In the first few months of 2020, the world of work has shifted dramatically. With the global spread of COVID-19, companies have been forced to make unprecedented decisions about their operations and their employees.
Many companies scrambled to move to a 100% work-from-home model or adjust their services to provide delivery or no-contact pick-up. Grocery stores, however, were deemed an essential service in the U.S. These businesses needed to find a way for customers to continue accessing their products and stores while keeping employees and communities safe.
Buehler’s Fresh Foods, an upscale grocery retailer with 13 locations in Ohio, has worked over the past month to ensure it’s not only stepping up to support its communities, but also its dedicated employees.
“We've had a lot of changes, we've had to adjust to a lot,” says Yvonne Monea, VP of HR at Buehler’s. “Staffing and stocking is a big focus, along with keeping all our employees safe and healthy, helping them through the long hours that they're working, and appreciating their commitment and dedication.”
When the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in early March, grocery stores were flooded with people looking to stock up on essentials. “It was just a barrage of customers, coming to shop at our stores. It felt like it was the day before Thanksgiving or the day before Christmas, not the middle of March,” says Monea.
An immediate need for Buehler’s was to communicate to all employees about steps that were being taken to support them. Monea says the priority was to provide timely and up-to-date communications. “Our CEO immediately put a statement out, and we used Dayforce to blast that communication to all employees. In the first two weeks, we sent about eight different blasts out about various important communication topics, and we had a lot of good feedback that employees were able to keep up with what was going on,” she says.
Once the initial impact of the situation had settled, and it became clear that everyone would need guidance on how to adjust to the new normal, Monea and her team worked to create a library of communications and content for employees to leverage. This includes COVID-19 resources and FAQs for employees, and training on flattening the curve through various sanitation protocols.
“We created a library in Dayforce Learning for COVID-19, which houses all the learning materials and communications that we need to get out to the entire workforce,” said Monea. “We have all the blasts the CEO has put out, along with memos about different protocols that are being taken in stores such as temporarily discontinuing self-serve doughnuts in the bakery, or sanitizing the deli counters every hour, or putting tape on the floor to keep customers six feet back.”
Tracking these communications in Dayforce has also helped Buehler’s managers save about an hour on their weekly calls, as they have quick access to all content that has gone out to employees the prior week.
As the pandemic progressed, it became clear that restaurants needed to close in order to slow the spread of the virus. Buehler’s employs 227 workers at its various restaurants, and when the temporary closure of those restaurants was announced, Buehler’s was able to retain those restaurant employees by redeploying them to help with the demand at the grocery stores.
“We've made many sanitation protocols within each department in the stores. When our restaurants closed, we had over 200 employees that we were able to redeploy throughout our stores to help with those sanitation protocols,” says Monea.
Employees have also been working to handle the increasing demand for “Click, Load and Go” (CLAG) curbside pickup orders that are coming through online, as shoppers increasingly try to avoid physically going into stores.
“There are only so many slots per hour that customers can book to pick up their groceries. There's a personal shopper shopping for the groceries, and then we have to store the groceries and make sure they are refrigerated or frozen, and then somebody has to watch the pickup line to take the groceries out,” says Monea of the process. “That business has swelled. To manage that, we've had to hire more employees and deploy some of our restaurant employees to this area.”
Buehler’s is looking to increase their available CLAG time slots doubling them in some locations.
In order to ensure new and redeployed employees are trained properly on how to gather, store, and deliver CLAG orders, Buehler’s has tasked a salaried manager who is working from home with onboarding and training these employees through Dayforce Onboarding. “She can take a new employee through the onboarding process remotely. It saves the in-store managers valuable time while things are so busy,” explains Monea.
From the beginning, Buehler’s position is that if an employee is uncomfortable or unable to work for any reason, that employee should not feel obligated to. “We don't care what the reason is for being unable or uncomfortable working through this; our commitment is to keep all of our employees. We've not laid anybody off, and they all have their jobs whenever this craziness is over,” Monea says.
“You can't make decisions if you don't have good reports,” says Monea. “We created a code so we could track which employees are inactive in our system, and I can run a report every week for our management to show by location and by department who is off because of COVID-19. With this information we're able to move people around as needed, and track that really easily.”
The challenge, however, is that as the virus continues to peak in Ohio, more and more employees are becoming unable to work, or feel uncomfortable working. Monea saw this potential issue coming and has advised managers at the store level to look into hiring additional workers to fill the gap. “There are a lot of people from other companies and industries that have been laid off, and we can look to potentially attract them in,” she says.
Throughout this ordeal, Monea says she has been so impressed with the commitment and resilience of the Buehler’s employees. “There are just so many people that are stepping up to the challenge, and not running away. It's a beautiful thing to see. It really reflects the commitment of our employees,” she adds.
To show appreciation to employees for their unwavering service, Buehler’s President and CEO, Dan Shanahan, announced that the company will be giving over $250,000 in appreciation pay to all employees as they continue to work during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I always knew that we had great employees and seeing them come together through this has been very rewarding. They've been able to implement all of the sanitation protocols, get the product stocked as fast as possible, and work some long hours, all with smiles on their faces and excited about the sales,” said Monea.
Buehler’s being an employee-owned company, a great sense of pride and commitment has shone through. “It's amazing how they've banded together as teams, and just made stuff happen. I stand back in awe of our managers and our employees that are committed to getting things done.”
As a leader during a time of crisis, Monea advises to not only show strength and resolve, but to also be open to suggestions and allow for flexibility to address unforeseen situations.
“The priorities shifted really fast a couple of weeks ago to all things COVID. I feel that as an HR leader, you have to be creative and you have to be flexible, while still being compliant,” says Monea. “Be open to suggestions and feedback from all levels, whether it's a bagger, or a director, or a customer. Be prepared to change, because in order to get through this, there will have to be a lot of changes and adjustments. If you don't have the flexibility or are not open to change, it's going to be a long few months.”