Since the pandemic began, the UK supply chain has experienced unprecedented pressure in facing health & safety and staffing challenges, while also trying to deliver services to expected standards.
While the reoccupation will be gradual – there’s not going to be the sudden influx of people in the same way that there was the sudden exodus last March – now that restrictions are lifting, suppliers are being tasked with ensuring that sites are ready to reopen, occupants are safe, and that services run uninterrupted as the return to work starts in earnest.
For the Supply Chain Pulse, we surveyed some top tier suppliers to get a better understanding of their areas of focus for the coming months. In learning about the challenges they’ve faced during the pandemic and about their expectations and concerns around the return to work, we’ve been able to build a clear picture of how suppliers can support their customers more effectively.
As Yash Kapila, Integral MD explains:
“Through the Pulse, we learned that most suppliers are on standby and ready for facilities to reopen fully, but there was clear recognition that it couldn’t be an immediate upscaling of services from the lower levels that have been operating through the pandemic. A third of the supplier respondents claimed that they would need at least one month’s notice to support a return to full capacity. They identified the logistical and administrative challenges of bringing staff back from furlough, as well as the difficulties around managing the completion of backlogs, highlighting the importance of early planning for the return.”
Respondents also stressed the need to draw attention to the supply chain’s vulnerability, especially if reoccupation comes out of the blue. According to the suppliers, a detailed plan would provide them with the necessary ‘business intelligence’ to manage and forecast demand surges by procuring suitable materials and undertaking recruitment if there’s a need to upscale.
Kapila goes on to say:
“While customers were largely supportive, the suppliers we spoke to commented that managing expectations was one of the biggest challenges they faced in the pandemic. They admitted that lockdown restrictions and lack of staff availability impacted their ability to maintain service levels, and that they sometimes struggled to communicate that clearly enough to clients. This indicates a key learning for the supply chain and provides a solid indication that clear and transparent communication with clients will be key as restrictions lift.”
Ultimately, a genuine partnership between customers and suppliers will deliver better outcomes for both parties and ensure that the return to work goes smoothly. But how can suppliers do their part in delivering this? Engaging clients, understanding their priorities, addressing their concerns and communicating plans in a clear, transparent and open way will be important.
Suppliers need to work with customers to understand:
- What is going to happen? Clearly the aim is to reopen facilities to full capacity and ensure seamless service delivery, but what does that mean for the client? Are some services more of a priority?
- When is it going to happen? The post-pandemic return to work will involve key dates and it’s important for the supplier and client to identify the milestones. With reoccupation likely to be gradual, the plan should see service delivery ramping up, over the reopening period, to full occupancy.
- Where is it happening? Where there is more than one site, how does each site fit into the timescales and are there different priorities in different locations?
Developing a solid understanding of the customers’ priorities will allow for more detailed planning on the supplier side. In the Supply Chain Pulse, proactive planning and communication between customers and suppliers on reoccupation strategies was cited as a success factor. This highlighted the value in knowing as much as possible to help scale up resources and meet demand in a timely fashion. It’s important to note though, that all of the information may not be available at the start of the planning process, and equally, that plans may change as the return to work progresses.
What’s more, it’s critical that the communication between suppliers and customers doesn’t just stop once the reoccupation is complete. Even if key milestones have been hit and service delivery is running well, it’s likely that “normal” won’t be a reality for some time and permanent shifts in ways of working could mean constant fluidity is required. Client priorities and expectations will change, so suppliers need to be ready to update their plans and to flex their service provision to suit.