COVID-19:  An Opportunity, Not a Headwind, for Industry and Workers

Author photo: Mark Sen Gupta
ByMark Sen Gupta
ARC Report Abstract


We entered 2020 riding a tremendous wave of economic activity: low unemployment coupled with high productivity numbers, stability, and vibrant stock markets. Although the pandemic started late in 2019, the effects on oil prices and subsequent economic activity wouldn’t be realized until February.  The world response to the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to be the most significant compelling event affecting COVID-19all aspects of life.  For manufacturers, the failure to evaluate their own responses and the subsequent effects will lead to missed opportunities for themselves and their customers.

The push for social distancing has created a lot of upheaval in the way business gets done.  Suddenly, “non-essential”  (if there really is such a thing) personnel have been vacated from the premises and/or are working from home.  For decades, process plants have consolidated control rooms and now must temporarily “un-consolidate” due to pandemic-related concerns. Circumstances like this force or compel organizations into new and often uncomfortable methods to attain the same goals.

The “Good Ole Days”

The status quo for getting business done generally included being physically present.  Few manufacturing companies have embraced the work-from-home culture.  A few corporate positions might have the option to do so occasionally, but for the most part, manufacturing companies operate in much the same fashion as they did one hundred years ago.  Office personnel, for example, travel back and forth to the office every workday, spend most of their time in front of a screen, perhaps make a few phone calls, and maybe attend a few meetings. Other than the technology used, this method of conducting business hasn’t changed in hundreds of years.

Adapting to Abrupt Change Due to COVID-19

While the news about the pandemic first came out of China, it quickly became very real globally. Governments across the globe instituted social distancing policies. Air travel was significantly curtailed. Supply chains were interrupted and strained. “Non-essential” workers were told to stay home. Employers’ IT personnel scrambled to determine if their technology could handle the load of all the newly remote employees connecting to the enterprise systems from home, ensuring the software licensing was in place, and double-checking the cybersecurity policies.

There is also a new reality for the “essential” employees in workplaces where wearing PPE now isn’t just relegated to those “out in the field.”  The decades-long movement to consolidate control rooms suddenly created a problem.  One unidentified or poorly managed COVID-19 case could wipe out the entire staff of operators for multiple operating units. Consoles and other shared equipment must be sanitized between uses.  Companies must also figure out  how to apply social distancing in facilities designed to encourage collaboration and optimize space.

Now What?  The Opportunities Presented by a Remote Workforce

By forcing a change in how work gets done, organizations have an opportunity to reevaluate their current procedures and operating philosophies. If it is possible to operate in this manner, perhaps there are long-term benefits.  There are plenty of articles on the benefits of remote employment in tech and other companies where remote workers are far more common.


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Keywords: COVID-19, Sustainability, Pandemic, Remote, Control Room, Sustainability, Safety, Procedural Automation, Alarm Management, Risk, ARC Advisory Group.


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