Remote working in the food manufacturing industry

The concept of remote working or flexible working isn’t something you might automatically associate with the food manufacturing industry.

One might assume with the crux of the work carried out ‘on the shop floor’, it would naturally mean little maneuver in terms of operational staff not being present on site.

Throughout the pandemic, for example, FESS Group has worked continuously as engineer specialists to the food sector in factories up and down the country, to help ensure these essential services continued to function.

However, in light of Covid-19 and work from home orders, all organisations have had to look operationally at what changes can be made to prioritise the health and safety of both their employees and customers.

This follows growing demands for employers to support their employee’s wellbeing and help attract more diverse workforces by offering flexible and remote working. A recent study found flexible working in manufacturing a bigger incentive than money when it came to looking for a role in the sector. The results from Manufacturing Global also found 91% of manufacturing workers agreed flexible working was the main incentive, yet only 23% have the option to work flexibly.

For food manufactures during the pandemic, this has meant looking at who is business-critical onsite – those that keep production going including machine operatives, quality assurance, and warehouse staff.

New onsite safety measures have been put in place from sanitising stations, increased testing, to shielded machines, staggered working patterns, and where AI could be implemented and machinery processes automated, factories have been able to streamline teams to essential workers only.

However, for those who are not directly involved in the production process, manufacturers have been forced to re-look at workplace culture and the status-quo of having the vast majority of staff on site.

Pros and Cons of Remote Working

The move to remote working has brought with it benefits for many workers and organisations that has increased staff productivity and general wellbeing with flexibility around managing workload and family commitments, reduced commuting, and general operational cost and time savings.

Alongside the benefits of homeworking, there are issues that have caused some disruption to workflows and communication.  Initially, access to systems and making sure technology was accessible from home highlighted issues around privacy and security, alongside individual team member requirements. Onboarding new members of staff and online team meetings, has meant HR and management teams have had to establish new routes of communications and processes to help keep staff engaged and focused, with some people feeling isolated, overwhelmed, burnt out, and unmotivated.

There is no one-size-fits-all for food manufactures when it comes to implementing remote and flexible working. The pros and cons must be weighed up by each employer and employee with clear communication, understanding of roles, objectives, and requirements essential. A great example featured on highlighted PepsiCo’s flexible working initiative that is bespoke to each team, depending on how they see it working to best suit them and their needs.

The future of food manufacturing

As we move out of lockdown, and the threat of the coronavirus starts to wane, there are undoubtedly changes to the food manufacturing industry that will continue in the post-Covid era.

Food and drink manufacturers directly employ over 430,000 people in the UK, and employment in the sector has grown by 19% over the last decade (FDF, 2020).

For the industry to continue to be competitive and attract the top talent required to thrive and become a world leader there are several changes that every food manufacture will need to consider including:

  • A hybrid working model of remote, flexible, and onsite working
  • AI and automation playing a bigger role in business planning and growth
  • Technologies increasing role in business communication, procedures, and processes.
  • Location becoming less of an issue in terms of recruitment, opening up the talent pool to attract a more diverse workforce.
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