Life is becoming more digital every day; pushing businesses and individuals toward increased connectivity in ways many never thought possible. Yet in manufacturing, there remains one glaring exception: Workers on the meat and poultry processing front lines are still waiting to be connected in the increasingly digital world.

Looking to bridge this growing divide, workers are compensating for the lack of technology by using their own devices at work with 8 in 10 workers already using their personal smartphones to make their jobs easier, according to a Deloitte UK White Paper, “The Connected Worker.”

Reasons for continuing lack of connectivity on the front line are many and varied. Satisfaction with the status quo, staff turnover, accommodation of multiple languages and little to no time in front of a desktop remain some of the many reasons connectivity is not yet a priority for most front-line workers.

Paper processes

In the place of digital connectivity, many companies continue to rely on paper, bulletin board notices, one-way text messaging and word of mouth to pass along information. Use of such methods results in 49% of workers wasting, on average, 10 minutes of every work day hour looking for information, a loss in productivity of almost three hours a week, according to Deloitte.

Fast-forward to the COVID-19 pandemic, which further elevated the need to streamline workflows and connect with workers to pass along up-to-the-minute information on closures and reopening dates, updates on corporate, state and government policies, and the ongoing coordination of worker safety and training.

“Manufacturing in many ways is still a traditional way of working,” said Daniel Sztutwojner, chief customer officer, Beekeeper, Zurich, Switzerland. “Because much of the work is still done by people, there’s significant leverage in making the front line safer and more productive.”

“Connect the unconnected”

Increasingly, those seeking to close the gap between operational systems and communication channels are turning to digital methods such as Beekeeper. Created with a mission to connect the unconnected front-line employee, Beekeeper uses a secure platform that’s accessible by mobile and desktop devices. With approximately 75% of employees in possession of a smartphone, using Beekeeper is as easy as downloading the customizable application programming interface (API) to a personal smartphone, making an employee reachable from the first day of hire to as long as they remain with the company.

Digitizing the front line through a mobile app offers customizable access to information, processes and other systems, according to Sztutwojner. The secure cloud-based software-as-a-service (SAAS) offering features an open API, allowing users to establish unique communication streams and a flexible administrative structure that’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliant and HIPPA Secure.

In order to make the system more relevant to front-line workers, Beekeeper prioritizes alignment with different stakeholders, including the plant and location manager, and integrates with internal IT operations.

The Beekeeper mobile app allows for customization, while providing the opportunity to communicate with employees in various ways.

Case by case

Implementation of Beekeeper typically begins by looking at use cases and then working internally with corporate on business objectives and communication strategy. This might begin with a goal to digitize one or two paper processes and digitizing information from the bulletin boards to avoid congregation in light of social distancing concerns. Digital messaging can also shorten or eliminate the need for daily standup meetings while still allowing for the tracking and completion of tasks. Sztutwojner suggested other valuable processes for digitization could include employee requests for protective gear and a daily health checklist.

“Initially there can be a barrier; this is the first time to give mobile tech to the front line,” Sztutwojner continued. “This involves a top-down and bottom-up approach, and sometimes those plant and location managers are surprised to be included, but for a rollout to be successful, we need to understand what they need.”

Enhancing communication

Although ongoing internal research found employees rating communications as effective, Seaboard Foods, recently recognized they could do better, especially in a crisis. With most of its employees working production jobs in plants or on farms, many had limited or no access to a work computer, said David Eaheart, senior director of communications and brand marketing with Seaboard Foods, based in Merriam, Kan.

In search of a way to enhance and support company and personal communication, Seaboard Foods adopted Beekeeper in December 2015, internally branded as SBF Connect. Knowing most of its 5,500-plus employees already had a phone, Seaboard saw a way to provide easy-to-use electronic communication, enabling employees to post and provide feedback with little technical support and oversight from the corporate communications department.

Launch of SBF Connect was combined with the holiday gift box distribution and a contest where employees could earn prizes by downloading the SBF Connect app and posting. Signage showing how to use SBF Connect was posted in all work locations and information desks were set-up at the plant and corporate office to help with downloading the app and signing up.

Now in its sixth year of use, employees can access SBF Connect for company updates, employee recognition announcements, department schedules, industry education, Prairie Fresh marketing campaigns, HR policies and health and safety info. Content streams in the app include Company and Industry News, COVID-19, Community Events, Fun at Work, Career Opportunities and Safety. It’s also integrated into the new employee orientation process.

At the start of the pandemic, Seaboard implemented the COVID-19 stream where employees can receive updated information about best practices for preventing spread of the virus, status updates of active cases and provision of vaccine information. Through the AskSBF feature, employees can ask COVID-19-related questions in an open stream or private message in addition to finding FAQs.

“Keeping our employees connected with one another is critical to our business success,” Eaheart said. “Our employees have multiple ways to receive information, and Beekeeper is just one of the tools that helps our employees stay connected with the company and one another.”

Accelerated pace of adoption

Another company feeling the ongoing challenge of effectively reaching its diversely equipped employee base was Cargill. Initiated as a pilot program for an internal team at one of its production facilities in early 2020, COVID-19 accelerated Cargill’s adoption of Beekeeper by all of its protein plant employees in North America, said Jarrod Gillig, supply chain lead for Cargill’s North America protein business.

“A shift supervisor is now able to communicate a consistent message to all employees on that shift without having to hold in-person meetings, which can pose challenges related to time management and safety due to COVID-19 group restrictions,” he continued. “With one click, the recipient can translate that message into their preferred language. Another bonus being Beekeeper was built with an interface similar to social media platforms, making the tool easy to adopt by our workforce.”

Using Beekeeper, Cargill is safely communicating with staff about COVID-19 updates, safety and weather information, shift schedules, corporate messaging and employee recognition. Site stream and chat functions and texts and video messaging provide site-specific information regarding safety, human resources, food safety, corporate information and employee benefits on the platform, all translatable into the 30+ languages spoken by its employees.

Track and discover

Analytics provided through Beekeeper also provide internal users with a transparent snapshot regarding how the front line is working and what’s relevant to them. Beekeeper’s just-in-time element allows employers to create and provide timely information targeted to the recipient, rather than waiting to release information in a newsletter or magazine that can become quickly outdated.

Cargill is using Beekeeper’s data and analytics as a guide in communications and is working with Beekeeper to determine how the tool can be applied to other areas, for example, in improving the efficiency of forecasting production schedules. In-house, Cargill’s Beekeeper advocates continue to look for ways to increase engagement through compelling content and encouraging dialogue around its use.

“We believe Beekeeper has created great value in its communication capabilities, but we feel it is also just scratching the surface in realizing the tool’s greater potential and impact on protein production in North America,” Gillig concluded.