Is “Flexible Work” feasible in a production, manufacturing environment?


I’ve spoken quite a fair bit on the topic of a flexible work arrangement and its benefits. However, as many of us would agree, the concept of a flexible work culture seemed to be more prevalent in specific industries or function. And those industries or functions often don’t include the manufacturing and production folks.

During a recent HR event, this very topic came up as part of a discussion I was engaged in with a fellow HR leader. We had a very spontaneous discussion around the topic, which I felt had some really good takeaways, which could help organizations in the manufacturing, production or even call center space when they are exploring the topic.

One of the first “objections” that came up during the discussion was that “we need someone to press the button on the production floor physically, and until we find a way to do that from home, we cannot have a flexible work arrangement”.

The thing is, there is a serious misconception that flexible work equals to work from home. That is just one of the many features of a flexible work arrangement. There are other factors to consider when offering a flexibility at work. There’s “Time”, “Location”, and even “Scope of work”.

Let’s talk a little bit more about the factor of “Time” and “Scope of work”, and let’s put this discussion into the manufacturing and production environment. We will do this by looking at the needs of the 2 parties, employer and employee.

One of the key constraints we face in the manufacturing/ production environment is the need for physical labor. Thus, as an employer, we will need the employees to be physically around to work!

Now, looking from the employee’s angle, one of the modern day issues that an employee has to deal with is the increasing demand on his/ her “time”. The make up of a modern family in most developed countries is much smaller. Many families also have a dual career track, which changed the dynamics and support infrastructure compared to decades ago.

The demand for family time and care is still there, but the availability of that “time” becomes a scarcity.

What’s more, the concept of a “8 hour work day” as we know it today is over a hundred years old. (You can read all about it on wiki) I guess it’s about time we need to relook at this very concept.

Coming back to the example of the manufacturing/ production environment. There are 2 factors that we need to consider when managing production capacity and planning for manpower demand.

  • Uptime – How long we need the production line to run?
    Will there be a need for shift coverage to maintain a certain level of production time ensuing a certain volume of output?
  • Competency – What skillset is required to operate the equipment/ to function for the specific task? And to what degree of competency?

For the many of us who’s taken a “Uber” car before would be familiar with the multiplier which is applied to the fare. It’s a love-hate relationship we have with this multiplier. During the peak hours, that multiplier could cause your fare to increase exponentially.

However, if we look at this from a supply-demand perspective, it’s an ingenious way to utilize real-time data to solve a capacity issue. (Higher multiplier would generally encourage more drivers to hit the roads, thus increasing the supply)

Let’s take a page out of Uber’s playbook. Employees are assigned a specific shift and station by default. Providing them a self service platform to swap shift and function would allow a great deal of flexibility for them to manage their time.

To compensate for shifts/ functions that are less desired, a multiplier on wage could be applied which will help balance supply-demand ratio.

If we take this one step further, we can move away from a 12 hours or 8 hours shift to having 4 hours blocks. This way there can be a lot more flexibility in time management.

Logic and rules can be built into the selection and scheduling algorithm to help mitigate impact on productivity and mandatory rest time for employees (from a health safety perspective).

There is another factor that we need to address. Depending on the training and qualification process, employees would have different selection made available to them based on their competency level.

By adopting the system, we will be able to create a self-motivation for employees to seek additional training and qualification in order to increase the selection for functions.

Putting the lens back on the employer, this will also allow a much more efficient skills inventory system.

While there are a lot more considerations and work that’s needed to put this into production (pun intended), I hope this article would serve as a starting point to a deeper conversation, in turn creating a real flexible work environment for all.

Cheers and happy weekend!

Eric

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So, you got called for an interview… What’s next?


It’s the start of the New Year and here’s my first blog article to kick it off!

A couple of friends I spoke with told me that they’ve made it their New Year’s resolution to look for a new job!

Interestingly, companies experience the highest level of attrition during this in Q1. This is usually after the bonus or annual wage supplement (AWS) payout in December. In countries where the Chinese Lunar New Year is celebrated, the attrition numbers usually peak just after the festive season.

This usually translates to hiring in late Q1 and early Q2 for most companies.

It is always flattering to receive some love and attention from recruiters (or headhunters as we like to call them).

So, you got approached for an opportunity, or even been invited to attend an exploratory interview… What’s next?

That’s quite a foolish question isn’t it? The answer is simply a “Yes, let’s explore”, or “No, I’m not interested at this point of time”.

Let’s just assume it’s a decent opportunity and you are slightly tempted, or the call could be an outcome of your recent application… What’s next?

You would agree with me that the next most important thing to do is to prepare! Here goes…

The recruiter (or the person who’s reached out to you)

Most of us are contacted by someone from the recruitment team, or someone who’s hiring for their own team/ department. This is one of the best sources of information. Always try to get as much information as possible. They may or may not have the information, but there’s no harm trying.

Don’t be put off by if they may sound a bit rushed to setup the interview and have little time fill you in on the role. If you are a strong fit for the role, they need you more than you need them.

You can try asking for the following:

  • Job Description (JD)
  • The process and who’s on the panel of interviewers
  • What are some of the things they’re looking for, or challenges that they are looking to solve with this hire

The Company

Always check up the company. Even if you know the company well, don’t be complacent. They might have evolved through growth, acquisition or mergers. A couple good places to start are:

The panel and people

Professional social networking sites such as Linkedin had made it so convenient for us to look up profiles of employees in any given organization. (You might want to explore getting a premium account with Linkedin – There should be a trial account available)

Where possible, I would always advice candidates to take a look at the panel of interviewers that they will be meeting with.

The panel of interviewers is usually made up of the hiring manager and key stake holders or people that the role would have to interact with.

This would give you a better understanding of who they are and what they do. Plan your interview with questions that relates to the interviewer’s role. Remember, as much as the company’s sizing you up as a candidate, you need to also get a feel of the people that you will be working with. More importantly, if you would be comfortable with working with them.

Another thing I that I would look at would be the employees, both current and past. Look out for the length of tenure as this will give you an idea of the level of attrition. More importantly, this will give you an idea of where the company is hiring from and losing talents to.

The grass is greener on the other side, because …

You’re standing in the shade my friend!

As much as it is exciting to think about that new opportunity, don’t get carried away with the unknown. A lot of people I know took the plunge and ended up regretting their decision.

As many of us get into the momentum of work in our current organization, we often find it hard to expand and take on a larger portfolio or try something new. Thus, that created the illusion that career development opportunities are absent in our own organizations.

Is this the fault of the company or employees? We can argue this both ways. It could be us and our own comfort zones (the shade), or it could be a genuine lack of opportunities.

Always take a step back and evaluate your current company alongside the new opportunity. Look at the “Employer Value Proposition” – EVP (I’ll probably do a separate blog article at a later date on this).

Candidates want to join organization that present a strong value proposition. Some basic factors to consider are:

  • Company’s branding and market position
  • Developmental opportunities
  • Total Rewards – Compensation and benefits
  • Culture

So, don’t get too excited about the new opportunity and take care in evaluating the options.

Last but not least, do share your thoughts about any other tips we should keep in mind when approaching that new opportunity!

Happy interviewing and best of luck in 2015!

Cheers

Eric

Eric Wong is Head of Talent Acquisition & Development (APAC) at Polycom, and blogs about how video collaboration can benefit the HR function on Polycom’s “The View from APAC”. Connect with him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter@ErickyWong.