By: TimeForge Labor Management
For months, COVID-19 vaccines have been available in the U.S. Experts initially said that it would take the better part of a year before we would get the pandemic under control and life could go back to normal; now, many businesses are wondering if it ever will. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Harvard Gazette that if 75 to 80 percent of Americans receive the vaccine, then by the end of 2021, we’d reach some semblance of normality. That was back in December of 2020. Since then, we’ve seen shifts in the labor market and consumer trends, both of which have affected the way your customers do business. If the definition of normal has changed, then what does recovery even look like now? And how can your customers be ready for it?
Helping Your Customers Get Ready for Recovery
Your customers’ decisions today have an impact on the future – both for their businesses and for their employees. What they do now is going to have an impact on their ability to hit the ground running when the time is right. For a few businesses, COVID-19 brought new revenue and markets. But for the majority of businesses dependent on labor, times have been tough.
Tip: If you’re serving the food service business, your customers may find our guide to dealing with the restaurant labor shortage useful.
Chances are, your customers’ supply chains and vendors (even beyond you and your service) have also suffered, making it difficult to get back to “normal.” They may be struggling to make ends meet or to move the needle on their profit margins. To survive the pandemic, they may have had to change their business model and explore new revenue streams (hello, Self Checkout and E-Commerce sales!!!). Or they may have had to scale down business operations (read: rotating staff across locations so they can open their doors). Or perhaps they adopted some new technology in haste even though it didn’t integrate with their POS or other solutions (and you’re still trying to help them solve for the disruption). Finally, they may have had to let go of some staff, only to find them unavailable or uninterested when they were ready to rehire.
All that is going to be in the rearview mirror eventually; it’s just a matter of time. For now, you should be asking your customers: is their current workforce ready for recovery, and if not, what’s left to be done? If you’re not sure how to help coach them through this, keep reading. We’ll help you get there.
Planning for Recovery
Before we get into next steps, here’s a few things to keep in mind while helping your merchants plan out the next several months:
Some of your customers have been more affected than others
Since you’re an RSPA Member, you’re probably serving at least one of the hardest-hit categories. While a sweeping generalization is that these industries have been most impacted, and that’s true, many entrepreneurial and agile businesses in these categories have certainly thrived. Be cautious not to make too many assumptions until you have a conversation with your customer. However, the most impacted categories are:
Retail and grocery
- Gyms and health clubs
- Car washes
- Footwear stores
- Children’s retail
- Pools and aquatic centers
- Auto supply stores
- Book stores
- General apparel
Commercial food service (~75% of food service industry)
- Prepared food retail
- vending machines
Institutional food service
- Stadiums and clubs
- Schools and universities
- Child-care facilities
- Military facilities
- Health-care facilities and hospitals
- Bed and breakfast inns
- Ski lodges
- Casino hotels
- Cabins and cottages
Many of these industries have just simply been hit harder than others: that’s because their business relies on labor and high customer satisfaction. As you help your merchants think about their plans for the next year, remember that they’re going to need happy employees in order to have happy customers.
Help your merchants recognize and accept that normal is different and recovery will be, too
By now, everyone seems to have begun to realize that recovery isn’t going to be a quick process. So much has changed since 2019. To keep up, businesses have had to adapt and evolve. But remember: you’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way and so have your customers. You may have learned how to get things done with a distributed team or while shorthanded, for example. Your merchants may have learned how to hire really fast or how to rotate hard-to-stock items.
Before going through this exercise with your merchant, practice by reflecting on your business and growth. Take a moment to jot down all the positives and negatives. Both your major successes and failures. They say history is bound to repeat itself, but if you go into the next few months with eyes open and those memories fresh, it doesn’t have to.
Once you’re comfortable with your internal assessment, you’ll be able to help coach your merchants through their own assessments – doing this together can help position you to identify gaps and serve them through closing those gaps. Your goal is always to be the hero, and it’s easiest to do that when you’re involved in assessing pain points. For example, if your merchant cites “Learned how to do pick up orders” as a positive, but also lists “Can’t open enough slots to fulfill customer demand”, you might jot that down as an action item. There are e-comm vendors who offer slot optimization and labor management vendors (like TimeForge) that can help predict order volume, then translate that predicted volume into staffing. If short-staffing is the root cause, then you might note “hiring platform” as something you’ll want to help your merchant implement. (TimeForge has a robust and very popular hiring platform for retail, FYI).
