The COVID-19 crisis has added many layers of complexity to how we tackle workforce planning, some of which are still being uncovered. Businesses deemed essential have already faced challenges from the start around how to schedule employees safely while also meeting demand, and now even more organizations are facing these realities as reopening draws closer.

Across the board, everyone is having to make drastic changes to their modes of operation. In fact, according to a study conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), 83 percent of employers have made business practice adjustments as a result of COVID-19 and over 53 percent of employers are now revising Emergency Preparedness Plans that they had in place prior to COVID-19, and those were just initial responses. Now we have even more changes to make as both employee and customer volume starts to increase in workplaces across the country.

As the US and many other countries try to balance reopening the economy and keeping the public safe, it’s now up to individual businesses to make workplace policies that revive their revenue streams without putting customers or employees in harm’s way. The CDC, OSHA, and the EEOC are continually providing regulatory guidance for businesses around best practices to prevent transmission of COVID-19, but how do we take all these considerations around safety, sanitation, and re-training into account in a sustainable way? One place to start is with a modern employee scheduling strategy that helps us automate as many of these considerations as possible so we can keep our people safe and stay productive at the same time. Let’s take a look.

 

Managing uncertainty reopening scheduling banner

Laying the groundwork on day one

Although no one has a crystal ball showing how the future will look exactly, one thing is for sure – no matter what sector of the economy you’re in, the landscape will look different and will continue to change and evolve as consumer behavior shifts. So what are the items that need to be top of mind when the day finally comes to open back up? These ideas can help you get organized and lay the groundwork with employees for how things will work going forward:

  • Think of your reopening like a mini grand opening to ensure both employee and customer safety remain top of mind while keeping your bottom line in check as well. This also grants you the opportunity to review and revise key policies like employee schedules.
  • Not all employees will be willing to come back until they feel it’s personally safe to do so, and increased absenteeism due to these anxieties will be likely. Additional training, new hire orientation, and new standards around deep cleaning, sterilization, and PPE are all items that can mitigate this, and need to be accounted for in schedules to prevent deeper levels of disruption.
  • Remember, businesses that were deemed essential have already paved the way for others in some areas. The longer healthcare facilities, manufacturing plants, and certain retailers have continued to do more with less, the greater the need has become for employees to take more frequent breaks to avoid severe burnout and fatigue. So how can we take these learnings and pivot to scheduling the workforce for other businesses that are now starting to open up?

What do you need to schedule in the new world? Technology.

To help you alleviate some of the bumps in the road on the way to reopening, such as the employee burnout, unexpected absences, and additional safety protocols we just discussed, here are four examples of scheduling technology that can help managers be able to provide their employees with work/life balance while still meeting organizational demand.

1. Mobile shift fill

Now that employers are encouraging employees to stay socially distant at work as much as possible or to work remotely at least some of the time, mobile technology plays an even more integral role in keeping things running while people stay safe. Using mobile devices, managers can efficiently manage open shifts and staffing levels — across all locations and for all employees – in just a few taps with no need for physical interaction.

This not only allows managers to fill shifts quickly, it also increases employee engagement by empowering them to have more control of when they want to pick up extra shifts or give some of their own away. The strongest mobile solutions even allow employees to pick up a shift with a simple text message, streamlining the process by using familiar communication channels.

2. Shift swapping

While certain industries like healthcare have been hit hard, the need for staff continues to climb as more people are getting sick. Employee self-service empowers team members when they may look around amidst all that’s happening and feel powerless. In high-stress times when employees are likely to need flexibility around time away from work, the ability to swap shifts on their own promotes well-being and prevents unexpected absences. The employee can request to swap a shift with another qualified employee using their device of choice and in a matter of moments get a response back, securing the time they need to care for family or just take a mental health break.

3. People analytics and AI

A business’s ability to effectively use artificial intelligence, people analytics, and other emerging technologies to meet changing customer expectations will be a key factor in determining their success in our new world. Using predictive analytics, organizations can proactively forecast changes in scheduling demand. Looking ahead will be critical because while it’s true reopening is starting to commence, there’s no guarantee that possible second surge is out of the question.

For example, COVID-19 has impacted retailers in different ways – some stores remained open but saw changes in buying patterns, some stores saw an increase in online purchases, and some stores closed. These kinds of changes all impact future volume forecasts in different ways, and we need to adapt quickly. Tracking regulatory changes and compliance and having those get automatically taken into account as part of your scheduling strategy is one way to reduce the risk of being unprepared. A strong HCM system should be able to keep pace with the latest rules relevant to your industry and location and translate those requirements into how your scheduling needs get calculated, which means even when sudden changes come you’ll have a much better chance of being ready to handle them.

4. Automated scheduling rules

Beyond helping you predict for the needs of your business, remaining compliant towards existing stipulations that protect employees also lowers your risk of violations and helps you engage employees. An example of this is around "predictability pay" penalties when employers make last-minute schedule changes and was to intended to help employees plan their schedules and budgets.

There is a growing list of states and localities with these kinds of predictive scheduling mandates, so it pays to keep track.  According to SHRM many states are issuing ordinances relieving these rules somewhat thanks to COVID-19’s unpredictability, but having technology that can automate federal, state, and union regulatory changes as they happen can keep your organization safe and in turn put your employees at ease.

Conclusion: Act now to ensure a smooth transition

Opening up the economy is going to need to happen in a calculated manner consisting of various phases. Strategic organizations will need to leverage the technologies mentioned above to help achieve a smoother transition to re-opening. We don’t know what the future will hold, when businesses will be fully staffed, or if remote work will increase even when we reopen, but we do know that having the right technology in place can help you flex quickly to staff, schedule, and engage your top talent.

Given that the whole world is in this together, there's an abundance of best practices, new ideas, technologies, and resources that are being shared across the globe in order to help pick up the pieces. For more information on how Kronos is offering guidance during this time, we invite you to check out these additional resources on our website.

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Published: Wednesday, May 20, 2020