Food Safety and Quality - Remote Working During COVID-19
During the COVID-19 pandemic many industries experienced a global surge in remote working due to the necessity of slowing the spread of the virus. Food manufacturing was no exception. In 2019, 30% of the entire UK workforce experienced some time working from home whilst n the USA 16% of employers hired exclusively for remote working positions. No official figures have been released but is is clear that these numbers will undoubtedly be more than double in 2020 and, in all likelihood, this trend will continue into 2021.
Remote working has many pros and cons, some people like it, others not so much. Sometimes employers embrace it but sometimes they are suspicious that they are not getting maximum value from employees. Challenges like monitoring whether work is being completed are front of mind for many.
What is required is a way to demonstrate that remote working is not only a safer way to work, during these unprecedented times, but actually a better, more efficient, effective and resilient way to operate many food safety, quality and technical tasks in the food business.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best and most importantly to be able to adapt to a constantly evolving social and work environment. With often confusing and ever-changing guidelines from government; employers, employees, and business owners, particularly in food and manufacturing, have found themselves in a dilemma: How to carry out essential food safety, quality and technical work done remotely whilst keeping your employees safe and complying with government guidelines?
Of course, some jobs like processing food cannot be done from home on an industrial scale but many routine food safety, quality and technical tasks can easily be completed in a transparent and results-based way. What is more, this can often be done more effectively due to less interruptions and reactivity, provided the kids are not causing havoc and the dog isn't barking during a zoom call.
This pandemic has highlighted that the time for a secure, cloud food safety and quality management solution has arrived. A solution which will not only help slow and prevent the spread of the virus, but will allow people to work in a less stressful environment where they can be more productive (home distractions aside).
Tasks like working through corrective actions, kick off those system improvement projects that never seem to get done, reviewing documents, supplier and raw material approvals and label reviews can all be carried out on a digital food safety and quality management system in a collaborative and secure way, not just from home, but from anywhere.
Remote Working is Disrupting Demand
During the 'first wave' of the pandemic, various government and institution guidelines focused on social distancing measures and tighter hygiene and sanitation controls as the economy began to reopen in addition to working from home where possible. In the UK, the ‘Eat out to help out’ was launched in August is a bid to kickstart a revival of the hospitality sector, only to then be met with a further string of local lockdowns and fines for anyone not following the, again, ever changing guidelines. Sadly, the inevitable happened. As the economy tried to open up again the virus started to spread once more in a continuation of the so called first wave.
These factors continued to drive growth, and adoption, of remote working and also in remote consumption of foods and goods in services as people change both what they eat and where they eat by staying home during lockdowns and work from home regimes. This has led to consumers buying more shelf stable, ambient, and fresh foods from supermarkets and online outlets whilst the hospitality sector and its supply chain has been decimated.
Enforced consumer buying patterns are therefore indirectly dictating which food businesses will survive this pandemic and which will thrive. No area of the food sector has been unaffected, positively, or negatively.
Industry Needs to Adapt
Unfortunately, there will be many food manufacturers and related businesses who will not make it through this pandemic, we have already seen many go to the wall and as government financial support dwindles we can expect this to accelerate. We are also seeing regular outbreaks in food factories where, a lack of effective controls is crustal clear. Therefore, industry must adapt faster and smarter. The industry must work out how to control COVID-19 in a responsible way and emerge from this trial of fire more efficient and futureproofed. One way this can be achieved is through the way food safety and quality is managed.
Our 3iVerify solution has been designed with remote working in mind by allowing the organisation of food safety and quality tasks to be managed effectively in a remote, collaborative, cloud-based solution.
During the 6-month UK lockdown, our existing customers implemented a ‘Work from Home’ phase where possible. With all of the existing infrastructure of a remote working system in place, and the benefits of an already digital Food Safety & Quality Management System (FSQMS), many of our customers continued as usual. Government guidelines were followed, and staff were kept safe. This also allowed our customers to transition quickly to a remote audit model to check on supplier compliance when site visits were not possible during the pandemic.
Communication is often regarded as one of the biggest challenges in a workplace. A recent study showed that a company that can communicate and organise efficiently is 3.5x more likely to outperform their closest competitor.
What kind of impact could that have for your business in these challenging times? Using one, fully integrated FSQMS system that holds all required information in one central location not only helps with communication, but also greatly reduces the chance of human error and thus the risk of audit non-conformities.
When Will Things Return to ‘Normal’?
What is normal? It used to be 10s, or in some cases, 100s of people crammed into small offices? Storing folder upon folder of documents, certificates, and questionnaires on the basis that someone, someday, may look at them for audit purposes? Constant firefighting to get through the day filled with meetings, interruptions and distractions. The 'new normal' may be a quieter, more focused, remote working day with focused zoom meetings, or Microsoft Teams, getting projects done and working with suppliers on improvements.
It is hard to say how food companies will react to this 'new normal', but one thing I know for sure is that making a pre-emptive change now to a digital solution means you will be in control of your business processes empowered by digital information. Digital information that helps you and your business make better decisions about food safety, quality and supplier performance. All of this can be achieved whether you are in the office or working from home and there has never been a better time to start.
Maybe it is time to forget about the headache of a COVID-19 office rota and focus on what is important in your business, and your job, whilst minimising risk to yourself, your family and your colleagues.
Go Digital Now, Don't get left behind
Whilst Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams and others have taken your meetings to a digital interface, 3iVerify takes your FSQMS business process and digitises them so that you can communicate better and benefit from the rich data that your company gathers on a daily basis.
Ask me how 3iVerify can help future-proof your business, I am confident we can work together to achieve a new era of food safety and quality management from the comfort of wherever it is you choose, or are forced, to be.
Digitisation can save time, reduce supplier and COVID-19 risks, and create digital information that can help your business make better decisions.