Many Want to Keep Working From Home – The Wall Street Journal.

I thought you would be interested in the following story from The Wall Street Journal.

Many Want to Keep Working From Home

Download the Wall Street Journal app here: WSJ.

– Bob

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IoT Truck Technology Accelerates

Heavy-duty trucks are getting closer than ever to becoming rolling computers. Daimler Trucks North America is working with transportation startup Platform Science to embed software in rigs at the factory, the WSJ Logistics Report’s Jennifer Smith writes, in a move aimed at taking out the technology clutter that’s piled up in truck cabs. The companies are taking a page from the consumer electronics playbook, with software operating through a touch-screen on the vehicle’s dashboard. From there, drivers can access many of the sort of programs that have been bolted onto trucks as layers of technology have been added over the years but without having to install an array of aftermarket hardware for each feature. It’s one step in a broader move to incorporate technology tools familiar to the consumer world more deeply in highly industrial operations to make them easier to use.

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GM COVID-19 Production Ramp Up

General Motors Co.’s ambitious plans to ramp up production of its high-profit pickup trucks is bumping up against supply-chain reality. The auto maker is facing a shortage of parts from Mexico because of separate timelines for reopening U.S. and Mexican plants. The WSJ’s Mike Colias and Ben Foldy report that the disconnect underscores the challenges the auto industry faces in restarting after a two-month shutdown under the pandemic. Mexico has been slower than the U.S. to reopen factories, with operations rebooting only gradually, and the slow flow of parts along with scant information has frustrated American importers. GM has delayed plans to roughly double output at its main U.S. pickup-truck factories because of the parts backup. Detroit auto makers derive much of their profit from those vehicles, and resuming the production is especially important to GM since its inventories were depleted by a labor walkout last fall.

– Bob

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Facebook Starts Shift to Remote Workforce – The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ 5/22/2020

Mark Zuckerberg is shifting Facebook, Inc. toward a substantially remote workforce over the next decade, permanently re-configuring the tech giant’s operations around the dispersed structure that the coronavirus pandemic forced on it.

The plan, which the Facebook chief executive laid out in detail to employees in livestreamed remarks on Thursday, is one of the highest-profile examples of business leaders committing to extend the practices their companies quickly embraced to adjust to the crisis. On matters from workplace to strategy, managers are rethinking what works and shifting course, sometimes long term.

The remote-work changes for new hires will roll out initially in the U.S. and apply only to senior engineers at first. With individual team leaders’ approval, new recruits will be offered the choice to work from home, and current employees around the world with strong performance reviews will be able to apply to do so. In time, the policy will be extended to employees outside Facebook’s engineering department.

Within 10 years, Mr. Zuckerberg expects as much as half of Facebook’s employees—who currently number more than 45,000—to work from home, he said in an interview before the announcement.

Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook is moving gradually because the shift will require new techniques and tools to compensate for the loss of in-person office interactions—a challenge for which he said the company is well-positioned given its focus on using technology to connect people.

“This is about how we do better work and attract the people we need to do the best work we can,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. Facebook’s ability to keep working amid abrupt restrictions brought on by the pandemic gave him confidence in the remote working model, he said in the interview.

Internal Facebook surveys show the option of working from home is popular with employees, Mr. Zuckerberg said, but only 20% said they were extremely or very interested in working remotely long-term. More than half of employees said they “really want to get back to the office as soon as possible,” he said.

Mr. Zuckerberg said that location would affect employee compensation, both for new hires and for those who relocate. He said that Facebook will monitor employees’ locations and those who mislead the company would face “severe” penalties.

“If you live in a place where the cost of living is dramatically lower, then salaries do tend to be somewhat lower,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.

Overall, though, Mr. Zuckerberg said he doesn’t expect Facebook to realize significant cost savings from the changes. While it might save on compensation and office perks, it will likely end up paying for enhanced remote-office setups, better internet connections and support staff for difficulties arising from remote work.

A dispersed workforce, Mr. Zuckerberg said, will enable more demographic and ideological diversity if recruits aren’t required to work in tech strongholds like the San Francisco Bay Area.

“I think just more perspective would be helpful,” he said, adding that such diversity would help the company avoid making “basic errors” by misjudging “how large percentages of the world will react or think about something.”

Still, given Facebook’s scale, it has to proceed carefully, he said. “It might be closer to 10 years than five” before half of Facebook’s employees are working remotely, Mr. Zuckerberg said.

