Do you work too hard?

Redwood Comment
Published:  13 May, 2020
Dr Mike Redwood

If there is one thing that unites tanners in every part of the world, it is an emotional delight in making leather, in being part of the leather industry. The joy of tanning is to handle the leather, to smell the leather and to see its beauty appear as it is transformed from caterpillar to butterfly through the processing. 

Tanners love the product, work long hours, carry on working long after normal retirement and never lose their enthusiasm and belief in leather as a wonderful gift of nature that it is our duty to nourish.

So, to be looking back, as we will, at having lost some three months out of the first half of this year and to have missed the daily experience of handling and working with leather in a meaningful way, is hard to comprehend. Tanneries have largely come to a halt, with only some wet end operations functioning, where they can be viewed as part of the food chain – helping abattoirs with the management of hides and skins.

While running a tannery from home is not a realistic matter, there are quite a number of functions which can be carried on while at home, and many tanners have been trapped at home full time or in some cases with a few hours at the tannery to oversee what little can continue. Many have been using capacity to make health related items such as masks or overalls for their local medical services, helping with local charities and undertaking other similar activities. This is not a time to sell leather so much as it is to look after our communities.

In terms of home working, that famous #WFH that we are reading so much about, I have been impressed with the meetings I have attended using the various tools of video conferencing, and the learning opportunities being made available by many organisations using webinars. There are lessons here for meetings, seminars and conferences in the future. The meetings I have attended have been better managed, more to the point, shorter and more effective than in real life. Often I travel to London from my home for meetings that last about two hours. The travel takes the full day, is expensive, it is hard to fill the rest of the day effectively, and overall, the efficiency is very low. Now such a meeting often takes only an hour, there are no absentees and I do not leave my desk. I would be happy to have more frequent meetings like this and push the agenda along rather than watch them drag on through the year with months between meetings.

Zoom fatigue is now “a thing”
I am clearly not alone in this, as it is quite obvious that many of our colleagues are working intensively in their new #WFH environment. It is apparent that homeworking improves productivity in many areas. So much so that there is concern that some executives are working too hard and may suffer mentally as a result. It is too easy to sit in front of a screen responding to email, working on reports and spreadsheets, and going from Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting without a break or any exercise.

It is important to recognise that in the office you would stop for coffee with a colleague, go into the tannery to check the leather, or merely wander about, or have some journey time between the meetings that are now creating Zoom fatigue.

We already are so exposed to data and information that we have little space to breathe. With modern smartphones, we can fill every moment with sending or receiving, and working from home, if not carefully managed, can make this worse, with fewer breaks and longer hours created by not commuting or travelling, even short distances between meeting. Once upon a time we used to talk to people on the buses and the trains – those days seem long gone.

All employees must stay in touch with the experiential values of leather
This overload can take super-efficiency too far. Creative thinking needs time and space. We need to be able to daydream. So, while the idea of remote working is certain to remain in some way, and we have definitely seen a major shift to digital in all things, we need to balance this with some new expectations and instructions to stop harmful levels of overwork. And no one working in the leather industry should be too distant from a material whose success lies in its experiential values.

The leather industry has historic experience of homeworking in some parts of the footwear and gloving industry, where cut leathers are sent out for stitching. It was an area where worker abuse used to be rife, but in the last few decades has demonstrated that the staff involved like the flexibility it offers during the long decades of working life. They could choose whether to work at home or in the factory and were fully equipped and trained accordingly. In certain years, especially when children were young, the flexibility of being at home is preferred, while in others the company afforded by being with colleagues in the plant is sought after.

That gives a hint of what is possible. Zoom and Teams have given insight into each other’s home situation and the unexpected interruption of children and pets have added a touch of humanity and personality to it all. As long as it is well managed, working remotely can become one part of the equation of how higher productivity can be added to leather world, and we can use our staff better.

It is evidence of how these unfortunate events have been accelerating changes, some overdue, that were already occurring. A digital transformation is underway, so tanners need the staff to manage it and to make use of it. That includes understanding cyber security, online selling, social media, digital supply chain management and virtual meetings.

In our industry, these aspects have been somewhat marginalised, and often given to the most interested amateur in the team. It is serious now.

Mike Redwood
May 13, 2020

mike@internationalleathermaker.com
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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