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Savvy Supply Chain Leaders Adopt Flexible Working

Supply chain issues are top-of-mind within many C-suites and for good reason. We now know that a 'status quo' mindset was fraught with inherent supply chain risks which were exposed by recent events that disrupted the Global Networked Economy.

Sixty-one percent of supply chain leaders believe that the acceleration of remote work due to the global COVID-19 pandemic will create a permanent hybrid work model, even at the frontline, according to the latest market study by Gartner.

The annual Gartner 'Future of Supply Chain' survey of 983 supply chain leaders identified the changes to the prior status quo that will likely shape global supply chains in the months and years to come.

Supply Chain Transformation Market Development

"In an environment of talent and labor shortage, supply chain leaders anticipate employee expectations to become more demanding and feel that they must prepare to meet those expectations – or lose to competitors that do," said Suzie Petrusic, director at Gartner.

Fifty-seven percent of Gartner survey respondents believe that those intensified employee expectations will also increase the costs of attracting, hiring, or retaining skilled and experienced talent.

To remain competitive, supply chain leaders should transform their organization from a location-centric to a human-centric work design. This requires three strategic changes: providing flexible work experiences for frontline workers, enable intentional collaboration, and driving empathy-based management.

While organizations have learned a lot about hybrid work throughout the pandemic, those lessons rarely apply to operational and frontline staff -- employees whose tasks require them to show up physically. 

The supply chain has a deep dependency on the stability of the schedules of these frontline workers. This stems from a history of finding talent willing to adjust to the supply chain’s scheduling needs.

According to the Gartner assessment, this is not the case anymore, and the supply chains that achieve flexibility at the frontline will win the talent attraction and retention competition of the future.

"Supply chain leaders have two levers here. They can invest in technology to reduce their reliance on humans for frontline operational execution, where work is most inflexible, and they can find ways to increase frontline worker flexibility," Petrusic said.

Only a small number of Gartner survey respondents are currently taking the technology route. However, 56 percent of respondents say that they are investing to design work primarily for inherent flexibility.

As a result of those investments, the supply chain of the future will be marked by flexible workspaces and work schedules -- such as part-time shifts and the possibility for employees to schedule and trade their own shifts.

A smaller portion of that future supply chain will enable flexibility through technology, for example, through augmented and virtual reality or exoskeletons. Or, via mobile-enabled digital workspace solutions that automate routine workflow.

Supply chain leaders have already begun to enable collaboration more intentionally. For example, 62 percent of Gartner survey respondents are currently investing in providing policy and communication tools for seamless in-person and remote work relationships.

The supply chain of the near future will be characterized by agile workspaces, the collaboration between remote and in-person employees, and collaboration-based training and upskilling programs.

Outlook for Supply Chain Transformation and Growth

Supply chain leaders have realized that they must hold themselves, and their line managers, accountable for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and employee well-being, including protection against discrimination.

The Gartner study discovered around three-quarters of respondents are investing to enforce equitable employment practices and provide employees with meaningful, purpose-driven initiatives in their work.

"With shifting employment models already being explored, supply chain leaders will want to ensure they can drive empathy for these nontraditional employees. They’ll need the proper organizational structure to do so, including focused leadership roles, such as directors of remote work or robotics," Petrusic concluded.

That said, I believe supply chain 'digital business transformation' projects will gain new momentum and accelerate investment funding as more executive leadership teams embrace the change management realities of the recent market disruption. Once again, the global pandemic is a catalyst for advancing innovation.

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