One of the changes COVID-19 is bringing to workplaces is the realization that remote work is possible. Not in all cases, but certainly for some. When the pandemic ultimately passes, and businesses return to normal operation – however that may look – there will likely be a new push from employees for more remote work opportunities.
This change may also influence consultants and how they conduct the work they perform. That is the scenario playing out for enVista right now. The technology and consulting business is ramping up the use of tools it had used sparingly prior to COVID-19 as it builds a remote consulting business.
“I think [the future] will be a blend of what we are having to do now because of the coronavirus and what we used to do,” Shane Smith, vice president of supply chain solutions, explained. “We were going down this path a bit with [some of our products]. Our model has always been that you have to be on site because we’ve done it that way for so long… but we probably didn’t [need to be in all cases].”
enVista is rolling out its Virtual Operational Assessments tool. Utilizing GoPro cameras and iPads, the consulting arm of the business is now offering remote assessments and consulting for warehouse operations as a way to assist clients during this time when travel and on-site visits are just not possible.
Tom Stretar, vice president of labor for enVista, said the company is seeing a lot of interest right now as shippers learn where inefficiencies in their supply chain lie – inefficiencies that may not be visible during normal times. He pointed to a large customer that can’t be named yet using the Virtual Operational Assessments approach. The company, he said, has seen a 150% increase in demand for its products due to COVID-19, which is creating strain in the system.
“They are using our services right now to understand where they may have some [inefficiencies],” Stretar said. “We will help them identify how to optimize the facility. Normally we would try to be on site for these things.”
Stretar went on to say that once enVista gains access to the video, whether it is recorded or a live feed, “there are some really simple tools that we can deploy quickly to get a return for our customers.”
The goal of any warehouse optimization program is to root out inefficiencies and reduce costs. enVista typically leans on its team of Lean Six Sigma-certified consultants to go on site, walk the facility, speak with management and employees, and then make recommendations for change. In this environment, that onsite process is not possible, but the companies are still interested in driving change.
“Industrial engineers for the most part do their work on site, so it’s been an adjustment,” Stretar said. “I’ve got some groups that have done these remote [projects] and have been able to provide assistance.”
One big change, and a worry in some cases, is whether not being onsite could reduce urgency in obtaining information from the customer.
“When we’re on site, I think there is a [recognition] that they need to be attentive to us,” Stretar said.
Rollout of the Virtual Operational Assessment program is aimed at helping as many companies as possible reduce bottlenecks in their systems. In some cases, an iPad may be set up at a workstation so enVista’s team can see the work being accomplished, or so the employee can describe the processes being used without the need to stop working. In other cases, a GoPro is attached to an employee’s chest so enVista’s consultants can see exactly what the employee sees during their shift.
This level of detail allows the engineers to understand the processes involved and make better decisions. Nothing will replace being onsite, though.
“We think we are going to miss some of the subtle things,” Stretar said. “The iPad and GoPro are tests. We think the iPad will be good for some locations such as packaging. … We think between [onsite and remote] we will find the right combination [going forward].”
Smith said remote work has some advantages, but there is also a concern.
“We find ourselves a lot more productive working remotely,” he said. “People don’t have distractions; they are not leaving for an hour and half lunch. Clearly Zoom meetings are helpful. We’re putting in place [procedures] where you are showing their face so there is some interaction. [But], I am concerned about whether we are getting the knowledge transfer to the customers.”
Assuming the challenges can be worked through, Smith said an approach that includes both onsite and remote assessments could benefit the end customer through reduced costs.
“When we do these selections by going into a customer [location]to determine what is the right warehouse management system for them (enVista is platform-agnostic) … one of the challenges is travel,” Smith said. “A company may have 10, 15 or even 25 people that are part of that project and we don’t want people flying all over the world.”
That cost adds up, he added, noting that up to 20% of the cost for a million-dollar project could be related to expenses such as travel and lodging.
Stretar said now is the time for businesses to assess their operations, if they can, because understanding flaws in the operation is more difficult after the fact.
“Going forward, this is going to be applicable to everyone once we bounce back from this,” he said. “Right now we are seeing a big push from industries. If you have the capacity to take on these types of activities, you are going to learn good lessons you can apply. It’s always hard to go back, in my opinion.”