The flexible work revolution: Changing work culture in distribution, logistics and manufacturing

12 February 2024 | 15 Shares

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The work landscape in distribution, logistics and manufacturing is undergoing a profound transformation driven by the evolving demands of a dynamic workforce. The question arises for these industries: Is flexible working feasible? Traditionally, these sectors require onsite employees for safety and operational reasons. However, a strong argument can be made that introducing flexible working is actually essential for the industry to thrive in the current labour market.

Understanding the changing workforce dynamics

The modern workforce is increasingly seeking job roles that offer flexibility and work-life balance. The shift is particularly pronounced among younger workers, who value autonomy and personal well-being alongside their professional commitments. Adapting to these changing expectations is beneficial and essential for industries facing labour shortages and high staff turnover rates. A report from Advanced shows that attracting & retaining talent is listed as a top priority for the manufacturing (37%) and distribution & logistics (39%) sectors.

Flexible working

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Recent research from the CIPD underscores the urgency of adopting flexible work practices. An estimated four million people have changed careers, and two million have left jobs in the last year due to a perceived lack of flexibility on the part of their employers. The CIPD warns that businesses may face a talent exodus if they fail to offer flexible working options. The report highlights that flexibility is critical to retain and attract staff, address the current skills shortage and foster inclusive workplaces.

Post-pandemic, 39 per cent of organisations offer flexible working from an employee’s first day, up from 36 per cent in 2021. However, nearly half of employers remain unaware of the legislation that will soon make flexible working requests an immediate right. The report also found significant unmet demand for more flexible hours arrangements and, simultaneously increased demand for the same. The findings highlight the need for more education and action among employers to adopt and promote hybrid working practices.

Navigating skills shortages and global supply chain disruptions

The distribution, logistics and manufacturing sectors face a critical skills shortage, further complicated by recent global supply chain disruptions, notably in the Red Sea. Attacks by the Houthi, an Iran-backed Yemeni group, have led to significant shipping disruptions, with key players like the Mediterranean Shipping Company halting routes through this vital shipping corridor. The events have resulted in substantial delays and increased operational costs, affecting businesses reliant on just-in-time supply chains.

Redirecting shipping routes has led to longer transits, escalating fuel and insurance costs and increasing operational overheads. These changes have had a cascading effect, from manufacturers experiencing delays receiving raw materials to retailers like IKEA and Next facing product shortages.

Adaptability in work practices becomes more essential in response to these challenges. Embracing flexible working arrangements, supported by technology like comprehensive contract management software, enables businesses to reassess and adapt their supply chains, enhancing resilience against disruption.

The long-term implications of shipping disruptions may lead to strategic shifts in supply chains, such as increased onshoring and nearshoring. They also underscore the importance of a flexible approach and strong operational infrastructure to maintain efficiency amid changing global conditions.

The feasibility of flexible working

Despite the onsite nature of work in distribution, logistics and manufacturing, flexibility can be introduced in various ways. For instance, administrative tasks and certain training components can be conducted off-site or through digital platforms, reducing the need for constant onsite presence. Additionally, firms can offer a variety of shift options, including job-sharing and shift permutations, which cater to different lifestyles.

Protolabs research reveals that 56 per cent of manufacturing professionals believe flexible working enhances innovation, and only 39 per cent view a four-day working week negatively. Seven in ten would consider a four-day week if their suppliers did, indicating an industry openness to the model. However, the shift requires adapting business models, with 78 per cent acknowledging the need for new manufacturing operational strategies.

The study also emphasises the role of collaborative robots – or cobots – and automation to enhance productivity and creativity. More than half of the respondents believe cobots would improve employee productivity and idea generation, with many manufacturers already using or planning to use such technology. This suggests human-machine collaboration may support flexible working patterns and strengthen operational capabilities.

Flexible working

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SaaS-based time and attendance solutions are key enablers in this transition, as they offer a range of functions that support flexible working arrangements. For example, self-service shift management allows employees to swap shifts inside defined boundaries, ensuring that skill gaps are not created. Workers highly value this level of autonomy, and empowerment in this way can significantly enhance job satisfaction.

Maintaining security and operational control is a common concern with flexible working arrangements. Here, technology plays a vital role. Advanced solutions provide robust access control systems, ensuring that only authorised personnel are on-site at any given time. Real-time data and monitoring capabilities create a comprehensive overview of operations, giving leaders the peace of mind that their facilities are secure and functioning optimally, even with a more flexible workforce.

Offering flexible working arrangements can be a significant differentiator during a skills shortage. The approach positions a firm as one that understands and respects the needs of its workforce, attracting new talent and playing a crucial role in retaining existing skilled workers.

How to implement new working plans

The integration of flexible working in distribution, logistics and manufacturing is not only feasible but essential for the sustainability and growth of these sectors. It is not just a response to current workforce trends but a strategic move towards a more adaptable and resilient business model aided by a committed and loyal workforce.

“With the right software and support, it’s perfectly possible for distribution, logistics and manufacturing leaders to offer the flexibility key talent is looking for, without compromising on the bottom line or quality service.”

Adrian West, VP of Distribution, Logistics and Manufacturing, Advanced.

To learn more about how flexible working solutions and advanced technology can transform your business in the sector, connect with Advanced. Advanced has a proven track record of success, helping over 100,000 people annually get paid accurately and on time. It currently saves employees over 750,000 hours a year through automation and helps companies save millions through improved operational efficiencies. Discover how Advanced can help your business stay ahead in the competitive landscape by contacting a member of the expert team today.