I am anxious to see what the new normal will be once we are all allowed to go back to work.  I find it hard to believe things will go back to the way they used to be.  From strictly a business standpoint, businesses need to manage and reduce risk with the goal of generating predictable results.  The current crisis has been anything but predictable and has shown us how unprepared many businesses are – from small businesses to the largest manufacturers. Many have been caught by surprise.

Manufacturing Efficiencies Did Not Consider Virtual Working Needs

For forty years, manufacturing organizations have been focusing on managing administrative costs, optimizing production schedules, minimizing inventory and shortening production cycles.  These have all been great for making us competitive and efficient, making our operations more predictable and reducing variability.  Unfortunately, these initiatives have not been as helpful in dealing with the social changes we have been undergoing, and that have been accelerated with the current crisis.

Up until now, many companies were slow to recognize the benefits of working in a more virtual environment.  As a result, they have not invested in collaborative tools that would allow them to work more efficiently in the future.  Even those companies that figured out early on that they would need to work with and manage distributed supply chains often failed to consider how they would do this outside a traditional office setting.

We Need to Think and Invest Differently

Working in a remote environment

Today’s infrastructure technologies make so much more possible than could even be envisioned 20 years ago.  Companies have invested in these infrastructures but only scratched the surface in deploying them to fundamentally change the way they do business; the way they will need to do business in the future.  With this crisis, it is apparent to me that we need to embrace better processes, systems and tools to work collaboratively in all areas of our businesses.

We have spent the last forty years investing in making what goes on inside our four walls more efficient.  Now that many of us are not allowed in the building, the cost of not being able to do business is much greater than the incremental saving our old technologies have given us.

Companies need start to think about focusing more investment in collaboratively developing products that cover the entire life cycle including idea generation, collaborative design, distributed project management, virtual prototyping, virtual testing, automated physical testing, and predictive maintenance and support.  All these processes, systems, and tools will eventually be used in conjunction with better distributed supply chain solutions and tightly integrated with existing sales, scheduling, production, and accounting systems to enable anyone who touches that data set.

We Stand to Make Great Gains

What we stand to gain is tremendous. We need to think about more than just being able to weather another potential pandemic and being able to keep our teams working. We need to be considering how we leverage what we have learned and the changes that will happen as a result of this crisis to strengthen, improve and grow our businesses.  Think about:

  • The quality of life gains when your employees are not spending 1-2 hours or more in a car commuting every day
  • The reduced space needs to maintain an official office resulting in lower rent and utility costs
  • Greater flexibility of the workforce, reduced absenteeism, less sick time and turnover
  • The environmental impact of fewer cars on the road, less gas, electric and water usage
  • Less traffic and congestion, lower fuel prices due to lower demand, less wear on roads and bridges

It will be fascinating to observe the new changes that will ripple through the economy as we all try to respond to market disruptions and reduce the risk to our businesses and how it will prepare us if/when something like this happens again.  I am interested in hearing your thoughts on the business and social changes that are coming.

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