Are manufacturers ready to embed the lessons from Covid-19 lockdown?

This article is also featured on the GrowIn 4.0 website

When the Covid-19 crisis is over and industry goes back to work, should companies simply return to business as usual? Maybe, but not necessarily. The GrowIn 4.0 team believes that manufacturers should capture their learnings from surviving the pandemic and build on this to refine and even re-think their strategic, operational and managerial approaches.

In one respect the pandemic has been a forced experiment in the rapid adoption of new technologies and working practices for many companies.  The largest and most obvious example is that many companies have been forced to experiment with having large numbers of staff working from home. In the process, companies will have learned something about what functions and categories of staff this works well for and which present challenges. Companies will also have learned a great deal about what technologies worked well and which struggled to deliver.  They will have learned a great deal about how to manage and motivate staff working from home by addressing factors as diverse as staff wellbeing, performance monitoring and efficiency under challenging circumstances.  

Agility in markets, products and partners

Many companies will have had to identify new markets, source new materials, work with new customers, develop new product lines (for example switching to PPE or ventilator production in response to national “calls to action”) and will have formed working relationships with new suppliers.  We are aware of one SME which has moved into the domestic market for the first time for it’s waste management services as the majority of it’s commercial companies have temporarily closed.

Some companies will have stepped up their collaborative efforts and, in the process, will have learned something about how to turn competitors into allies.  Many will have learned lessons in scaling down and scaling up production and about being flexible and responsive to new types of demand. Through all of this, companies will have experienced failures and successes but they will have learnt greatly from both.

Competitive advantage

Corporate learning, it should be noted, is at the heart of any company’s success.  It builds the unique, competitive DNA of every company. This competitive advantage goes far beyond the products themselves and covers how they are manufactured, how innovation is managed and how the workforce is structured and motivated. All of these factors make up the company’s ‘dynamic capabilities’, capabilities which build over time, often through trial and error learning, and which ultimately become embedded in the company’s DNA. These capabilities are at the heart of competitive advantage precisely because they take time to grow and develop making them difficult, if not impossible, for competitors to replicate.

Next step: implement lessons learned

The Covid-19 experience represents a unique learning opportunity for all companies. However, unless they make a conscious effort to embed that learning, the pain and costs associated with those lessons will be wasted. As companies emerge from the Covid crisis they should find the time to reflect on, extract and then embed the lessons learned across their organisation.

The GrowIn 4.0 team can help with this process. The tools we have designed, collected, refined and tested are aimed at:

  • assessing the state of readiness for Industry 4.0
  • applying of industry 4.0 technology
  • assessing future skills needs and improving change readiness.

These tools can also be used to help embed the lessons from the Covid-19 lockdown. They can be used to engage in learning in a structured and productive way by asking a set of simple questions:

  1. What skills did we lack and what skills do we need to develop going forward?
  2. How did our management style stand up to stress-testing under Covid-19 constraints?
  3. Are our operations fit for purpose and resilient to external shocks? If not, what needs to change in order that we can build future resilience?
  4. What technologies best meet our needs and how can we best exploit them?
  5. Can any of our activities move permanently online? If so, how would we make that work?
  6. What gaps do we have in our technology support and where do we need to invest?
  7. What could we stop doing in the future?

The key message for all companies remains the same, whatever form the self-reflection takes: they must find ways to capture what they have learned from the unforeseen and forced Covid-19 experiment. Returning to ‘business as usual’ may not be the best strategy.  Asking the right questions will be key as will acting on the answers. Not only will this help companies recover from the economic shock to their systems, it will also build and embed resilience against future shocks whatever their source.



Professor Chris Ivory
Director, Innovation and Management Practice Research Centre – Faculty of Business and Law – Anglia Ruskin University ; 

Trevor Gibson – Smart City Leadership Manager, Future Peterborough (run jointly by Opportunity Peterborough and Peterborough City Council)