Return-to-Office, but Not to Normal, for Supply Chain Professionals

When companies began formulating their return-to-office plans earlier this year, many people assumed that an end to the pandemic was in sight. A vaccine had been developed, and infection rates were falling in many countries. Things seemed to be looking up.

That optimism has started to wane in recent months as some cities have been hit by coronavirus resurgence, and concerns about new strains have risen. For supply chain professionals who are returning to the office, that means precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing are likely going to be part of the fabric of work-life for some time. But the changes to their daily work will run even deeper than that.

Backlogs won’t go away anytime soon

Even as the world has started to reopen, supply chains have struggled to bounce back as they have been hit by one disruption after another. Regional shutdowns in China. Record-low temperatures and impassable roads in Texas. A computer chip shortage in Japan.

The rapid succession of new problems arising has made it hard for supply chain professionals to catch up with the increased demand for certain products. With few people able to travel in 2020, some redirected the money they would usually earmark for vacations toward online shopping, resulting in unpredictable spikes in demand and lengthy backlogs. And while new workplace safety policies are essential for protecting employee health, it will take teams time to adjust to these new protocols, drawing out these backlogs a little longer.

Staff shortages persist even as hiring resumes

The strict safety protocols built into return-to-office strategies aren’t the only factor likely to impede productivity in the months ahead. While many companies have lifted hiring freezes and are starting to ramp up recruiting, skilled labor shortages and the Great Resignation are slowing rehiring efforts, taking productivity down with them.

Unfortunately, these challenges may persist for some time. The pandemic caused many to reevaluate what they want from their careers, both in terms of the day-to-day work they’re doing and all the things that come with it, like the dreaded morning commute. This may lead to both pushback from current staff as return-to-office plans come into effect and low interest from job seekers who want something different. Businesses will need to find a way to strike a balance between their needs and the changing expectations of the workforce—and until they do, productivity will suffer.

New pathways are opening, but not fast enough

Further exacerbating supply chain backlogs are seaport shutdowns in China and ongoing congestion along the California coast. With major routes a no-go, shippers are being forced to re-organize their supply chains and explore alternative pathways. The problem is that these pathways are far from foolproof—otherwise, they would always have been used. But when the alternative is weeks-long delays at the ports, taking a risk on a less-than-ideal route may be the best option.

In the long run, companies may consider developing sturdy backup plans for such eventualities, meaning that when a disruption occurs, they can quickly pivot without losing much ground. But in the meantime, quick and decisive action is needed just to prevent delays from spiraling out of control.

Return-to-office plans not enough? We can help

Bringing people back to the workplace isn’t a cure-all for the problems facing companies today. It’s going to take time for shippers to redesign their supply chains, building resilience and integrating new ways of work. CTSI-Global is here to help shoulder some of the weight.

We can support your existing team, handling everything from shipment scheduling to freight auditing. We’ll leverage our industry-leading technology and rich expertise to root out bottlenecks, increase visibility, and help you minimize delays.

Navigate this transitional period smoothly with expert outsourced support. Contact us today to learn more about the functions we can fulfill in your supply chain.

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