The omicron variant of Covid-19 hit the United States just as the electronics industry anticipated a “return to normal” in terms of populating offices, factories, warehouses and other operations. The Institute for Supply Management expects global omicron-related worker disruptions for the next several months; cities and seaports in China have been closed due to Covid quarantine measures.
The Electronic Components Industry Association (ECIA), which represents manufacturers, distributors and reps, polled its subject experts on the unique challenges of the electronics workforce during a now two-year pandemic. Its report, Workplace Disruption – How It Is Changing… identifies both problems and approaches to maintaining a resilient workforce.
Returning to the office
Most organizations in the electronic component industry are presently in a partial reopening phase, according to ECIA. Their approach generally falls into defined vs. flexible remote work.
Defined remote work means various roles within an organization are required to have some presence in the office for a certain amount of time.
A flexible approach puts return to office decisions in the hands of either the employee or individual department managers. It’s important to consider the needs of the organization, employee productivity, company culture and employee satisfaction, said ECIA.
- Determine who is eligible for remote work. Roles such as warehouse, manufacturing, facilities maintenance, and others are not able to be performed remotely.
- Employee personalities and work styles should be considered.
Approaches can include assigned work-from-home (WFH) day(s) or week(s). In this scenario all employees are required to be in the office during specified calendar days.
Another common approach is allowing a specific allotment of WFH days per week or per month. Flexible approaches are most popular with employees.
Some organizations have adopted a volunteer approach to return to office for non-operational personnel, while others leave these decisions up to department managers. Flexible approaches are founded on the principle that employees are most productive and less likely to leave when they are happy.
Return to office policies
Mandates, masks, social distancing, vaccines, visitors, travel, and entertainment all make up the complex jigsaw puzzle of the workplace, along with current and pending government regulations.
ECIA’s survey found:
A small (between 10-20 percent) but growing number of organizations are requiring vaccines as a condition of employment. Regardless of mandates, some employers encourage vaccines by:
- Offering vaccinations on site
- Requiring visitors to show proof of vaccination for entry to facilities
- Implementing higher health care premiums for non-vaccinated employees
- Utilizing third party software solutions from Clear and ADP
Masking policies tend to follow CDC guidelines and local regulations.
Attracting and retaining employees
The manufacturing industry faced a shortage of skilled workers even before the pandemic. Covid-19 has since spurred a “Great Resignation” in the American workforce. Retaining an existing employee is easier than attracting a new one, ECIA noted.
Developing a plan to maintain company culture can make a big difference in how employees view their individual future.
- Companies are opting to include flexibility in their return to office programs and attempting to strike a balance.
- Warehouse, operations, and manufacturing positions have become increasingly challenging to fill. While WFH is normally not a possible option for these types of positions, other normal benefits (or lack therefore) will certainly play into employment decisions.
- Developing, enhancing, and promoting company culture, encouraging engagement and employee connectedness, and maintaining competitive wages have never been more important in retaining and attracting these employees.
The year 2021 has been very positive for most companies in the electronic component industry. The semiconductor content in electronics systems reached an all-time high in 2021, according to IC Insights.
However, there are real concerns about employee burnout. Employees work extended hours as they skip the daily commutes, attend back-to-back-to back virtual meetings, and stare at computer screens all day to deliver those productivity gains.
The first step is to know your team and what they accomplished during these unprecedented times, according to ECIA.
- Remote work has resulted in higher productivity for some employees, who are working longer hours from home than they did in the office.
- Jobs requiring travel have seen upticks in productivity simply because employees can be in more places in less time, thanks to Zoom, Skype and Teams.
- New virtual tools such as live webinars and virtual trade shows, are being utilized today, leading to higher productivity.
- CRMs, call reports and other self-reporting tools traditionally used for outside sales can be used for inside sales, customer service, technical support, and other roles.
- Team members who are less productive are often easily identified by peers, who can apply natural pressure to encourage them to do their fair share of the work.
Companies can also positively impact the overall mental health of their employees by reducing the stigma of counseling and other programs by offering and actively promoting the usage of the EAP benefits. Many people who would otherwise hesitate to seek out help may find assistance in these services, particularly if anonymity is maintained in the process.
Other things that can be considered is the introduction of on-site meditation or quiet rooms, which are places where employees can “decompress.” Training for managers and supervisors on how to identify employees who may be struggling combined with a culture that promotes physical and mental health can also contribute to a healthier work environment.
Volatility and disruption are not likely to subside in the short term. Although many companies appear to have their local and North American operations under control, the industry is experiencing pandemic impacts on global operations. Resilient companies have acknowledged that disruptions like Covid-19 are here to stay for the foreseeable future and having policies that confront them head-on are warranted, ECIA concluded. Complete office closures are unlikely to reoccur; however, scenario and contingency planning remains important.