Automotive industry: Work From Home challenges and the future of work

WFM

For many of us around the world we are now entering our second year with a large number of our colleagues working from home. While in some quarters this has been welcomed as an emancipation and a welcome boost to work-life balance, others have struggled with the situation, both professionally and personally. One thing is clear, lockdown has broken the corporate bubble for all of us and humanised business.

At Evolution we took the decision some years ago to invest in our online systems and processes, which has really paid dividends during this period. It has been fascinating to see how the industry has once again proven its flexibility and resourcefulness in the face of this significant challenge.

Our industry has embraced technology with great enthusiasm over the past decade and this has been a huge benefit for many OEMs and suppliers with clients reporting that supply chain visibility has not been impacted by working from home, as the existing online systems are so comprehensive.

We have found that our clients are experiencing many of the same benefits and challenges as the rest of the world but with some interesting elements that are specific to the logistics industry. We asked them about their current working arrangements, the challenges involved and whether this had shifted their perspective.

For our manufacturing customers that require on-site factory time, rotating rosters and effective video calling have proved critical. One global automotive OEM commented:

 

“All of our staff have access to our IT systems at home, so the initial transition was incredibly straightforward. From regular meetings to shift handovers, technology has proven itself invaluable in managing and coordinating ongoing production. Looking to the future, we see the implementation of ‘telework’ as a viable option, with perhaps two days at the plant and three days from home – depending on the role.”

Many of us will be able to relate to the benefits of video calls which have experiences exponential growth since the start of the pandemic but have recently becoming better known as the cause of ‘Zoom-fatigue’, causing some businesses, including HSBC, to trial video call-free days for employees.

While some businesses have energetically embraced the forced changes, others have struggled with the situation, particularly when looking at roles beyond administration as one automotive supplier said:

“Many of our staff perform multiple roles, not just administration. For them, it is essential to have a physical presence at the plant and working remotely is not possible. While some jobs have been successfully performed remotely, our size dictates that many of our staff are needed in the warehouse or on the production line. These roles are not only critical to production but maintaining part quality and ensuring deliveries are correct and on-schedule.”

Another automotive supplier’s plant had 200 full-time employees, and while it struggled early on it has adapted quickly but does not expect a long-term shift to remote working:

“The most significant challenge was remote access to the company systems. While this has not affected us in the long term, it was a pain point initially. While some admin roles can be effectively done remotely, much of the workforce is still required on-site. Moving forward, we foresee very little changing.”

On the other hand, a global Tier 1 supplier said that some of their roles could be permanently transitioned to remote working:

“We have certain roles that have been performed entirely remotely since the beginning of the pandemic. There has been no negative impact on our performance and we have truly re-evaluated the way our staff work and the requirements of each role. It is likely that some jobs could permanently transition to remote working or a mixed solution depending on the department, individual role and personal preferences.”

 

Interestingly, this approach differs from other administrative-heavy businesses such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan who have made it clear in recent weeks that staff will be expected to return to the office full time once restrictions are lifted.

One customer, a procurement specialist, said that their team had very quickly adapted to working from home. The challenges it has faced have been entirely external, with minimal consequences to the business due to working from home:

“Working in procurement, many of our clients expect us to be very flexible. Working from home allows us to meet this expectation more easily, with trips to the workplace only justified when there is a supplier visit or specific project that requires it. For us, it is far more important that we are able to travel to factories and other sites than it is to work together in an office. Our challenges have been mostly external, particularly in the ocean freight market where costs are currently high, and allocation is limited.”

It is clear that many of our customers adjusted quickly but there are still mixed views on the future of work and employee flexibility. Roles that require a physical presence – like those in a factory or warehouse – will undoubtedly remain the same, but perhaps managerial and administrative roles in these facilities could take on a hybrid approach, with mixed on-site and remote days each week. We may well see that flexible working from home packages will become a competitive advantage when attracting top employees.

The longer we work from home the more comfortable we will become and the more we will develop and embrace technology to support our efforts. While there are undoubted benefits to working from home, there are also challenges, particularly for certain roles. Time will tell when we can all return to the office full time but when we do it is unlikely to look the same as when we left. Our collective lockdown experience has shown that it is possible to build a truly global team and we will see fewer roles in the future focused on a single location, for many roles it is no longer a case of working from home but rather working from anywhere.