Crisis Further Highlights Importance of Connected Human Workers Across Industrial World

Crisis Further Highlights Importance of Connected Human Workers  Across Industrial World
Crisis Further Highlights Importance of Connected Human Workers Across Industrial World
A string of meat processing plant closures in recent days due to employees being infected with COVID-19 has forced us to take a hard look at what can be done to create safer factory environments. This also must be balanced with managing new, immediate demands for certain essential items, including food products.
The lack of modern digital tools for frontline workers across the industrial world was already a major issue before the COVID-19 crisis. Most of our desk-based workforce has been using digital tools, from the likes of Microsoft and Slack, for over a decade. Yet 80% of the world does not sit behind a desk. They are mainly industrial workers and, for many, their primary productivity tools are six-inch binders, walkie-talkies and paper print-offs from legacy software.

The opportunity to drive greater adherence to best practice is huge and, again, arose pre-COVID-19. The case is now closed on the correlation of safety and quality with productivity. 

As grocery shelves get rapidly stripped of inventory by consumers and as new needs come online, like the increased demand for food, beverage and hygiene products, manufacturers must operate differently. (Georgia-Pacific, for example, is ramping up consumer bath tissue production, and L'Oreal has switched some of its facilities to making hand sanitizer, including their plant in Franklin, New Jersey). This will require increasing pressure and a huge reliance on frontline workers to operate safely and as efficiently as possible.

According to LNS Research, a research and advisory firm focused on the industrial space, an "area of innovation and investment [related to COVID-19] are connected worker technologies such as mobile devices, wearables, augmented reality, proximity beacons, location tracking, etc. Such technologies are being increasingly incorporated into [industrial transformation] programs to improve productivity, quality, and safety performance."

Connected worker technology serves human workers in several ways. It provides guidance to workers by digitizing procedures and making them easily accessible, enabling workers to do every task accurately, safely and effectively. It captures real-time operational data as they work, leading to key insights about the way work is getting done and uncovering areas for improvement. And as best practices emerge, procedures can be updated with a click of a button across teams and sites.

With connected work, frontline workers are digitally connected to the people, information, systems and machines they need to improve safety, quality and productivity. And in manufacturing, these three areas need more help now than ever before.

Worker Safety and Productivity

An organization can have all the bells and whistles in the world, implementing innovative and cutting-edge technologies to drive new efficiencies. But at the end of the day, it still relies on skilled humans to drive and manage those processes effectively. Technology can help achieve this and make human workers even more impactful to the bottom line, especially when it comes to maintaining their own safety, the safety of those around them, and the safety of the product being made.

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, processes may need to be updated to better help workers keep themselves safe. For example, standard operating procedures (SOPs) around hand-washing, limiting physical contact with others, and new policies around on-site visitors are all new forms of guidance that can be integrated into digital workflows for employees, empowering them with information to improve factory safety.

With the massive pivot many manufacturing companies are making to produce more or make different types of products, workers can leverage technology also to get up to speed faster on learning new processes or equipment. Not only are digital, multimedia SOPs easier to follow and ensure compliance than paper-based instructions, a key aspect of connected worker technology is that it's mobile-first and provides a user experience that's very similar to today's popular consumer apps. Since almost everyone knows how to tap a button, swipe or text, it requires very little training.

Frontline and Remote Collaboration

Connected worker technology also drastically improves collaboration capabilities across the entire plant floor. With every factory worker connected digitally via a mobile device (just as desk workers often are with tools like Microsoft Teams), they can have that same level of high-touch, instant communication to better collaborate with colleagues, managers and experts, while they work.

Frontline workers and desk workers also are harmonized with tools that can support the flow of collaboration, data and even event triggers where something that happens on the factory floor initiates a communication or workflow in the back office. This is especially important now that many office-based employees are now working from home.

Like any place of work, collaboration and teamwork are essential to produce high-quality results. Given the complexity of industrial environments, it is critical for workers to have more oversight, where needed, and be able to ask for input from managers and colleagues about their work, in real time, wherever they are.

Data-driven Decision-making

One of the biggest benefits of connected worker technology is that It helps people make smarter decisions, and, especially in these challenging times, those decisions often have tremendous impact. Plant leaders and managers who once only knew when a job began and ended, now have more insight into the actual work performed within that job.

An example of how this might work would be a manager finding out that a certain process was taking too long. The data collected by connected worker technology can show who and what specific machines are involved, as well as all the steps that make up the process. Further evaluation could conclude if the lag was due to skipped steps, miscommunication or malfunctioning equipment.

Management also can get data from other assets and business systems, or connect to wearables or sensor-enabled equipment right within the job. This information, when combined with data from workers, can provide powerful insights into what's working and what's not, and even enable the prediction of something about to go wrong.

All this allows leadership to better determine what will help or improve processes that are not up to par, identify and analyze the root causes of error, and ultimately uncover new efficiencies that can be scaled across the organization.


Connected work and connected worker technology make it possible for humans on the frontlines to perform at their safest, most productive best. As the current global situation clearly indicates, humans will always be essential in manufacturing and production – and they deserve to be supported and empowered by technology.

About The Author

As CEO of Parsable, Lawrence Whittle drives the strategic vision and business direction of the company. A global citizen and cloud software veteran, Lawrence has led technology companies in over 10 countries in the last two decades, all focused on providing enterprise software solutions that drive transformational change for the world’s largest organizations.

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