The plan will initially be limited largely to the U.S. to avoid additional complications from a range of time zones and primary languages, he said. And it will be important for certain types of employees to work in the office, such as those hired fresh out of school. “We do believe that new grads who join us should be in the office for some period of time,” he said. “Maybe it’s a year. Maybe it’s two years.”

Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook would also need to replicate what he called “some of the softer aspects” of workplace culture. “Social bond building, culture, creativity, whiteboarding and brainstorming—that is kind of more ad hoc,” he said. “The technology tools we have today for them are not as developed—videoconferencing is fairly transactional.”

Facebook recently launched a new foray into group videoconferencing called Messenger Rooms, a feature Mr. Zuckerberg said on Thursday is being adapted for Facebook Workplace, its office collaboration tools. Facebook is also expanding work-related features for its Portal video displays and Oculus virtual reality platform. Workplace’s paid users have risen from 3 million to 5 million during the pandemic, Facebook said

Asked if he believed other major corporate players would eventually shift away from offices, Mr. Zuckerberg said he wasn’t sure, adding that Facebook’s reasons for starting now are specific to its business and employee base.

“A lot of what we build is fundamentally about communication and delivering a feeling of connection,” he said. “By having more of our employees work remotely we will eat our own dog food on these products and likely be able to advance the state of that technology faster.”

Mr. Zuckerberg suggested the change also could lead to an inversion of the standard corporate off-site meeting, saying that in the future remote employees may gather occasionally in the company’s offices for “on sites” instead.

Facebook won’t be reducing its presence in its Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters and surrounding cities, where the company occupies or is developing offices capable of housing more than 50,000 employees, he said.

“I think we’ll need the space,” Mr. Zuckerberg said, both because the transition will be gradual and because Facebook’s plans for a return to offices include social-distancing measures that aim to reduce employee density to a quarter of what it was before the crisis. When the company initially reopens its facilities, he said, he expects many more employees will wish to return than the company can accommodate.

Write to Jeff Horwitz at Jeff.Horwitz@wsj.com

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Using Retail Stores as Virtual Warehouses

Target Corp. may be wondering if warehouses are really necessary to fulfill e-commerce demand. The retailer’s strong 10.8% growth in comparable sales last quarter was built on a 141% surge in digital sales, the WSJ’s Sarah Nassauer reports, and Target reaped big benefits from its recent investments in e-commerce fulfillment and distribution technology. The company handled about 80% of its e-commerce orders from stores, a big extension of its goal of using the retail sites as virtual warehouses. Other retailers, including Walmart, are turning to that strategy, and it’s gotten a kickstart as merchants have pressed stores into e-commerce service under the recent lockdowns. Target’s efforts have added home-delivery and curbside-pickup options for shoppers, and gained the company market share. It says about five million people used Target.com for the first time, and over 2 million tried ordering online for pickup at store parking lots.

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Dow Chemical Plant Forced to Close Due to Flooding

5/21/2020 Excerpts from Detroit Free Press article: What we know about flooding in Michigan that forced 10,000 evacuations, may put city 9 feet underwater

High Rainfall Causes Dams to Breach Near Midland, Michigan

Several dams upstream of Midland along the Tittabawassee had either been breached or were releasing water uncontrollably after after 4 to 7 inches of rain fell Sunday and Monday.

The Tittabawassee River in Midland entered major flood stage Tuesday morning when the river was observed at 28.25 feet at 10:15 a.m., according to the National Weather Service. Flood stage is 24 feet.

By Tuesday afternoon, at least two rivers in mid-Michigan — the Tittabawassee River in Midland and the Rifle River near Sterling — had reached their major flood stage.

The Edenville Dam on the Tittabawassee River, which is owned by Boyce Hydro, breached Tuesday evening. A flash flood warning issued by the National Weather Service warned to expect flooding of small creeks, streams and other low-lying areas.

The dam, whose owners had its hydro-power generating license revoked in 2018 for its inability to withstand a major flood, is a 6,600-foot earthen embankment up to 54.5 feet in height, spanning both the Tittabawassee and Tobacco Rivers in Midland and Gladwin counties.

Water passing through the Edenville Dam breach headed downstream to Midland County’s Sanford Lake, where the Sanford Dam, also owned by Boyce, was breached later in the day Tuesday. That dam lies south of Edenville and about 8 miles away from the city of Midland.

