How can the food processing sector overcome the challenges of a dispersed workforce?

04/11/2021 14:24:45
With Industry 4.0 taking centre stage in manufacturing, the impact of technology has not gone unnoticed. Add a pandemic into the mix and we see increased demand for remote working, helping to overcome:

•    Supply chain delays
•    Workforce social distancing
•    Pressure to meet sustainability targets.
While the world may be teetering on the edge of a ‘post-pandemic’ age, the ripple effects on the UK labour market will be felt for years to come. In May 2020, an HSBC study revealed that flexible working was one of the biggest drivers of job satisfaction.

This poses a long-term challenge for those in food processing. Already, the British food processing sector is grappling with increased protectionism and regulations. This puts additional pressure on the workforce to stay compliant. 

Coupled with slower post-Brexit recovery and the largest skills shortage in 30 years, remote working is just another hurdle for manufacturers. 

The challenges of a dispersed workforce

Unlike office-based roles, remote working in the manufacturing sector poses multiple threats. Employers need to entrench a culture of trust if they are to retain their workforce and maintain efficiencies.

Equipment monitoring

Once again, Industry 4.0 has given rise to a new age of data analytics systems, and more sophisticated AI technology. To some degree, this empowers workforces to monitor equipment from afar. But for the safety of employees and the prevention of downtime, on-site inspections are a must.

Poor communications

Food processing teams are at the mercy of their chosen channels to communicate key messages. Orders, stock levels, work rotas and machinery status must all be communicated digitally. Whereas on-site workers may take accountability, for example, by attending daily briefings, they may risk missing key messages remotely.

At best, this could lead to misunderstandings between colleagues. At worst, it could cause critical product or financial damage.

Cyber security

Akin to many other industries, the food processing sector faces cybersecurity threats if staff continue to work from home. Without a robust, universal security system in place, businesses risk data breaches and equipment damage. 

Downtime can lose up to 20% of working time, at a cost of £180 billion per year throughout the UK. If staff are relying on sub-standard cybersecurity at home, this could cause financial ruin.

How to mitigate the challenges of a remote manufacturing workforce

Rather than forcing the workforce ‘back to normal’, manufacturers could consider reviewing, updating or implementing an internal communications strategy. Not only can this help to allay the abovementioned challenges; it can also keep staff happier.

When it comes to investing in teams, the statistics speak for themselves. A study by the University of Oxford has revealed that happy workers are 13% more productive. Likewise, teams who communicate effectively can be up to 25% more effective.
Exciting news

So, how can manufacturers improve their internal communications?


  • Start or revive dormant newsletters. Send them digitally, be sure to find ways of getting the information to site-based employees, too, and remember to thank your team for their contributions.
  • Choose your collaboration tool and stick with it. Don’t risk losing key messages with tons of project management systems such as Slack, Discord or Microsoft Teams all running at once. Pick one and keep it consistent, even if it’s email!
  • Offer regular catch-ups. These can be one-on-ones, such as staff appraisals, or larger group meetings. Don’t feel compelled to hold Zoom meetings for the sake of it. Schedule them in whenever you have an update – particularly with the ever-changing UK manufacturing situation, for example, supply chain issues.
  • Update internal documentation. There may be changes afoot all the time, which may pose HR concerns such as working hours. Update your policies regularly and make sure staff have access to this information. Keeping policies digital will allow dynamic changes, and you can also implement a digital signing system to ensure your teams are up to date.

The benefits of better internal comms for food processing industries

At Partners, we have seen time and again the benefits of strong internal communications. It’s what we pride ourselves on and what makes the UK manufacturing sector so successful. A solid internal comms plan can help to:

Prevent skills shortages

Unhappy staff seldom stick around, and often, they take valuable skills with them. Keeping them informed regularly on topics including the business direction, vision, and their role in helping to achieve it will help them feel valued – in turn, offering their own value to your company.

Improve job retention

The Confederation of British Industry has warned of a further two years of staff shortages. Quite simply, manufacturers cannot afford to lose staff. Engaged employees are more productive employees, and making sure that everyone across the business has clear information, targets, and regular opportunities to discuss their career progression will give them more reason to stay with your business. 

Increase efficiency

As supply chain issues continue to plague British manufacturing, we need to save resources wherever we can. Effective internal communications can keep staff abreast of equipment updates, order statuses and work rotas. Send them often, and keep your business running like a well-oiled machine.

Good internal communications are the lifeblood of high performing businesses. Do you need help to revamp your internal comms strategy?