The past two years or so have served as an impromptu experiment in testing the efficacy of the remote workplace. Many organizations saw the early stages of the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink how people, management systems, and technical infrastructure are set up to not only support the business but also complement the operating model.
From a people perspective, there have been numerous challenges with balancing work and personal commitments, mobilizing teams outside of traditional roles and operating models, and nurturing a cohesive culture amid periods of high uncertainty. For these reasons, among others, many people strongly prefer a remote or hybrid working model, even as we begin to think of a post-COVID-19 world.
Our research shows that employees crave investment in the human aspects of work. They want a renewed sense of purpose, and they want to feel a sense of shared identity with their colleagues. Yes, they want fair pay, good benefits, and ample perks, but more than that, employees want to feel valued by their organizations and managers. They want meaningful interactions, not just transactions—though not necessarily in person.
The following article explains how management systems and tech infrastructure have accelerated to support revised operating models since the outbreak of COVID-19. Today, hiring, retaining, and building sufficient skills are critical to ensuring productivity is not lost through the changes in the ways we work.
The future operating model will implement digital technologies and advanced analytics
In the years to come, a hybrid working model that combines being on-site with working remotely will become increasingly popular, even for mining and metals companies with many geographic locations. In fact, research shows that more than 50 percent of employees prefer remote and hybrid ways of working post pandemic, compared with approximately 40 percent prepandemic.
Organizations can leverage talent across the globe by taking this dual approach, defining teams based on the best available experience and skill sets rather than availability. There is also the option of broadening the recruiting pool for industries that struggle with attraction, whether because of remote locations, fly-in-and-fly-out work modes, or live-in situations, all of which are not uncommon for mining and heavy-industry players.
That said, the future operating model requires teams, as well as management and technical systems that complement the operating model, to be agile. The technology dimension lies in selecting the appropriate IT architecture, platforms, and innovation and technology projects to complement the organization’s overall digital and analytics vision, inclusive of cost effectiveness for the business and efficiency for end users. Yet implementing these changes can present several obstacles.
One South American mining company initiated remote operating centers (ROCs), which were designed to allow maintenance, operations, and site management to function in a central location. The project was successful in bringing to life all the technical capabilities needed to operate the mine from a remote location. However, the operations team and frontline staff were only peripherally engaged during planning and implementation. Shortly after implementation, it became clear that the site needed to rethink roles and responsibilities and, ultimately, the organizational structure of the operations team. Thus, the full potential for improving the operating efficiency of the team was never realized, indicating the relevance of incorporating planning, ownership, and decision guidelines throughout the project phases.
Although this example of an ROC in the mining industry indicates opportunities for improvement, the concept of ROCs certainly has the potential to influence an organization’s costs, adoption of technology, and day-to-day efficiencies.
Hire, retain, and build sufficient skills to support long-term sustainability
The sheer scale of workforce transitions in response to COVID-19 means many businesses and policy makers have had to provide additional training and education programs for workers. On this point, a recent McKinsey article set out to define the jobs and skills that will be created as automation, AI, and robotics retool the workplace. The findings show that high-level cognitive, digital, and self-leadership skills will become increasingly important, particularly in heavy industries (exhibit).
- Cognitive ability. Having a high level of cognitive ability means adding value beyond what can be done by automated systems and intelligent machines. Being able to think critically, structure thoughts, and communicate efficiently while adapting to developing circumstances are key to achieving cognitive excellence.
- Digital skills. Having digital skills means being able to identify, evaluate, and communicate concepts through the means of digital platforms.
- Self-leadership. This is the practice of understanding the role, identifying aspirations, and purposefully guiding oneself toward achieving one’s goals. In other words, it’s understanding what we do, why we do it, and how we do it.
Three examples demonstrate how companies can make shifts around hiring, retaining, and building skills to support the long-term sustainability of the digital and analytics mission.
A North American mining company embarked on a digital transformation with a combination of insourcing and outsourcing roles. From a process management and technical perspective, the organization formed a digital and analytics team comprising data scientists, translators, and designers across Asia, Europe, and the United States. The rationale behind the team selection was based solely on industry experience in building similar products, depth of knowledge on optimization, and tenure within roles. By focusing on expertise, this hybrid team was able to deliver a high-quality product on an accelerated timeline.
A US-based mining and processing company adopted advanced analytics and modeling to maximize production. The company did so through the implementation of agile practices and leveraging the operations, engineering, and data science functions of the business. Advanced analytics helped achieve record production, identify improvements to instrumentation for more accurate data capture, and initiate innovative problem solving to prioritize model recommendations for production gains.
ROCs are another example of digital platforms that can identify and communicate improvements or changes. Mining players are increasingly turning to ROCs that leverage software and analytics to run day-to-day operations, resulting in the benefits of productivity, safety, and planning. This is evidenced by the recent success of autonomous haulage systems at some Australian mining sites.
An Asian mining company embarked on a three-tier strategy in which digitalization enabled diversification and decarbonization efforts. The early adoption of digitalization enabled changes to the operating model such as reduced stretch targets for fuel and dynamic dispatching. This allowed for increased production and a better overall financial position.
As the world pushes toward the next normal and companies across all industries aim to return to the status quo, it’s clear that digital technologies and advanced analytics, supplemented with agile practices, are here to stay. Players in heavy industries that adopt hybrid ways of working will be better positioned to provide employees with the human interactions they crave as well as the tools they need to stay connected.
In addition, these players should look to capitalize on future work trends and integrated operation centers to achieve the hybrid working models that employees favor. Executives must also consider the desired culture for an organization and choose the operating model that best supports safety and sustainability. This can also help answer the questions of how to address capability building and adapt HR policies to support new ways of working for the future.