Facilitating a safe and efficient return for retail staff

By Peter Harte, Group Vice President, EMEA, UKG

With the COVID-19 vaccination programme in full swing and all non-essential retailers open as of 12 April, businesses must ensure they have a clear plan in place for their most important assets – their people. There’s a unique opportunity for retailers to capitalise on the desire for in-person experiences over the coming months, but there are a number of new workforce related challenges that must be considered to ensure compliance, protect margins and retain an engaged workforce.

The bounce back: reengaging employees

For retail employees, it is likely that the pandemic resulted in them being furloughed for many months, if not the whole year. Employee’s lives, circumstances, and expectations may have changed as a result of the pandemic. Some may still be caring for an elderly family member, juggling childcare and unpredictable schooling, or have even lost a spouse or loved one during this time.

It is crucial that the right tools and processes are in place for employees to return to work efficiently over the coming months and this goes beyond physical safety and practical scheduling. Managers must recognise individual personal circumstances and act accordingly.

As a people manager myself, I believe that trust should rise to the top as a foundational imperative to lead in a post-pandemic world of work. Great businesses are powered by great people, and great people have choices of where to work. Our research shows that nearly two-thirds (60%) of U.K. employees say trust has a direct impact on their sense of belonging at work, and that 70% of employees globally say their relationship with their manager is an extremely or very important factor when deciding to remain at their organisation. Managers must therefore form meaningful connections with their employees and be intentional in their conversations to identify individual needs and understand long-term goals of each employee.

Forecasting and scheduling in an uncertain world

Social distancing and hygiene protocols will remain in place for some time, so forecasting and scheduling can no longer be based solely on customer demand, but now consider safe store occupancy based on distancing rules and required cleanliness practices. Though there is an uptick in vaccine administration, employee sickness is still a factor to be considered.

Modern workforce management technology can assist with scheduling to automatically balance staffing plans with volume, demand, and other variable trends, and identify the right set of people who are available for work based on scheduling preferences, real-time availability, and skill requirements. With this technology, organisations are able to carefully plan employee schedules to optimise resources and minimise the impact of a shrunken workforce or fragmented availability on productivity or service levels.

Contact tracing is still a necessity

With a third wave of COVID-19 sweeping across Europe, the threat of infection is still very real. When or if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, it’s vital to immediately begin the process of contact tracing.

With a workforce management system that analyses time and attendance data, employees that worked the same time and location as an afflicted employee can be efficiently identified. Automating what would otherwise be a manual process will allow employers to immediately remove potential contacts from the schedule to reduce risk of an outbreak across their workforce.

The coming months will be challenging for retailers. However, those that base their strategies over the future months around the element that enables their business to be great – their people ­– and support this with the right tools, will be in a prime position to protect margins, while maintaining a healthy, motivated, and engaged workforce.

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