The past 18 months or so have been trying ones for supply chain managers all over the world. The pandemic has created problems unlike any most of us have ever seen. Although the recently developed vaccines have been a God-send, the virus and its variants are still present and probably will be for the foreseeable future. This is particularly true in the South where vaccination rates are lower than the rest of the country. Also, still with us are many of the issues that arose during the pandemic. Lack of capacity, labor shortages, higher rates, and dramatically changing buying patterns continue to be challenges to efficient and economical supply chain management.
The “normal” as we have known it is a thing of the past; and for managers in our field, supervising warehousing and trucking operations will continue to be more problematic. One of the major challenges will be the staffing and management of the workforce. The pandemic taught us that we did not need an office full of people to operate a distribution center. One of the most effective ways of protecting employees was to allow those whose responsibilities permitted, to work from home (WFH) or on staggered shifts and hours. In any business, there are knowledge workers and operational workers. As the supply chain has become more sophisticated and data driven, the number of knowledge workers or those who work with data and ideas, rather than equipment is increasing. This group can work from almost anywhere. Some firms, as they attempt to return to “normal” and bring people back into the office, are finding that many of them do not want to return. Others are willing to come back, but for a limited number of days weekly, reserving the right to work from home part of the time. A recent survey by Prudential Pulse of the American Worker indicated that 87% of the respondents want to work remotely at least one day a week. The result will probably be a “hybrid’ environment, consisting of what some human resource professionals have called the “here” and “there”. Managing an ongoing hybrid work force will be difficult for some managers, particularly those who are micro-managers or control addicts.
The proper course of action will vary by firm, but keep in mind that we should be concerned about results and not necessarily about location and processes. If the pandemic has resulted in a more efficient, albeit unorthodox operation, management should not rush to make changes just because it is the way things were done previously.
The most important challenge will be the protection of our employees, particularly those that will be in the office and warehouse on a daily basis. Keep in mind that only about half the people in the U.S. have been vaccinated, and many of the other 50% have no plans do to so for religious, medical, political, or other reasons. Can you require your employees to be vaccinated? Can you mandate the wearing of masks?
The answers are not that clear. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has published a document entitled, What You Should Know About Covid-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEOC Laws, which contains the answers to numerous questions about the rights of employers and employees. The document is 38 pages long, and unfortunately, probably raises more questions than it answers.
Many firms are trying to educate their work force about the vaccines, offer incentives, and other encouragement, and are constantly monitoring the health and well-being of the employees. Others are requiring unvaccinated to wear masks and allowing vaccinated personnel to work without them.
As the virus appears to be getting worse, an increasing number of firms, particularly hospitals, are requiring employees to be vaccinated or lose their jobs.
Cruise lines, which have been a breeding ground for the virus, are requiring passengers and employees to provide documentation of their vaccination status. Delta Airlines has taken a strong stand by charging unvaccinated employees an additional $200 per month in insurance premiums.
Unless the situation improves dramatically, I believe more firms will take a harder line. Everyone should be taking a serious look at their individual situations and initiating the procedures that will best protect their workforce.
Whatever rules are established will not please everyone and must conform to applicable state and federal laws. Before doing anything, a conversation with a knowledgeable labor attorney would be an excellent first step.