Manufacturing firms looking to sustain innovative ways of working post-COVID

Research commissioned by ServiceNow, shows that whilst the conditions created by the pandemic have enabled an environment for innovation within manufacturing firms, there is still work to be done to secure long-lasting digital transformation in the sector.

The Work Survey, a study looking at the pandemic’s impact on work now and in the future, surveyed 9,000 global C-Level executives and employees, including 1,074 in manufacturing. It was conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of ServiceNow.

The study found that 61% of manufacturing executives believe that regulatory requirements and how they differ across regions have led to challenges during the pandemic. A further 54% say that managing employees and practices that cannot operate remotely is an additional barrier to progress.

The majority (85%) of manufacturing executives say the situation has given their firms the opportunity to rethink how work is done. Almost nine in ten (87%) employees agreed that as a result of the pandemic, their company has developed new and better ways of working.

The shift to these innovative working practices has been widespread and rapid, with 85% of executives and 87% of employees saying their companies transitioned faster than they thought possible.

Despite these businesses innovating quickly, there is still work to be done to secure long-term innovation throughout the sector. Progress has been made, but 61% of manufacturing executives say their companies still do not have a fully-integrated system to manage digital workflows.

Many companies in the industry are at even more of a digital disadvantage, with 94% of executives admitting they still have offline workflows, including performance reviews, business contracts and other document approvals.

Yet there is acknowledgement that things need to change. Over half (59%) of manufacturing executives say that any cost savings made throughout the pandemic should be invested in digital transformation once the crisis is over.

Manufacturing executives have a number of concerns when it comes to continued remote working. Over half (53%) say they are concerned about the effect it will have on service delivery and product delays, and a further 52% are worried about offsite working leading to reduced collaboration between business units. More than half (53%) are worried that remote working will increase the timelines for new releases or innovations.

However, the overwhelming majority (94%) of manufacturing sector employees say they have experienced benefits from working remotely. The time saved from not commuting (54%) and better work-life balance (48%) were cited as the main advantages.

Yet employees in the sector also expressed some concerns about what happens next, with over half (54%) saying that transitioning to working life after COVID-19 will be a bigger challenge than handling the disruptions to their work at the beginning of the pandemic.

Overall, there is split in the sector about wanting to keep the changes that have been made, with 59% of employees and 53% of executives saying that maintaining these new ways of working once the crisis is over will be preferable and more productive.

“Digital transformation in the manufacturing sector has rapidly accelerated in the past 12 months, but more needs to be done,” says Uwe Vieth, Senior Director at ServiceNow. “The pandemic added to the already uncertain global marketplace. The rapid shift to remote work and supply chain disruption have now made operational resilience even more critical than ever. Focusing on digitising the work that needs to get done, wherever that needs to happen, will be a key in addressing challenges, protecting against risk and addressing customer needs.”