Manufacturing and the Challenge of Hybrid Work

Remote and hybrid work can extend beyond the carpeted space to the shop floor with a strong networking foundation

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Manufacturing was already in the midst of incorporating Industry 4.0 technologies like cooperative robots, artificial intelligence (AI), and Industrial Internet of things (IIoT) to remain competitive when the pandemic hit.

 The global public health response forced manufacturers to accelerate automation and rapidly enable remote work for as much of their workforce as possible. In fact, in 2020, 73% of manufacturers said they planned to invest in new technology to facilitate remote work, according to a survey from SYSPRO. 

There are strong benefits for manufacturers associated with the hybrid workplace, especially for workers in the “carpeted space” who work in engineering, finance, sales, and other critical functions. For starters, it expands the talent pool, because manufacturers no longer are restricted to applicants that reside within a 50-mile radius of their facilities. In fact, they may be able to reduce labor costs by hiring skilled workers from lower-cost areas. What’s more, if people are working from home even for just part of the week, manufacturers can downsize to smaller space, which saves on rent, utilities, and upkeep for the office portion of their facilities.

These benefits can also extend beyond the carpeted space to the shop floor. An individual with deep experience working on critical machinery could run training sessions and even conduct inspections at multiple facilities around the world remotely. It’s an efficient way to scale scarce skills.

Most importantly, though, manufacturers who enable remote and hybrid work gain resiliency.

“If you have some amount of your workforce who can do their jobs remotely, you can keep at least some of the business running, even in the face of a massive disruption like the pandemic,” said Sophia Danvers, Head of Audience Marketing at Cisco Meraki. “A lot of hybrid work will apply to office staff, but even if the factory itself has to close for a time, with a network that supports remote work, other operations can still continue to be productive.”

To enable these benefits, however, a manufacturer needs a modern network infrastructure. People working from home need secure connections to company resources. Engineers need sufficient bandwidth to download large design files. Inspectors need high-definition video streaming for remote inspections of machines on the shop floor. And manufacturers need to ensure that employees receive a unified experience, no matter where they are physically located. If there are significant differences between the two, confusion and security gaps may arise.

Network infrastructure also needs to be intuitive to manage and maintain. After all, manufacturing is currently in the midst of a severe labor shortage, according to a May report from the Workforce Institute, particularly for specialized skills. And given that there’s already a general shortage of skilled IT talent, according to a September 2021 Gartner report, manufacturers will find it difficult to hire specialized IT talent.

Manufacturing IT can address these challenges with a highly automated, cloud-first infrastructure. Automation makes the network simple to manage, while the cloud provides accessibility, reliability, and scale. Cisco Meraki provides a wide array of solutions and turnkey partner apps that are secure, intelligent, and cloud-first. For instance, Meraki automates nearly all of the deployment and configuration of VPN connections for employees, which ensures that their access to sensitive digital assets is secure. And because these solutions are cloud-based, employees will have the same experience no matter where they’re working.

Enabling secure and effective hybrid work can be a significant challenge for manufacturers. But with a modern, cloud-first network, it’s much easier than one might think, enabling companies to open up the entire world as a talent pool.

 Click here for more information on Meraki’s solutions for manufacturers.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.