Times, they are a-changin’ — and maybe more quickly than we can adapt. Fortunately, we humans are a clever species endowed with the ability to plan contingencies for a variety of scenarios and make the best of any circumstances. 2021 is on the horizon and, if it’s anything like the year that’s preceded it, operations managers would do well to expect the unexpected.
However, you can predict the future without a crystal ball or simply anticipating abject chaos — all we have to do is look at some of the emerging trends to help your organization’s operations be both prepared and competitive.
What Is Operations Management in 2021?
Business operations managers in particular will be leaned upon more than ever to see companies through their recovery and help them run more efficiently through the aftermath of COVID-19. They will play a leading role in shaping the future of how companies do business — here, there, everywhere, now and forever.
This is a pivotal moment, and staying ahead of these top trends can help you realize your operations management goals in the next year.
Here are seven key trends every operations manager should know for 2021.
1. Information Everywhere
What is operations management going to look like in 2021? Very well-informed, according to global research and advisory firm Gartner, which predicts that the coming two years will see a dramatic, 50% spike in enterprise data that’s not only distributed but both created and processed outside the data center.
What this suggests is that a greater reliance on mobile devices will be an integral part of an organization’s IT infrastructure. As a certain web-slinger is fond of saying, however, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and this is no exception when it comes to managing and protecting that data.
That said, with reasonable protocols in place, in 2021 your company should prepare for greater leverage and ubiquity of the information that it generates.
At the heart of an organization’s information accessibility program should be a superior user-experience design.
Based on our own research, workers waste an average of 3 hours of paid working time per week looking for information.
Here’s some simple math: If you have 1,000 frontline employees, that’s $312k on average wasted every month simply looking for information to do their jobs. Don’t sabotage the benefits of ubiquitous information with shabby UX design.
Help your employees put that time (and the organization’s money) to better use by providing a single point of contact for all their communications and tools. The platform should provide easy access, be extremely user friendly, and offer banking standard security in a single, intuitive interface.
2. Operational Management: Company-Wide Communication
In 2021, communications will prove more crucial than ever for companies. Hierarchical structures in organizations will give way to “flatter” models. These flatter organizational hierarchies will facilitate the flow of information without perpetuating dated models that only served upper management while alienating and disenfranchising whole departments within some organizations — among them frontline workers — who represent 80% of the global workforce.
“Good operational communication is the core driver of efficiency and productivity in any organization. It technically connects strategic alignment to real-world problem-solving to deliver quality results,” says Ahmed Ali, a content marketing executive at GigWorker. Ali adds that good communication not only improves efficiency and productivity but it also impacts the way employees perceive the organization, which, likewise, improves satisfaction and workforce retention.
71% of frontline workers state that new communication tools increase their productivity.
Moreover, better communication can boost a manufacturer’s bottom line by 10%. This cost savings is the result of more timely communication between the head office, team leads, and frontline workers. With less time spent in meetings, frontline managers can focus on leading their teams and improving performance, while eliminating non-value-added tasks. Ultimately, your production and operations management will benefit through increased efficiency and output.
“To put it simply, your employees deserve the right to have access to the tools they require to get their jobs done on time and in the best possible manner,” observes Ali.
“Your core business operations happen via operational communication in the base layer and the mid-layer of the communication pyramid. This is where the actual work gets done and it is often the area where small changes have the biggest impact.”
3. Get Mobilized
The term “mobile communications” is almost redundant these days. It’s hard to imagine a world where smart devices aren’t the go-to means for everything from purchasing household goods to arranging travel accommodations and filing job applications. To that end, your frontline workforce also expects their organization’s communications strategy to mirror the access, ease, and utility they already have in the palm of their hand.
If your business’s operations and internal communications are not mobile, you may be leaving a critical part of your workforce out of the loop — frontline workers. Whether you’re in the technology industry and rely on mobile devices to hit your sales targets, or you’re in manufacturing and the company is facing constraints on output, mobile accessibility will play a vital role in operations management for 2021.
