The words “manufacturing” and “innovation” are almost synonymous. A report from McKinsey Global Institute describes this important sector as “a vital source of innovation and competitiveness, making outsized contributions to research and development,” noting that the industry contributes disproportionately to innovation when compared to all other sectors.

Yet despite this emphasis on pursuing leading-edge R&D and advanced technologies when making products, manufacturers are not ahead of the curve when it comes to optimization of employee engagement solutions. This is evidenced by the fact that in an industry that would logically be linked with the excitement of continuous development, manufacturing workers instead rank lowest of all U.S. industries when it comes to employee engagement, with just one-quarter of workers feeling engaged according to 2017 figures from Gallup. This disheartening stat puts the manufacturing industry on the lowest rung possible as the least-engaged occupation in the most recent State of the American Workplace report.

In the United Kingdom as well, engagement in this sector is a significant difficulty, with only 35 percent of UK manufacturers rating their workforce as strongly engaged. The Workforce Institute at Kronos by Coleman Parks also conveyed that the majority (60 percent) of manufacturers in the UK believe that their workers aren’t showing strong levels of productivity, with around three-quarters of respondents pointing to manual systems and systems that don’t integrate as the reason behind these productivity problems.

And herein lies an irony: why is an industry with a proud history as a visionary leader in process improvements and technological advancements lagging at the back of the pack when it comes to adopting the latest technologies that could facilitate better employee engagement? Because the fact is, solutions already exist in the form of mobile engagement platforms that could reverse these trends by helping manufacturing employees feel connected to each other, their work, and their organization.


Reasons to Care

Before explaining the value of mobile engagement apps in more detail, though, it’s important for manufacturers to first understand exactly why they must prioritize moving beyond the industry’s current epidemic disengagement levels. Employee engagement is about more than simply having a happy workforce, although that’s part of it. When you look at what the term “engagement” really means, it comes back to the company’s bottom line. Forbes describes employee engagement as “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.”

Clearly, when staff members aren’t committed to their firm’s mission and feel disconnected from its vision, they won’t be as productive and the organization will suffer from a business perspective. This is indeed, the case, as research has shown. Perhaps the most compelling evidence of this is a finding that companies with engaged employees outperform firms with less engaged workers by a startling 202 percent. And that better performance translates to less absenteeism, higher productivity, improved safety and more earnings growth.

Another piece of the puzzle that can help manufacturers understand why they must change their approach to engagement is that the industry faces some unique conditions that make it particularly tough to keep workers connected and engaged. According to Kronos, for example, in addition to cost control issues and the need to stay constantly agile to remain competitive, it also isn’t easy to attract and retain talent in the sector due to a significant shortage of skilled workers. Disengagement can also occur based on the fact that physical manufacturing often takes place in a different location from the corporate entity – perhaps in another country or even continent. With such a distributed workforce, it can be even more challenging for workers to stay in the loop and understand their company’s mission.

The industry is trending away from a centralized workforce as well. A 2017 report from Gallup pinpoints manufacturing as one of sectors that saw the largest increase in the percentage of employees who spend part of their hours working offsite, with a 4 percent rise in this category over the four-year study period. This means 40 percent of manufacturing workers now spend at least some of their workday as a “non-desk employee” or NDE, working somewhere other than the manufacturing floor. So the challenge for employers is figuring out how to prioritize a systematic approach to facilitate effective two-way engagement with their remote crew as well as onsite staff, ensuring that no one feels out of the loop.

Solving Problems End to End

This brings us back full circle to mobile engagement apps. Unlike with other technologies like intranets or enterprise social networks which offer limited capabilities in terms of communication, feedback, and measurement, mobile platforms are a much more complete solution. A major benefit is that mobile apps effectively give NDEs as well as onsite workers a way to stay fully connected even when they aren’t co-located.

I like to think of these mobile tools as helping employees on the front end, and workers on the back end, resulting in a true “end-to-end” solution. For employees, mobile apps provide community features and a “sticky” platform that can be personalized in look and feel. Some key features that boost engagement by helping the users themselves include the ability for all staff to:

  • Engage with company communications
  • Be inspired by organizational goals
  • Receive critical company updates
  • Generate and share content within their communities
  • Access an instant messaging feature to connect and engage wherever they are

Such mobile engagement apps also provide a library for key reference information like safety manuals, calendaring ability that can help with coordinating rotations and scheduling, directory service to access employee profiles, and even gamification features that can give workers an opportunity to provide valuable feedback to senior management.

And that’s where the back-end part of a mobile engagement solution comes in, since the right tech tools can provide employers with the ability not only to determine how engaged employees are today, but to be able to see when engagement levels wax and wane over time. In terms of measurement functionality, mobile engagement platforms are unique in being able to:

  • Measure employee interaction with content
  • Capture feedback on organizational messages and initiatives
  • Simplify management and analysis of surveys and data insights
  • Allow behavioral insights across two-way digital engagement
  • Build a profile of engagement across regions and functions
  • Harness big data and artificial intelligence to create dashboards and engagement “scores” with real-time insight
  • Map workforce engagement at any point in time

Mobile First

What’s important to note here is that not all technology solutions are created equal when it comes to increasing engagement—particularly for an industry that currently suffers from sub-par engagement levels. While other tech platforms exist to help distributed work groups communicate more easily, such as Slack and Google Hangouts Chat, most tools don’t get at the heart of engagement since they don’t offer measurement functionality.

The difference between these types of collaboration apps and a true mobile engagement platform is that the latter offers not only the ability to improve team communication for building engagement on the front end, but additionally provides manufacturers with the option to really understand how to use the data that employees provide via engagement metrics to increase engagement over the long term.

To really affect engagement, manufacturers must go beyond providing the latest collaborative platform. They must seek an intuitive tool that helps them solve the problem of how to measure engagement and improve the employee experience for all of their workers, and then use that feedback to make cultural changes as needed throughout the organization. Mobile technology is the only tool on the market today that can effectively offer manufacturers a single-point solution to address their unique industry needs and engagement challenges, ultimately transforming how their entire workforce communicates, connects and contributes to the organization.

Bulent Osman is CEO and founder of StaffConnect. From offices in London and San Francisco, StaffConnect’s platform and domain experts are supporting large businesses from around the world to inspire their workforces to deliver better performance, improved customer experiences and greater shareholder value. Visit www.staffconnectapp.comfor more information. 

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