Dow Chemical Implements Its Flood Preparedness Plan 

Dow Chemical Co. has been headquartered in Midland for more than 120 years, and its main plant sits on the city’s riverbank.

With 9,000 employees and contractors in Midland, Dow shut down all operating units except those needed to contain chemicals on Tuesday, spokesman Kyle Bandlow said.

By Wednesday, floodwater was mixing with on-site containment ponds and the company and U.S. Coast Guard activated emergency plans, Dow said in a statement. No injuries were reported.

Dow implemented its flood preparedness plan, the details of which the company did not disclose. They also did not specify what types of chemicals may have mixed and spilled with the flood waters.

The situation is raising concerns among residents and environmentalists about potential widespread toxic contamination of the already hard-hit area, which  with the evacuation of thousands of residents at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic.

In 1981, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that the plant’s waste runoff was a significant source of the highly toxic chemical dioxin into the Tittabawassee River.

“If this flooding does what it’s anticipated to do, the legacy from Dow’s dioxin will become much more widespread and much more prominent in people’s everyday lives,” said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the nonprofit Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

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Harley Plans for Fewer Models, Simpler Factories After Shutdown – The Wall Street Journal.

Motorcycle maker is turning away from plans for a wider range of new models to revive sales

A showroom motorcycle got a sanitizing wipe-down at Gatto Harley-Davidson in Tarentum, Pa., last Friday. PHOTO: PETER DIANA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Harley-Davidson Inc. HOG 4.17% is reopening its factories this week at lower production rates and sending dealers a narrower range of motorcycles, steering away from more expansive plans to stop a years long sales slide.

Milwaukee-based Harley’s U.S. assembly plants and most of its dealers closed in March as part of a nationwide effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. As many of the company’s 698 U.S. dealers were making plans to reopen, Harley’s director of product sales, Beth Truett, told them in a memo earlier this month that about 70% of them likely wouldn’t receive any additional new motorcycles this year.

“We are using this time to course correct and rewire the company in pursuit of making Harley-Davidson one of the most desirable brands in the world,” Ms. Truett said in the memo, which was viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Former Chief Executive Matt Levatich had planned to offset declining sales of the big, expensive bikes favored by Harley’s core baby boomer customers with dozens of new models by 2027, many of them smaller, cheaper and aimed at foreign markets. Mr. Levatich stepped down in February under pressure from shareholders threatening to initiate a proxy contest for board seats after Harley closed its fifth consecutive year of falling U.S. sales.

He has been replaced by Jochen Zeitz, a longtime Harley board member, former CEO of German athletic-apparel company Puma SE and founder of a new contemporary art museum in Cape Town, South Africa.

On an earnings call last month, Mr. Zeitz said expanding the motorcycle lineup and chasing new markets diverted attention from Harley’s more profitable models and made factories too complex. He said the production revamp is warranted by deteriorating demand for motorcycles. New models that would have made their debut this summer will roll out early next year instead, he said, on a new schedule of releases before the peak spring buying season begins.

By having fewer motorcycles in the market, Harley said it is trying to appeal to customers of premium-priced brands with limited availability. That approach is common among makers of sports cars and some luxury products that keep manufacturing volumes well below demand for them.

“Our strategy to limit motorcycle product in the showroom is purposefully designed to drive exclusivity,” Ms. Truett said in her memo.

Harley is reopening its plants in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania this week and said it would accelerate production in phases. The motorcycles that Harley will start making again this month will be limited to bestselling models in a limited palette of colors and without customizable features for the remainder of the year, Ms. Truett wrote.

Some U.S. dealers said the production cuts will sap further sales at dealerships that were closed for nearly two months. “You’re not going to catch up,” said Zoli Dudevsky, owner of a Harley dealership near Cleveland.

Some dealers said they have enough new motorcycles to cover a month or two of sales, but that those stocks would be depleted sooner if demand rises. Several said customer traffic at their reopened showrooms has been better than they expected, in part because motorcycle riding is an alternative to other types of recreation discouraged under social-distancing rules.

“We’ve noticed a lot of people getting bikes out of storage that haven’t been running in years,” said John Lyon, a dealer in Vermont.

George Gatto, owner of two dealerships in the Pittsburgh area, said he isn’t expecting any new motorcycles from Harley until August, when the company plans to deliver two motorcycles to one of his dealerships. The company is urging dealers to sell more used motorcycles, a market that Harley executives in the past regarded as detracting from sales of new models.

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