“With the help of effective operational communication and operational communication platforms, your frontline workers can connect across locations and departments in real-time,” Scot J. Chrisman, CEO of Colorado-based digital marketing agency The Media House.
“When your frontline workers are constantly updated with important conversations and can easily access critical information, it can positively impact their productivity and efficiency. And, when frontline workers work well, they can serve customers well.”
Any business operations manager knows that mobile accessibility for remote staff allows them to access the information, tools, and resources they need to excel in their job.
Empowering these workers can help them become better decision makers. “How?” asks Jennifer, editor at Etia.com, a travel education site. “By digitally empowering them. Various cloud-based apps can enable these workers to make swift decisions without waiting for their superior’s order. There is messaging software that would allow them to resolve any miscommunication and confusion. It’s very important for these workers to be in a continuous loop of information.”
4. Safety First
As companies work through and recover from the impact of COVID-19, maintaining the health and safety of both employees and the public will be a top priority for operations managers.
The number of health and safety issues reported each quarter is steadily increasing for many companies simply because employees don’t have access to the necessary information.
Likewise, it’s often difficult for organizations to find evidence and keep updated records of safety-related issues and incidents.
It will be important for operations managers to look for new ways to reduce the number of health incidents and workplace accidents. This means companies will need to understand new regulations around safety and compliance, and it will be up to operations leaders to implement swift changes to internal processes and procedures to remain compliant.
Pro tip: Tools like Beekeeper can help reduce safety costs by $40,000 (each year) by making information accessible to everyone and giving frontline managers more time to train their teams.
5. Elevate the Employee Experience
The recent shift to a more employee-centric culture prioritizing personal and career development will continue through 2021. The principle holds that a more satisfied workforce is worth the time and financial investment because retention remains high and productivity soars.
Satisfied employees are generally those who find their jobs to be directly beneficial to their lives beyond the paycheck. For production operation management leaders, that means ensuring that internal communication is both transparent and accessible. To that end, contemporary workforces desire clear performance expectations and feedback on their work so give them the tools to self-assess and be generous with direct input as well.
Emphasizing the development of employees can help create a company culture that inherently:
- Improves morale
- Removes barriers to achievement
- Encourages collaboration and efficiency
As Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb says, “Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion.” Do your frontline workers share your passion? If not, seize the opportunity to fix it.
6. Get Demand in Hand
COVID-19 has caused rapid shifts in consumer behavior, which has led to enormous issues for the supply chain. By April 2020, online orders had already ballooned by a staggering 49% as many brick and mortar retail businesses made digital pivots. With this kind of velocity in the changing consumer demand, operations managers will have to continue to hone and develop demand-responsive supply chains.
Moreover, volatile market fluctuations are more common than ever as economies around the world are reeling from the impact of the coronavirus.
Operations managers will have to master the art of demand forecasting to ensure that inventory levels are consistent with current demand. Nobody knows how long-term consumer behaviors will change in the new, post-COVID world.
Extreme surges in demand for some products may put stress on certain supply chains, while demand for other products will disappear entirely. The only thing that operations managers can be certain of is that they must find a way to be prepared for anything.
Having an agile, highly responsive supply chain can help ensure that production levels can steadily meet demand without creating excess inventory. Maintaining a healthy balance between inventory and meeting market demands will be a tricky dance that operations managers will have to quickly master.
7. The Customer Service Department Is Always Right
Operations managers in 2021 must understand the factors that influence buying decisions and optimize the business accordingly. The role of an operations manager and the entire operational management team is evolving beyond simply acting as an agent of cost control. Operations are increasingly tied to global performance objectives which encompass everything from product quality, delivery time, to customer service.
In 2021, operations managers will work closely with customer service departments to better understand their end-users. Relationship management is more important in running a successful business than ever, so it’s no surprise that operations managers will find new ways to optimize the process.
Going forward, strengthening these customer relationships will be critical as the world begins the long and steady road to recovery from the impact of the pandemic. Solid relationships based on real human empathy and compassion will outlast business setbacks caused by COVID-19.
Being customer-centric is now everyone’s job — including operations managers.