Redefining "Work" in the Era of COVID-19



mask-worker.jpgCOVID-19 has forced companies to drastically change work environments in terms of safety, location and culture. The traditional idea of working is being challenged in many industries, with   “work” now commonly being viewed as what you do, rather than where you are. 

Amid this workplace transition, manufacturing companies have faced a more complex challenge in determining how to manage employee “office” locations.  Most manufacturers have employees who work in the plant and cannot do their job from any other location, in contrast to those who work in the office and may be able to work remotely. Different roles such as these may require different accommodations, which can create a perception of unfair treatment of one labor pool over another.

When evaluating if it makes sense for your employees to work remotely or in-office, here are some key points to take into consideration:

Are there benefits to allowing remote work?

  • What are the cost benefits to allowing remote work? Many companies have seen:
    • Lower building overhead
    • Reduced unscheduled sick time/leave
    • Increased productivity
    • Increased employee engagement & satisfaction

Evaluate each role and each individual to determine who can work remotely by answering:

  • Can this job be done remotely (as is or with some accommodations)?
  • Can this employee be successful in a remote environment? Consider:
    • Do they have a dedicated work space?
    • Are they able to work without major distractions?
    • Are they disciplined enough?
    • Do they thrive in a team environment and could be less productive in isolation?

Establish how you will measure productivity and success for those who work remotely.

  • Set the ground rules:
    • Can they work flex hours?
    • Is video attendance required for virtual meetings?

Determine how you will effectively lead remote workers.

  • Set regular meetings to discuss metrics and check in.
  • Insist on meeting via video so you can see your team and they can see you.
  • Make sure they feel you are available to them since they can no longer “drop by” your office.
  • Consider virtual socialization or happy hours to maintain a friendly culture outside of the office.

If you decide certain employees cannot work remotely, clearly articulate why remote work is not an option.

  • Common reasons for deciding against remote working include:
    • The job just cannot be done remotely.
    • The employee has not proven to be effective in a remote environment.
    • Too much interaction with the plant floor is required for their role.
    • Degradation of team and culture is too much to risk.

If workers will be present in the facility, take all the required measures to make the environment safe.

  • Follow all CDC recommendations.
  • Publish a “Safe Work Playbook” (view The Center’s here for reference).
  • Enforce the practices in your Playbook.

Going forward, listen to your employees’ concerns and ideas.

  • Address any safety concerns immediately.
  • Make their peace of mind a priority.
  • Show appreciation for their hard work.
  • If they question why they must work in the office, let them know they have been heard and reiterate your reason for why remote is not an option.

How you choose to handle these changes can largely impact your culture for the better or worse, so take the time to think through what makes the most sense for your business and workers.

Our staff at The Center has been back in the office since mid-May. Before returning, our leadership team created a comprehensive, descriptive Safe Work Playbook with specific guidelines for coming to the office. Our Playbook has since received a perfect 10/10 rating from both the CDC and MIOSHA. To view our Playbook and get ideas for your own, click here or contact us at


Headley_J-web.jpgJamie Headley, Director of Sales
Jamie Headley is Director of Sales at The Center’s Plymouth office. In her role, Jamie oversees client engagements and ensures manufacturers throughout Michigan receive the services and support they need. Jamie is a seasoned operations professional with expertise in change management, strategic planning, leadership, process improvement, lean implementations, cost containment and operational excellence. 


Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Categories: Leadership/Culture, Workplace, Workplace Safety