights from 318 respondents at manufacturing organizations. It shows how the attitude changed and whether the hybrid work setup would continue post-pandemic.
Srinath Jonnalagadda, vice president for industry strategy at Autodesk, noted that a decade’s worth of cloud technology adoption occurred over the past 19 months amid the pandemic. Manufacturing companies increasingly turned to cloud-based software solutions, coupled with data and artificial intelligence. Cloud solutions offer multiple paths for manufacturers to diversify their business models and revenue streams, he said.
“The pandemic may have exposed urgent reasons to use cloud technology, but there is no going back to outdated manufacturing processes,” said Jonnalagadda.
Impact of pandemic
The pandemic has largely affected the manufacturing sector. Many of the non-production or office-based workers were sent to work from home. Companies quickly turned to digital transformation projects to cope with the chaos brought about by lockdowns and mobility restrictions. Supply chain operations were disrupted, while consumer demand suddenly evolved.
Companies were left with no other choice but to join the digital bandwagon. This created tremendous opportunities for remote work arrangements using cloud solutions.
However, an important question emerged. Are these work experiments temporary, or would they become the norm in the coming years.
This was the premise of the Harvard Business Review survey, which found that a year and a half into the pandemic, the remote work setup and use of digital technologies were taking root more widely than expected. Most respondents working at manufacturing companies say that the previously negative view of managers on remote work turned to acceptance.
The survey, conducted in August 2021, also found that 90 percent of respondents reported that employees at their companies became largely in favor of a hybrid or remote work environment.
“The survey findings show that attitudes toward remote work have been transformed. Manufacturing leaders are using what they’ve learned to redefine their workplaces,” the study says.
Work-from-home setup also became more acceptable, with 60 percent of manufacturers saying most of their non-production line/factory workers were working remotely.
The study says 42 percent of respondents strongly agreed that negative view for remote work was true for their managers before the pandemic, but only 7 percent said this was still the case at the time of the survey.
As remote work experiences lasted, 90 percent of respondents at manufacturing companies said they are now in favor of a hybrid or remote work environment, as it offers greater flexibility.
Attitudes towards cloud architecture also became favorable. About 84 percent increased their use of cloud-based solutions as a result of the pandemic, while 86 percent said cloud technologies were a critical component of their operations.
Suddenly, remote work is now an option considered by many employees and a key factor in attracting and retaining talent, according to the study.
“With an all-time high of 889,000 job postings in the manufacturing sector as of September 2021, companies are eager to lure workers by offering the benefits they most value, and for many, this means the option to work remotely,” the study says.
Still, there were challenges in remote work setup, including employee engagement (67 percent), collaboration (64 percent), product development/innovation (53 percent) and cybersecurity (52 percent).
But these concerns are being addressed by cloud technologies. When the pandemic hit, many organizations turned to cloud to enable data and tool accessibility to support the new ways of working.
About 83 percent who use cloud increased their use of cloud-based software/tools somewhat or significantly as Covid-19 impacted operations. Not a single respondent said their use of cloud-based software/tools decreased because of the pandemic, according to the study.
The study also highlights the importance of having a technology platform capable of facilitating new work styles, including ensuring access to critical cloud-based tools and a shared single source of data regardless of physical location.
It found that manufacturers who made more data and tools available in the cloud made the transition to remote work more seamlessly.
The study says getting a secure, cloud-based infrastructure in place also sets the stage for new capabilities such as security, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, and data streaming.
Manufacturers are still figuring out the next model of work. “While the specifics are still murky, what is clear is that remote work appears destined to play a much larger role moving forward, and cloud-based solutions will be right at the center, helping manufacturers achieve the flexibility and resilience they’ll need to face whatever comes next,” the study says.
One cloud-based platform that can support the current and future requirements of manufacturing companies is Netsuite. It is an all-in-one cloud-based platform that enables organizations to work anytime, anywhere, and on any device as long as they are connected to the internet.
NetSuite’s cloud manufacturing software offers a complete solution that benefits the entire organization in terms of CRM, marketing, commerce, order management, supply chain management, financials, and customer support.