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Putting people first and communicating: The bases for overcoming the crisis in the manufacturing sector

The global COVID-19 crisis is putting unprecedented pressure on Canadian manufacturers. The economic slowdown of our main customer, the United States, combined with limited access to our major supplier, China, is causing a monumental headache for manufacturers.

For some companies, this translates into forced shutdowns of non-core activities, reduced demand or layoffs. For others, it is about addressing the immense logistical challenges of the supply chain when demand explodes, as is the case for the food industry and the health sector.

At the heart of these issues are employees, women and men without whom it would be impossible to maintain operations and even more difficult to foresee a recovery that, although it may only occur in the medium term, must be planned now. Even in this era of manufacturing 4.0, human capital remains a company's most precious resource. This is why frequent and transparent communication is crucial to provide reassurance and maintain the bond of trust towards the organization, in addition to encouraging women and men, without whom there would be no manufacturing activity, to remain motivated in these difficult times.

Here are three main communication principles to guide managers in the manufacturing sector as they help their companies overcome the crisis.

1. Communicate and communicate again the increased measures that have been put in place to ensure the health and safety of employees

If your facilities are operating at full capacity, reassure employees. They are weakened, sometimes by many hours of overtime, but above all by very legitimate fears generated by the spectre of the coronavirus. A frequent reminder of the health and safety measures that have been put in place will lead to greater acceptance of the new, and essential, sanitary practices among employees. Many tools are available: emails, social media platforms, internal newsletters, pictograms, teleconferences, notices, individual meetings, etc. To act in accordance with directives, your employees must receive clear information through effective communication channels to ensure they fully comprehend the relevance of the initiatives that have been implemented.

2. Maintain continuous communication with employees at home

Working from home is rarely possible in the manufacturing sector. If employees find themselves on forced leave at home, it is important to keep them informed of developments in your business. By doing so, you will strengthen the professional ties that unite them with the organization. Share with them news about the health of co-workers and the state of the business, as well as the programs put in place by governments to help them. These exchanges are important to ensure the ongoing commitment of your workforce.

Here are some actions that can be taken, using technology, to overcome the fact that many people do not check their emails on a daily basis:

  • The creation of private groups on Facebook or LinkedIn, to facilitate the sharing of information and discussions among colleagues;
  • Setting up virtual meetings, using easy-to-deploy video conferencing tools such as Google Hangouts, Zoom or Skype;
  • The creation of a weekly electronic newsletter, using readily accessible platforms such as Mailchimp or Constant Contact.

3. Be ready to benefit from the recovery by leveraging your strong employer brand

After the pandemic, full employment will likely be a thing of the past. Experts predict that numerous SMEs will be severely handicapped by COVID-19. Many employees will remain affected by the crisis and may well reconsider their lifestyle by turning to something else or to another company in your industry.

It is more important than ever to communicate the positive actions taken before, during and after the crisis in order to maintain, or even strengthen, the bond of trust with your employees. To take advantage of the recovery, you will need to be able to count on a qualified workforce that knows your industry well and requires only a minimal learning curve. You must therefore ensure your employer brand remains attractive to such employees.

All of the elements discussed here are tools that can help retain your current employees and attract the best talent from outside when activities resume on a sustained basis.

Need support? Our COVID-19 communications team comprised of crisis communications experts across Canada is ready to help organizations effectively communicate with their stakeholders.

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Written by Robert Lupien

COVID-19: What to do in a manufacturing environment
March 18, 2020