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We’re entering a new era of workforce optimization based on virtual and in-person employee footprint requirements. As the manufacturing sector gradually brings employees back into the workplace, the disruptions and production lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 crisis have ushered in a new sense of urgency for workforce changes. It may well be that many employees will be working in altogether new ways. For some, working remotely may become permanent. According to PwC's recent US Remote Work Survey, 55% of executives expect that most (60% or more) of their workers will work remotely after the pandemic subsides, up from 39% who estimated most workers worked remotely before the pandemic hit. That’s just one example of how the crisis has accelerated workplace changes that had already been underway.
Industrial companies face unique challenges. For industrial companies, there’s clearly no one-size-fits-all workplace design. Still, one common approach to realigning footprint needs is making a thorough assessment of critical employee segments and personas (manufacturing operations, engineering/technical, field technician, business support) as an initial step to improving efficiency, employee productivity, culture, resilience to future disruptions and competitive advantage. And, as manufacturers make baseline assessments of how their workplaces have changed — and precisely which changes should persist and why — they will also need to assess which workplace enablers (including fourth industrial revolution technologies) they’ll need to facilitate changes that affect both remote and on-site working.
Managing industrial-sector workforce solutions requires a strong alignment between office-based staff and their production colleagues, which presents challenges that are different than those faced by other industries. While these two workforces are interconnected, operating considerations for the “office of the future” are distinct from manufacturing or distribution environments. Following emerging trends and borrowing from other industries are untenable paths; in fact, building the workforce of the future can differ markedly from one industrial company to another. Therefore, the approach should be a fit-for-purpose design centered on the most effective outcomes for a given industrial enterprise’s operating and business models — and squarely focused on their future growth strategies.
Start from the beginning. Focus on baselining and assessing the current workplace by determining the breadth of changes already underway and then finding opportunities for improvement. This is a pivotal step along the workplace optimization journey. Because most companies don’t perform holistic footprint assessments, they often miss the potential for significant value creation. After the initial assessment is carried out, subsequent steps may include designing workplace enhancements and developing a forward-looking and sustainable implementation roadmap. It may also be useful to gauge employee perspectives on returning to workplaces — especially concerning their comfort levels. Employee listening tours and surveys, for example, can provide valuable information on employee sentiment and inform your company’s overall assessment of the hybrid workforce.
Assess baseline footprint and functional needs. Start by developing a clear understanding of your company’s footprint requirements given underlying business conditions and needs, both current and forward-looking. Downsizing today, for example, may solve an immediate problem, but it may not align with long-range business plans. It may, indeed, jeopardize those plans. Identify any major business changes (M&A, shifts in portfolio strategy, evolving competitive landscape) that might fundamentally alter the required scale and location(s) of all types of facilities (corporate offices, regional branches, leased space, manufacturing plants).
PwC’s “footprint opportunity assessment framework” outlines some of the most common quantifiable measures that can indicate necessary shifts in baseline footprint requirements and — perhaps more typically — a rationalization opportunity. Examining to what degree your organization is experiencing these underlying business situations is fundamental to assessing an accurate baseline footprint requirement.
Assess the current workplace situation. Once your company establishes its baseline efficient footprint needs, we recommend that you consider assessment of fit-for-purpose workplace models. Manufacturing-based and office-based staff footprint alignments were once considered a relatively routine opportunity assessment. However, with recent COVID-19 workplace changes, assessing the office-based workforce requires considering a new dimension: work-from-home opportunities.
While industries with relatively homogeneous workforces may be able to quickly adopt work from home solutions, industrial companies whose office-based staff require varying levels of production and manufacturing exposure will need to more carefully plan remote working rules. One way to begin the planning process is to classify the roles in your organization based on the required percentage of time spent in the office. PwC’s Employee mobility model defines four example groupings of major role types (or mobility personas) and the associated guidelines for each group.
Classifying your organization’s roles into segments requires careful consideration of how the work gets done and of the associated physical space needs. For industrial companies classifying functions such as engineering, supply chain, process control and quality can be complex. Roles in the supply chain, for instance, could fall within all of our model’s four persona categories (collaborator, sentry, connector and rover) depending on specific duties and interaction expectations, both internally and externally. A more thorough exploration of these four worker personas is included in PwC’s recent cross-industry report on the workplace of the future.
Redefine footprint requirements. Once individual staff are mapped to each persona, requirements can be further refined to form a foundation for the future state of an organization. This new mapping of the workforce can be compared to the current footprint to reveal office space needs. As an illustration, suppose that rovers must be in the office one day per week and you have 1,000 rovers on staff. Do the math and that translates into as few as 200 seats required in the future state. If the prior model was one with individually assigned spaces, this could mean 60% to 70% less space required for the assessed population. Naturally, the four personas will use the office space differently and thus will require different footprint densities. Even though the math isn’t linear, it’s likely that you’ll find tangible reductions possible. Once footprint realignments are determined, your company will need to consider what physical redesign or adjustments need to be put into place to accommodate the new employee footprint.
Consider the range of benefits. While the operating costs associated with footprint are important, many companies aim to achieve a range of additional benefits from alternate working models. For example:
Improved staff productivity, collaboration, and innovation.
Access to geographically dispersed talent pool.
Access to talent with workplace and/or time restrictions.
Reduced business travel expenses.
Improved environmental sustainability (reduced carbon footprint).
A look ahead. In subsequent articles, we will discuss the processes surrounding the creation of a workforce of the future which are carried out after the initial assessment. These include design elements, critical change management activities and other implementation considerations.