Technology on the plant floor has proven its worth. It has helped improve just about every metric that manufacturers measure. And it continues its march to soon permeate every corner of a manufacturing facility. It has, however, taken a little longer to get technology directly into the hands of front-line employees.
There has been progress to be sure. Technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality are being used in training, with favorable results. Part of the reason for the success is that workers, especially those newer to the field, desire to have technology as part of a daily workflow. Communication is another area where technology can address important areas such as training and eventually retention.
Part of the shift in manufacturing is due to the elevated importance of front-line employees during the pandemic. “We need to digitally change the way we support people who are on the frontline,” says Ekers. “We can no longer just rely on human beings to manage human beings in order to optimize their behavior. There are just too many deskless workers at this point.”
Ekers’ company gently nudges non-desk employees as a way to provide information, insights and even inspiration. Using behavioral science to capture data and information, the system then provides feedback to improve performance. Keeping front-line workers up to date on issues such as workplace safety, operating procedures and standardized knowledge is more challenging than creating communication for those at desks. But this information is on the app, delivered on a smartphone, which is viewed during breaks.
Information is built around three key areas – reducing safety incidences, improving productivity, and retaining top-performing associates. “As safety is the highest priority in manufacturing, this method digitizes the way in which safety information flows, both from the company to employees but also from employees back to the organization. For example, if a safety incident could happen on the floor, it can be addressed proactively. Employees can take photos of the issues on the app and send to managers," Ekers explains.
Another area the technology addresses is that of retention. “Every employee engagement survey points to a few reasons why people decide to leave a company,” says Ekers. “The reasons are poor communication from the company, they don’t feel recognized for their work, they have a poor relationship with their manager, and they don’t have opportunity to provide feedback to the organization around how to drive improvement.”
Tackling those issues, Nudge’s system enables a two-way communication channel that engages both employees and managers through the various stages from onboarding to retention. For onboarding an automated campaign, that’s just a few minutes a day, provides consistent content. “For the first 90 days, the system delivers a series of push notifications that are geared toward capturing the hearts of mind of new employees, by explaining why they are working for this company,” says Ekers. Efforts are also made to make the communications fun by gamifying performance metrics and creating team challenges using a reward system. Onboarding has proven to be crucial system in the retention of employees. “The natural attrition point in manufacturing is that if you’re not engaging employees during the first 90 days there's a high likelihood that they might leave the company,”
And of course, training is an essential component of retention. The app can be used to standardize job processes but can also be used to transfer tribal knowledge. Access to internal experts is literally in any employee’s hands. And on the management side, it’s a way to ensure that employees are keeping up with training providing by allowing them to nudge employees to check in on their progress. “A manager also has access to analytics which enables them to see how the team is interacting and can provide insights into the flow of information which enables them to better coach their team,” says Ekers. Another interesting tool is a sentiment analysis that lets managers see how employees are relating to particular topics.
“At the end of the day, this technology captures data around how people want to see improvement. Those insights are passed to managers who can make decisions around operational changes, and then use nudges to influence that change across the field. So, it's a closed-loop system of understanding and identifying priorities and then addressing them in a way that change actually happens. This system is especially important as it gives front-line workers a way to communicate that didn’t exist before.”