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4 best practices for perfecting your safe operations as COVID-19 continues

Steven P. Silver,
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The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is a bit of a moving target, presenting new challenges every week with small degrees of variation around the globe. Social distancing is now part of our everyday lexicon. We’ve been sanitizing everything at our businesses and donning masks in public. Most factories and offices are open to some degree, but business leaders continue to be challenged with coronavirus hot spots and second wave surges. It’s a lot to manage, and it requires tremendous coordination in terms of implementing new protocols, helping employees feel safe, and doing it at scale across multiple building locations and time zones.

The complexities and pressures of operating during a pandemic

There’s tremendous political, social, and economic pressure to rapidly resume worldwide operations at full scale. Particularly because, even before the crisis, a Small Business Credit Survey by U.S. Federal Reserve Banks found 66% of firms faced financial challenges. But a reduced and distributed workforce, new working protocols and regulations, and the expectation to maintain quality products and service despite COVID-19 makes managing workplaces a complex undertaking.

As businesses open and operate during this time they must maintain the health and safety of a global and local workforce one person at a time while managing new operational and regulatory protocols that differ by locale and even by location within individual facilities. They must also limit the impact of community spread through tracking, distancing, and contact tracing at scale. And no matter the context, the process must function at enterprise scale and variation.

Because this is unchartered territory, businesses are figuring things out as they go. Typical applications or solutions are often "purpose-built," but organizations don't often have the time, resources, or budget to add, modify, or replace what they have with all new solutions. The continued reliance on manual processes, spreadsheets, emails, and occupational health and safety (OHS) or human resources information solutions (HRIS) makes it nearly impossible to deliver visibility, transparency, or auditability in all the ways required of post-COVID operations at an enterprise scale.

As your business ramps up, you’ll need to be able to automate and orchestrate activities to maintain the health and safety of your workforce while maintaining quality. To safely reopen and operate effectively at scale, organizations need a coordinated plan.

Key operational plan elements

Disrupted businesses and operational environments require an approach that can address "asymmetric" operational challenges, such as differing regulations by location and varied facility constraints. Your approach needs to account for:

  • Workforce health and safety. Keeping your employees and customers physically safe is a top priority for every employer. There’s also an emotional element of feeling safe, which is just as important. People cannot be productive if they don’t feel comfortable in their working environment.
  • Agility and adaptation. Recurring infection is likely to continue, so businesses need an effective contact tracing protocol to limit community spread and provide traceability and auditability to manage workloads without adding headcount.
  • Compliance. Ramping back up across multiple locations requires an extensive, systematic, transparent, and auditable process with the ability to track compliance to new protocols, like OSHA 3990 in the U.S. and EU-OSHA in Europe.
  • Efficiency. Many organizations are trying to handle the crisis with manual processes. To maintain quality and remain competitive, enterprises need visibility into data and processes across lines of business and need to be aware of any disruptions to their product supply chain.

4 best practices for operating safely

Many organizations are trying to piece together solutions with a range of productivity tools to address the situation, with limited results. To mitigate risk, comply with new and changing regulations, contain costs, and adapt to unforeseen challenges, you need to:

  1. Ensure the health and safety of employees. Identify which employees should not return to the workforce; manage your workforce going forward; and keep track of your employees’ health. Use risk assessment tracker and contact tracer capabilities in an application like Safe Operate to protect your workforce.
  2. Manage the ramp-up / ramp-down of operations in a staged manner. Given the varied state of the workforce and status of each facility, maintaining quality requires a methodological approach to operational management. Develop action plans to guide a ramp-up or ramp-down of operations in a staged manner. Use case management capabilities to coordinate facility readiness and supply chains, provide process visibility, and track of changing situations.
  3. Track compliance with workforce regulations and protocols. Monitor return-to-work action plans and operations; for example: ensuring personal protective equipment (PPE) are readily available, hand washing stations are clearly marked, and guidelines for maintaining social distance in the facility are established. Use case management to define business rules and processes needed to comply with regulations.
  4. Increase efficiency and collaboration. Take advantage of end-to-end automation and robotics to connect all your data, automate processes, and eliminate silos. Enable all employees to access the information and tools they need, whether they’re on the shop floor or working from home, so they can collaborate in real-time.

Safely ramping-up and maintaining operations requires a methodological approach and a mix of technology and leadership

Business leaders shouldn’t downplay the seriousness of COVID-19 or minimize employee contributions during challenging times. Your employees must feel physically, mentally, and emotionally safe in order to perform their best. Nobody saw the human, operational, health, safety, and economic impact of COVID-19’s disruptions coming, and everyone is scrambling to adapt as a result. Until there is a vaccine, there will be some degree of starts and stops regarding business operations.

Many examples exist of organizations that successfully adapted operations to maintain services during the crisis. For example, the Bavarian State Government moved quickly to pay out €229 million to small, local businesses in need with an online lending app. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia modified its communication campaign practically overnight to support its customers with $3.6 billion in cash for Australian households in need. And Scotiabank stood up new digital servicing capabilities for faster customer response and $1 billion in payment relief for its customer experiencing COVID-19 hardships. In each case, these organizations were able to deliver essential services through agility and adaptation.

As I explained in a recent webinar, perfecting safe operations is not a linear journey nor a process with a finish line. Safely ramping and maintaining global operations across locations, protocols, and regulations requires end-to-end automation that breaks down operational and technical silos and provides full visibility across processes and work history. It also requires expertise to implement and scale solutions quickly and show value fast, leveraging the psychology of motivation to enable behavioral change that supports employee safety and wellbeing.

How are you and your enterprise tackling these challenges at scale?

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Challenge: Operational Excellence Industry: Cross-Industry Product Area: Platform Topic: Operational Excellence

About the Author

Steven P. Silver, Vice President and global industry market leader for Manufacturing, Automotive, & High-Tech at Pega, helps C-level executives improve operations and engagement by enabling experiences that live up to their customer, operational, brand, and bottom-line aspirations.

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