How to Create a Remote Continuous Improvement Plan During a Pandemic

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By Emilie A Lachance - November 09, 2020

The global COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted nearly every industry on the planet, shutting down operations at many companies and severely limiting them at others. The financial downturn caused by the pandemic has damaged many companies and forced some to close their doors permanently. Even some companies that are remaining afloat have had to furlough many employees. Companies that produce items that are considered “non-essential” have struggled to continue to operate, whether because of difficulties managing the new challenges of maintaining social distancing in their operations or in managing the logistics of moving products with shipping hampered.

Not all companies are feeling the same effects, however. The production of food items is considered essential work, so food manufacturing companies have kept their doors open and continued production. Some industries have even seen an increase in business—think those who produce personal protective equipment (PPE) or hygiene products such as hand sanitizer. Whether your business has slowed or accelerated, crisis creates opportunity!

All companies can adapt to the new reality and, with some changes in technology and process, can carry on with continuous improvement programs.

Companies across the board are being forced to modify their operations to adapt to unusual operating conditions and keep employees and customers safe. Studies by MIT and recommendations provided by the CDC both indicate that working entirely remotely—or at least minimizing the number of employees in one place at one time—is the ideal way to keep employees safe. 

Remote work is possible in many industries, but it is far more difficult in manufacturing facilities, especially when the goal for production at many companies is still at relatively normal levels.

One way in which manufacturing facilities have adapted is to stagger production shifts, allowing fewer employees to work at the same time in the facility and creating the conditions for social distancing. This reduced capacity requires some employees to stay home when they would usually be working and gives employees a heavier workload during their shifts, but it allows employees to distance themselves from one another to decrease the chance of infecting each other. Unfortunately, if fewer employees are present in the facility, it will be difficult to maintain normal production output. 

It is important to maintain continuous improvement during the pandemic.

While planning for how to operate safely during the pandemic, it is crucial that continuous improvement practices are not neglected or entirely abandoned. In previous blog posts about continuous improvement, Worximity has emphasized that continuous improvement plans and practices require commitment from employees and management.

Without ongoing dedication to improvement, continuous improvement plans will fail, allowing inefficient practices to continue or increase and profitability to be lost in the long run. Luckily, these unusual operating conditions may be the best opportunity companies have ever had to focus on continuous improvement programs.

This is true for a number of reasons. For one, a decreased staff in manufacturing facilities at any given time will still be required to produce product at normal throughput levels, so they will have to operate more quickly and efficiently than ever. Continuous improvement practices can find and highlight problem areas and inefficiencies in production, allowing employees and management to streamline production processes, easing the extra burden put on employees, and maintaining overall productivity. For this reason, continuous improvement practices are more useful than ever in this abnormal environment. 

Additionally, with more employees and managers working from home, this time spent away from the facility grants the opportunity to monitor and interpret production data to find inefficiencies in production. When more time can be specifically dedicated to finding problems in production, new continuous improvement practices can be developed, tested, and implemented, giving employees working remotely the chance to improve working conditions for themselves and their coworkers.

What are the steps to adapting your continuous improvement program?

The first step in creating a remote continuous improvement plan during a pandemic is to embrace the cloud. Cloud applications such as Teamwork, Slack, and Zoom foster collaboration and communication at a distance.  

The good news is that cloud-based continuous improvement optimization tools like TileBoard provide data and insights to anyone, anywhere, 24/7, empowering production teams to continue with their continuous improvement programs even while working from home.

The next step in creating a remote continuous improvement plan is to leverage the reallocation of production teams. Because fewer employees are working in production areas at any given time, it will be easier for management to pinpoint exact problem areas within a shift or identify employees or stations that aren’t working as efficiently as possible. 

With factories staffed at lower levels, focusing on specific areas with the intention of improvement can be very efficient and, over time, can make a large impact on the production levels and profitability as operations scale again.

To keep your continuous improvement programs moving, now is the time to invest in technology.

Tools like TileBoard, which enables the monitoring of production at a distance, are more useful than ever during this time of irregular working conditions. Continuous improvement software allows any employee to view past and present manufacturing data and production levels at any time from anywhere. With staggered or reduced shifts, some members of the production team are freed to devote themselves to continuous improvement efforts, which include creating an expanded capacity to evaluate production data and suggest improvements while they’d otherwise be idling at home.

With more eyes on production data looking for opportunities for improvement, the next step is to create a new structure to take advantage of and implement actions based on new insights. New routines, including regular virtual meetings between management and floor workers, can be established to discuss current operating conditions and develop testable ideas for improvement. 

Using customized reporting available in tools like TileBoard, various roles can present their customized dashboards in real time and explain how they’re interpreting production metrics and why they’re suggesting the improvements they are.

We’ve identified employee involvement and commitment as a key to success in continuous improvement programs is. Engaging workers in contributing to operational improvements will raise morale among floor employees because they will know that they are being listened to and that their input is valued. 

With relatively modest investments in technology, you can be positioned for the coming upturn.

The economy is currently struggling, and many are out of work. However, we must remember that the economy was strong before the pandemic, and when the threat of the pandemic subsides and employees return to work, the economy is likely to rebound. When this day comes, companies that are prepared to return to business as usual will be the ones who are most profitable and prosperous. 

If manufacturing companies use the opportunities from this strange period to strengthen their use of continuous improvement practices, they will no doubt return stronger, more efficient, and more profitable.

This is the ideal time to implement cloud-based continuous improvement technologies, and Worximity makes it easy! Take advantage of our 30-day OEE assessment program by clicking the link below.

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