In past weeks, retail and hospitality executives’ priorities have been largely focused on doing what it takes to get through the next 24 hours. Adjusting hours and services. Temporary closures. Furloughs. Government applications. Waiting. 

Now, we’re hearing from companies who are beginning to plan for restart. As they look to recovery, they are asking: Will our staff return to work when we need them? Will our customers be there? How do we seize opportunities as we emerge into a new, different world? 

In an uncertain, unpredictable world, successful employers must focus on building what we call Workforce Resilience: the ability to “flex” up and down their staff to instantaneously meet evolving needs. 

Yesterday’s Model Doesn’t Work 

This is the new reality: A surge in demand means shelves go unstocked and much-needed revenue opportunities are missed as customers go to competitors. All of the employees from a single shift get exposed to the virus, resulting in a 14-day quarantine and a struggle to meet staffing needs. Customers working from home no longer have predictable work schedules, making store rushes unpredictable as well. State governments institute new laws mandating drastic changes in staffing, hours, and services provided. 

In the uncertainties of today: 

  • Your revenues and customer traffic are unpredictable 
  • Your employees’ willingness and ability to return to work are changing and unpredictable 
  • Government intervention in business operations is unpredictable 

In this unpredictable world, resilience - the ability to instantly adapt and respond as factors change - separates those who will successfully navigate this chaos from those who fight for survival.  

Workforce Resilience is the path forward, and it requires a different approach to workforce management. Instead of having an optimally sized staff for your business’ needs (as of four weeks ago), businesses need to have a reserve capacity of trained staff who can fill in “on-demand” when there’s a need. 

Inspired by the Army Reserves, a trained pool of “reservists” builds an organization’s ability to respond such that staffing is never a bottleneck to business success. Building Workforce Resilience through a “reservist” model should be a top priority for workforce management professionals and executives who want to succeed in an unpredictable world. 

The move to resilience requires three fundamental shifts in mindset and practices. 

Trained talent network 

If executives rely only on current, scheduled employees, they will lack the ability to quickly flex their workforce to meet evolving needs. It is finally time for “gig” to meet the enterprise, taking as inspiration modern gig platforms like Instawork, Uber, Wonolo, and JitJatJo.  

We know “gig” is a buzzword that immediately raises compliance and quality red flags for the modern workforce management professional, but if done right it shouldn’t. “Gig” for the compliance-focused enterprise works differently than it does for a digital upstart like Uber or Taskrabbit. 

For the enterprise, “gig” means building a network of W2 employees trained on your business - not 1099 contractors who have no experience with your operations. These staff start the week with zero hours and can choose to pick up open shifts. Some may choose to work a few hours per week, others may choose to work similar hours to your regularly scheduled part-time workforce. For certain companies, this network can access shifts across multiple locations.  

Building a talent network is core to continuity planning for businesses looking to implement Workforce Resilience. Now is the best time to start; fortunately, getting started is easy. Tactically, first steps can include simple practices like contacting rehirable former workers who are familiar with your operations and leveraging seasonal employees year-round. 

Open training 

Activating a talent network requires highly scalable training. Everyone in your network must be immediately productive upon arriving for a shift; this requires a highly scalable training model. Again, the Army Reserves proves instructive. 

In order to be eligible to work shifts, staff must first go through your company’s “basic training”. They also must work regularly to remain eligible; employers ensure skills stay sharp by requiring staff to work a minimum number of hours per month. Staff who haven’t worked in months can always reactivate with another round of “basic training”. 

The goal of training is to maximize the size of a company’s trained talent network without sacrificing employee skill or knowledge. This requires a shift in practices from making training largely in-person and only accessible to current employees, to digital and widely accessible. Workplace training must be freely available to everyone in a company’s network, with clear certifications and ideally competency tests.  

Open technology systems 

Building Workforce Resilience doesn’t require upending technology systems that work well for your regularly scheduled workforce. API-based workforce management systems, like Kronos Workforce Dimensions, foster partner ecosystems, often with pre-built integrations. This means a platform like Syrg - designed to manage and deploy companies’ unscheduled talent networks - can augment modern workforce management and learning systems that serve the regularly scheduled workforce.  


Not all retail and hospitality companies will emerge successfully from this crisis. Those who do will embrace Workforce Resilience and will come out of this crisis stronger and better positioned for whatever the future may hold. 

Published: Monday, April 27, 2020