Published on in Energy & UtilitiesManufacturingDigital Transformation

Our Workplace 2025 white paper has revealed the key trends shaping the future of work:

  • Remote working and freelance employment will create a boundary-less workplace
  • Increasing emphasis on work-life balance will create a lifestyle workplace
  • Demographic change will create a cross-generational workplace
  • Technological development will create an intelligent workplace

These trends will impact manufacturing, engineering and utilities in five key ways:

1. Goodbye to the traditional office

Almost half (49%) of businesses believe the disappearance of the traditional office will have the biggest impact on their future workplace strategy by 2025.

But this major change is not so applicable to manufacturing and utilities, as for these industries there is no traditional office environment.

Manufacturing relies on the whole workforce being on the factory floor at the same time, limiting the potential for a boundary-less workplace. Most manufacturing staff simply can’t work remotely. .

Utilities and engineering are not campus-based like manufacturing; instead they require engineers to travel to emergency repairs at different locations. Again, there is no traditional office to be changed.

2. Cyber security vs productivity

The manufacturing and utilities industries are a particular target for cyber-crime.

It’s estimated that a successful attack against an electricity distribution network in the UK could disrupt transportation, digital communications and water services for up to 13 million people, costing anywhere between £49 billion and £442 billion.

But a further problem arises when you try to balance security considerations with user experience.

Multiple segregated networks like passwords and log-ins impede the user and stop them being productive – a particular issue for industries that depend upon efficiency.

64% of manufacturing respondents said that identity and access management negatively impacts their productivity, and 61% of people from utilities agreed.

I believe the answer lies in making things frictionless and user-friendly. This will further improve security, since an easy system encourages employees to stay within the parameters you have set.

Examples of frictionless security include single sign-on and behavior monitoring. They provide a layer of security whilst also allowing the user to work uninterrupted, as offered through the use of biometrics as part of a two factor authentication.

Utilities are making good progress in this area. It’s the most advanced sector out of all those we surveyed when it comes to implementing behavior analytics tools in the next 12 months.

This still leaves manufacturing and engineering with catching up to do, however.

3. Open innovation

No industry can afford to stand still, but this is especially true of manufacturing.

Global competition means manufacturing organisations will have to embrace cutting-edge techniques. The best way to pick up such techniques is through an open-source platform or shared learning environment.

So it’s good to see that manufacturing is the leading industry in this area already.

  • 44% are changing current policies to provide access to the right tools and platforms
  • almost a quarter have already implemented open innovation
  • 36% are planning to invest in this area in the next 12 months.

On the other hand, utilities are proving slow to adopt open innovation, which will likely have a negative impact on efficiency and productivity in the long run.

4. Flexibility

More than three quarters (79%) of respondents view their current working hours and practices as simply not flexible enough to get the best from their workforce.

Manufacturing, engineering and utilities are inflexible industries by their very nature. Workers have to be at a set place at a set time as part of the maintenance, distribution, production or repair processes.

This explains why 82% of respondents in utilities said working hours and practices are not flexible enough.

A lack of flexibility threatens to cause these sector serious problems for talent acquisition and retention in future as people increasingly look for more flexibility from their employers.

As we move into a more intelligent model of engineering, however, workforce flexibility should increase.

Using data you should be able to predict what needs maintenance ahead of time, leaving more room for employees to schedule things according to their work-life needs.

Still, there will always be an element of break-fix that requires workers to come and go in the traditional way. This is just one of the things that make manufacturing and utilities different from other sectors.

5. Automation

Automation and machine learning is another trend set to make a massive impact on manufacturing and utilities.

Manufacturing has been very good at driving forward in this area, standing second only to retail in terms of investment into robotic process automation.

This is logical, as manufacturing probably has the most to gain from automating its high-volume repetitive work.

But I think there is something about automation we’ve missed, even in the research. Machine learning and artificial intelligence will change the way we engage with machines over the next few years.

I can see a future where we use our voice to communicate with tech. You will go up to a machine and ask it ‘what’s wrong with you?’ and it will give you an answer. The impact of this change will be huge.

A bright future – with its own challenges

There’s a lot to think about when looking ahead to the future workplace.

Open innovation and automation will shape manufacturing greatly, so it’s good that this sector leads the pack in this area already.

Equally, utilities will come under more pressure from cyber-attacks in the next ten years. It’s essential that they continue with work they have done to prepare themselves.

And when it comes to flexibility, both sectors leave a lot to be desired. This is probably the biggest challenge, since it gets to the heart of what these industries do: work that requires a set timetable.

I’m not sure how manufacturing and utilities can overcome this, or if it even has to.

Although there are drawbacks to a fixed timetable, they are outweighed by the advantages of being a manufacturing or utilities employee: the teamwork, the ever-evolving process of innovation and the fact you’re able to produce something new every day.

This aspect of manufacturing and utilities will always be part of the future workplace, whatever it looks like.

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