Guest Post

How Supply Chain Managers Can Deal With Remote Working

July 2, 2020

This guest contribution written by Arielle Osher. Arielle Osher is a freelance writer with a fascination for supply chains and how they make daily life possible on a global scale. When she’s not working, Arielle enjoys rock climbing and chess.

The global health crisis has severely disrupted demand and supply across all countries. Here in Canada $2.7 billion worth of goods cross our borders every day and closing the country off has meant that the country’s export lines and manufacturers risk going under. This is on top of disruptions to the supply chains of Canada’s key global trading partners. Verizon Connect reports that the supply chains in France, Spain, and Great Britain have all been affected with a reduction in fleet hours of over 50%. And there is no question that these economical repercussions have been felt across the Atlantic. Moreover, there’s been growing concerns with global value chains (GVCs) operating in China, and talks of rolled back investments in these GVCs have also been circulating.

All of this adds to the general level of uncertainty in today’s industry environment. This is why supply chain managers should be ready with sudden changes to the workplace, especially with more companies switching to new practices like remote working. With all that said, we’ll take a look at how supply chain business leaders and managers can prepare their teams for working remotely.

Setting Up A Structure

In order for supply chain workers get used to telecommuting, managers should first establish a structure that enables them to oversee the company from afar. Firstly, they should determine the kinds of supply chain jobs that can be fulfilled remotely. Since the supply chain deals mainly with production and distribution, jobs that need workers on the ground like fleet drivers, warehouse workers, and quality control specialists will have to be exempt from telecommuting opportunities. But with careful analysis, managers will find that some supply chain jobs, such as those that handle planning, sourcing, sales, customer service, IT, and accounting, can all be part of the telecommuting force.

Another integral part of the telecommuting structure is establishing a workflow. Streamlining internal processes will allow supply chain managers to focus on core tasks and avoid micromanaging their teams. One way to achieve an effective workflow is by setting up short-term goals and routinely checking if the measures in place help with accomplishing company key performance indicators (KPIs).

Furthermore, while managers should be directly responsible for their teams, telecommuting will make it impossible for only one person to oversee a project. Organizational psychology professor Steve Kozlowski points out that a remote team should be tasked with leadership responsibilities. This allows team players with specific expertise to step up and make sound decisions without having to always receive direct orders from their team managers. In order for a remote team to be as streamlined as possible there needs to be shift to much more independent working practices compared to traditional office setups.

Remote Supply Chain Infrastructure

Supply chain players largely rely on in-house infrastructure to run smoothly. This enables all areas of the organization to fulfill its roles in one system. This may include corporate supply chain software, enterprise resource planning (ERPs), and fleet and warehousing systems. As supply chain teams transition to a remote working setup, business leaders will have to find a way to give their teams access to company infrastructure. One way of doing this is migrating enterprise apps and data to the cloud.

Kodiak Rating highlights on Medium that cloud computing solutions provide a holistic approach to supply chain management. More than just allowing remote teams to flourish, the cloud also hosts a myriad of services that streamlines internal and administrative processes and can help scale up a business’s reach. What’s more, cloud solution providers usually have security as their top priority, so supply chain leaders won’t have to worry about cyber threats and data leaks.

Equipping Your Teams

While cloud-based solutions provide remote teams access to in-house systems, supply chain managers should also equip their teams with hardware and training to work efficiently from home. A lot of employees have computers at home, but not all are familiar with telecommuting systems. This means that before team leaders send their employees off to work remotely, they should first brief their teams on how to work with new and unfamiliar software. Furthermore not all remote employees will want company programs on their personal devices, so team managers should also be prepared for supplying their teams with laptops or desktops ⁠— plus scanners, printers, and other hardware that’s essential to their job.

Remote team managers should also look into collaboration tools outside of the cloud. Communication and project management are two collaborative tasks that are best done through specialized software. Corporate communications software like Slack permits managers to create multiple channels and groups for their projects and teams. Moreover, project management apps like Trello and Quire are handy tools when overseeing multiple supply chain projects. Collaboration drive teams to succeed, so continuing this workplace principle is crucial⁠— even if managers aren’t physically together with their teams.

All in all, telecommuting will inevitably transform how supply chain teams operate. But other than supplying remote teams with the proper technologies, supply chain managers should also keep in mind that telecommuting also presents a different set of challenges for their remote workers. We discussed a New York Times article on work-from-home employees and how they are prone to distractions, feel disconnected, and can get disoriented with their working hours. This means it’s essential for leaders to check on their wellbeing regularly. As supply chain leaders adapt to the new normal and fulfill the needs of their teams, they can expect their organizations to pull themselves out of the current global economic situation.

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