The past months have been a blur and the next major hurdle is trying to understand what “back to normal” means. Businesses, employees, families, and communities have stabilized as best they can and now have to shift gears towards reopening safely and effectively. There are still many unknowns with states and municipalities providing different levels of guidance, restrictions, recommendations, and timelines. Despite all the ambiguity, one thing is for certain – as HR and operations leaders our mindset and preparation can’t wait. We must anticipate this next normal so we can be ready to succeed in it.

But what will this future look like? We all can agree that how we work will change because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re already seeing measures of this in the phased reopening plans being rolled out by state leaders. Restaurants and retailers will need to rethink capacity planning and customer service with social distancing in mind. Manufacturers will need to restructure plant floor layouts and production lines to ensure employee safety. Schools and universities are offering virtual learning and preparing for how Fall classes might be impacted. Healthcare organizations are instituting new guidelines for patient and employee screening and how to upskill their essential workers. Every industry is impacted.

So how do you reopen amidst all this change, maximize productivity, and maintain a sense of operational normalcy? It starts with an airtight workforce management approach that’s powered by technology to streamline reopening activities and help employees be both safe and productive. Here’s how you get there:

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Reopen with a safety-first mentality

Following the CDC guidelines for reopening businesses, local and state authorities have created various phased processes and detailed requirements to balance keeping the public safe and allowing the economy to resume. Despite all these recommendations, front-line and hourly employees like production line workers, store clerks, restaurant cashiers, and many others could be hesitant to start work again and concerned about their safety and the actions of others around them.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, personal safety is a choice and requires individuals to take responsibility for their actions. But, there are ways to encourage and prescribe a safety-first mentality. So how do you do it?

1. Create a paper trail with contact tracing reporting

Combine your workforce management and labor data with contact tracing capabilities to create reports that provide insight to know who and when employees could have come into contact with an infected colleague. This capability is not meant to police employee activity, but rather, to provide peace of mind and the knowledge that their safety is a top priority.

2. Use mobile capabilities to lower contact risk

Time tracking – clocking in and out – is an activity that hourly employees perform multiple times a day. Mobile punching provides employees the ability to log and monitor their time from their own mobile device, all while maintaining social distancing and limiting interaction with others.

3. Enhance safety with facial recognition

As technology advances, so too do touchless ID and time clock enhancements. When mobile is not possible, facial recognition provides enhanced safety measures and limits the need for employees to physically interact with a device or a time clock.

Return with flexibility in mind

We’ve had to explore new ways of working to adapt to the pandemic. Now we face questions around if we keep an office-centric mindset, enhance remote or work from home options, and revise our social interaction plans based on distancing requirements. Capacity and demand planning, schedule optimization, meeting production requirements, ensuring the well-being of employees, and other essential tasks won’t disappear, but we will think about how we accomplish them differently. That’s why it’s critical we prioritize flexibility when reopening through options like the following:

1. Allow employees to take charge with scheduling flexibility

In a time where employees may feel helpless and in anything but control, schedule flexibility helps balance the stress of their personal lives while meeting the needs of work. Capabilities like shift swapping and claiming open shifts allow employees to proactively find a replacement or get more hours when life takes a turn, all from their mobile device to limit physical interaction and possible exposure.

2. Identify process or resource gaps with activity tracking

In industries such as manufacturing, production lines and processes will need to be evaluated and re-optimized to account for facility and personnel changed. Tracking tasks and activities throughout a shift or on a line can help identify potential gaps and give line managers the information they need to adjust accordingly. Plant floors may not be staffed to the usual capacity and it will be critical for managers to understand the type of labor allocation needed to produce a specific item or complete a specific activity to maintain productivity.

3. Be empathetic, as not all of us are returning to work quite yet

Keep in mind that in almost every state, phased re-openings are underway. This means not everyone is returning to work at the same time or in the same way. Some employees may still be waiting to reenter the workforce. Others continue to balance being a parent, teacher, daycare provider, and remote worker from home. And many more are still battling the pandemic on the frontlines as healthcare workers, care providers, and first responders. For them, with almost two months of non-stop work, employee burnout is a real possibility. It’s important to reopen knowing we are all in this together but have different roles to play. Understanding and empathy is needed.

Conclusion: Start your journey on the road ahead with new ways of thinking

We are starting to transition away from thinking about how to stabilize and stay afloat to more how we move forward and prepare for the next normal. There are still many unknowns as phased re-openings get underway.  Organizations and insightful leaders will use the next few months to learn from what we just went through, adjust, flex, and forge a path forward.

If you’d like to learn more about how workforce management and human capital management technology can help you prioritize a safety-first, flexible mindset in the days ahead, check out our resources page.

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Published: Tuesday, June 2, 2020