The new normal for operating in the workplace will likely look different as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s unknown exactly what that future holds, many businesses may need to consider implementing different processes in order to abide by new rules and regulations.

Automation is one method to consider for a more efficient and safer workplace following COVID-19. While many industries had already automated many of their processes before the pandemic, others were slow to adopt automation.

There are many variables that drive investment, or lack of investment, in automation. However, the way that companies justify it may be different post-pandemic. The meat processing industry, for instance, has been slow to adopt due to the complexity of processes and limitations in space within existing facilities. But with the possibility of social distancing rules looming around for months to years, now might be the time for these plants to be more open to adopting automation.

In most meat processing plants, the work requires hundreds of employees to work shoulder to shoulder, in very tight spaces. This makes it very difficult to follow social distancing, increasing the chances that employees can spread illnesses like COVID-19. Adopting automation in such processing plants would allow them to operate with fewer employees, thus decreasing the potential for spreading the virus.

Another industry that will look very different post-pandemic is the grocery industry. Quarantined in their homes, many people have been forced to order their groceries online. Grocers who manually fulfill online orders forgo money on every order due to inefficiencies in hand-picking from existing store aisles. Grocers that haven’t yet adopted automation should consider doing so to optimize order fulfillments, better handle the increase in demand and turn a profit. Many grocers are implementing micro-fulfillment centers that are built next to existing retail locations, while others are implementing the traditional large fulfillment centers common in e-commerce.

With the potential for social distancing to last many months, automation processes and technology can be very helpful in reducing the number of customers in the stores while increasing shopping efficiencies. Business continuity is at risk for many companies during this uncertain time and in the future due to social distancing, and steps or adjustments must be taken to stay open. For those businesses that haven’t considered automation or haven’t implemented it due to financial reasons, now may be the time.


Distribution centers, manufacturing facilities and e-commerce operations are increasingly implementing automated storage and retrieval systems to improve efficiency and meet high consumer expectations.

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Alfredo Valadez is a project manager providing integrated automation solutions for Burns & McDonnell, working from the firm's office in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. He has extensive hands-on experience designing, specifying and selling leading industrial automated solutions for manufacturing and warehouse environments across a variety of industries.