This is the last post in a 4-part blog series focused on what it takes to navigate out of this pandemic, and what it will take for retailers and restaurants to Emerge Stronger in a post-COVID-19 world. Click here to read how Agility and Transparency  are needed to Emerge Stronger.

As cities and states begin to reopen, retailers and restaurant operators are left with more questions than answers. With some solid agility planning, they’ve come up with a few likely scenarios around what to prep for as restrictions are lifted, but there’s still no way to be 100% certain about what will happen, or which scenario will play out. As your business starts to make its way forward, flexibility will be key to emerging from this pandemic.

The Employee’s need for Flexibility

An employee’s decision to return back to work may not be an easy one. Many are finding themselves without childcare. Others may have household members who are high-risk due to age or autoimmune disorders, or they may fall into that category themselves. Between uncertainties around the impact of reopening businesses and employees’ own concerns around health and safety, many are now hesitant to return to work. They’ll want to understand what you’re doing to keep them safe and what options they have upon returning. 

Once employees make the decision to return, things may shift on a dime. If a member of an employee’s household comes down with COVID, they may have no choice but to call out last minute. If one of your employees gets diagnosed, then not only do they need to quarantine themselves for 14 days, but anyone who has worked a shift with them has likely been exposed as well. 

Flexibility is key to navigating these challenges, while supporting the needs of your employees. 

The Store or Restaurant’s need for Flexibility

The need for flexibility isn’t just limited to employees; the business itself will need to be flexible as they discover new market realities. Predicting demand these days is hard. Like, really really hard. When Georgia restaurants reopened, visitors from across state lines arrived in droves. But, some consumers are wary, and not all businesses are seeing the rush they had hoped

Retail shops and restaurants have had to make some pretty hefty changes, such as adding or expanding curbside pickup and delivery. The duties required by each employee will likely change as well as they implement new cleaning procedures and ensure social distancing within the store or restaurant. This may even result in new roles such as a sanitization specialist or a dedicated person responsible for managing a line into the store or restaurant.  

There are a lot of unknowns employers face when emerging out of this pandemic. Managers and corporate leaders will have to be nimble and flexible when navigating these unknowns and develop a workforce flexible enough to support the journey. 

Designing a Flexible Workforce

As we delve into the unknown, we need to re-imagine our workforce to be as flexible and nimble as possible, both to support the needs of the employee and the needs of the business. Whether you’re shifting from only curb-side pick-up back to some semblance of dine-in, or allowing shoppers back into your store on a limited-time basis for the first time in months, you will need to react quickly to the shifting expectations of employees and customers. 

As you look to build flexibility into your workforce management strategy, consider the following:

  • Create a cross-training strategy for your employees so they can quickly help where necessary, regardless of the role they were hired for
  • Give your employees self-service tools, enabling them to access information and tasks at their convenience
  • Provide your workforce with mobile access and communications tools to ensure they have the latest and greatest information at their fingertips
  • Labor standards may need to be reevaluated as your post-COVID-19 business evolves
  • Reconsider your labor mix based on your agility planning and what your business model may look like in a given scenario
  • Rethink scheduling, and consider staggering shifts to allow for proper cleaning and social distancing between shifts
  • Consider an on-demand workforce to supplement unpredictability in demand 

But what about Predictive Scheduling? 

Patience, understanding, and flexibility are key to employees and employers. Governments are not blind to this, and there is discussion on easing predictive scheduling rules during this crisis. While predictive scheduling guidelines remain in place for the most part, check with your legal team for a full understanding of the implications of predictive scheduling legislation during this pandemic. 

Agility, Transparency & Flexibility: Emerging Stronger

This pandemic has thrown us all for a loop – no doubt. Hopefully, we’ll be able to navigate out of this quickly and safely and someday look in the rearview mirror at what a strange start we had to 2020. But in the event that some of the less than optimistic scenarios play out, we need to be prepared to manage this chaos for a little bit longer. Regardless of what the near-term future holds, COVID-19 will not be the last disaster to strike. 

If we can use this time to strengthen our agility planning skills, establish a culture of transparency and design a flexible workforce, we will emerge out of this pandemic stronger than ever, and well positioned for the future, with or without COVID-19.

Click here for more information on emerging stronger 

Published: Thursday, May 21, 2020