The pandemic broke through some cultural and technological barriers
The pandemic managed to do something that many of the world’s change management and digital transformation consultants envy. It broke through cultural and technological barriers that have resisted remote working and slowed down digital transformation efforts for years. As time goes on, you can expect a wider variety of options when it comes to online tech. This means more flexibility in how you structure your teams and get work done, which will greatly impact your merchants’ expectations around service. That’s a good thing! What you thought was your only option 18 months ago almost certainly isn’t now, and the same goes for your merchants (and those shopping for your services).
Also realize that your merchants have also adapted, and their business cultures have shifted accordingly. They’re likely much more flexible with staffing and they likely also are considerably less change-averse than they were pre-pandemic. You’ll likely have less educating to do these days around things like self checkout and e-commerce. However, pay attention to the post-adoption follow ups. Many merchants implemented technology in a hurry and will need your help optimizing their solutions so that they can take full advantage of the entire featureset.
Tips for Getting Your Customer’s Workforce Ready for 2022 and Beyond
Being ready for recovery means that your customer has their workforce on the same page, all working toward their goals. It means they have a plan in place to fill skill gaps and job roles that might still be empty. It may even mean they have a plan in place to replace processes or tech that they now realize aren’t a good fit for their business – or upgrading to something that’s a better fit, now that they’ve had time to actually shop solutions.
So, what does it take to get their workforce ready for the next several months? How can you be the hero and deliver value-adds that set them (and you) up for success? Here are 6 tips to help your merchant align their workforce, communicate their goals, and close gaps:
1. Make sure you’re keeping up with business trends and forecasts, and use that information to help them align their workforce planning with their business strategies
Trying to understand the post pandemic world of business is a good place to start if you haven’t already. If your merchant is serving consumers directly, it’s important for you to know how the pandemic changed consumer perceptions and behaviors over the past year. Are there ways your merchant had to pivot their business model to meet shifting consumer demands? Is there more shifting that should be done? If you’re not sure, take a look at what industry leaders and some of their local competitors are doing. For example, in the grocery industry, we’ve seen heavy adoption of the “grocerant” model to bring consumers into the store and increase sales. Whatever you decide, though: make sure your merchant’s workforce planning and technology are in alignment with their goals. IE – adding an in-store grocerant may help them accomplish their goal for increased revenue and meeting customer demand, but will require hiring, potential new restaurant POS systems for that counter, and a shift in labor budgeting practices.
2. Empower your merchant to keep communicating their business plans with their workforce
In our article on how good communication contributes to a ready workforce, we recommended being transparent and honest with employees. That still holds true, even if the COVID-19 situation has largely stabilized. A solid internal communication platform – whether part of a workforce management and labor platform like TimeForge or something as simple as a chat platform – can be a game changer for your merchants.
And don’t forget that they need to check in with and keep track of former team members, too. They’re still your merchant’s next best option for rehire – if not now, then possibly in the future. Reboarding is always easier and more cost effective than hiring new staff. Your merchants’ rehires are also likely to be more workforce ready, too.
3. Your merchant should create a skills inventory for their workforce and plan ahead
A skills inventory is a fancy term for listing out all the skills, education, and experience of current employees. With a skills inventory, your merchant will be able to identify ongoing or potential gaps that need to be filled. This, in turn, will allow them to plan out steps for filling those gaps before they become a real problem. Knowing their skill gaps, critical skills, and capabilities and how to replenish them quickly will also help them stay flexible.
4. Know what changed for your merchant’s business
Did your merchant’s supply chains change significantly this past year? How about liquidity and finance? Did their technology help you or hurt them? Each of these has had an impact on their business and can affect their plans for the future. If there were big changes to how they operate, they may need to redefine their performance metrics, as well.
5. Try to help them achieve the best of both worlds – pre and post pandemic
What new ways of working, or new technologies, should your merchant retain in the post-pandemic era? Which should be dropped or traded out for something better? Make sure you have a plan in place for reviewing both and for cutting off the fat, if need be. Remember – you’re the technology expert. A mistake businesses often make is to double-down on a bad solution in the hopes it’ll be a better fit later. Don’t let your merchant fall into that trap; be sure to walk them through their options for curing a difficult situation or for replacing a product with something more robust.
6. Help your merchant take care of their employees and understand their needs
All merchants should be keeping a close eye on well-being and productivity of their employees over the next several months. With the ongoing worker shortage, you can be sure their employees have other options out there: make sure your merchant has positioned themselves as the best option. A good place to start is to focus on the basics. Make sure your merchants have access to a platform that allows employees to access their work schedules and time cards online or through a labor management mobile app. Employees expect to be able to swap shifts and communicate while away from the business location. Many merchants don’t know where to start when transitioning to technology tools that solve for these new employee demands. Be sure you know where to send your merchants for help and how to help them focus on employee retention.