The world of retail is no stranger to change. Retailers are experts in overcoming hurdles while managing to stay relevant and successful.
In light of COVID-19, this is now being tested more than ever. We have seen many retailers across the world take dramatic steps to prevent the spread of the pandemic by closing stores, reducing hours, all while communicating openly with customers. It has also been heartening to see many retailers maintain exemplary communications, pay, and benefits for their employees despite having to shutter physical locations.
As well, some grocery stores are dedicating certain hours for those more vulnerable, to ensure a well-stocked store and low populated areas to reduce contagious spread.
The retail workforce has undoubtedly taken a hit – and employers and employees alike are most definitely feeling the effects. From layoffs and furloughs to reduced hours and remote work, the future seems uncertain.
There are actions retailers can take right now to effectively manage the workforce during this strange and unprecedented time. Here are a few tactics for retailers to consider during this pandemic.
While this may go without saying, as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, you must treat your employees as your internal customers. This is especially critical during a time of crisis – how you manage and treat your employees during times like these indicates how your company is positioned as a corporate citizen.
If you have to lay people off or furlough employees to maintain the health of your business, you need to work with your business leaders to establish a consistent, clear, and sensitive message. The COVID-19 pandemic is a very personal issue as it will affect many peoples’ personal lives, so maintaining a consistent message across the organisation will help protect brand image along with morale.
Don’t shut your employees out. Now is the time to over-communicate, be clear about your plans, and help employees understand why some hard decisions have to be made.
Brick-and-mortar retail is a very high-touch, human interactive field. During this time, it’s critical to ensure your employees are social distancing as best they can while at work, and away from work. Specifically, most grocery stores remain open during this time, meaning many (likely hourly) employees are still working.
Here are some things you can do to promote social distancing:
Limit the number of customers that can be in the store at any given time. This promotes proper social distancing.
Follow and abide by WHO guidelines for proper social distancing – if your business is non-essential, certain retailers may be mandated to close to ensure the safety of employees.
If you haven’t already, move all HR, payroll, and time tracking functionality to digital as much as possible, like switching from paper cheque to direct deposit. Mobile and web clock technologies let employees punch in from their own devices or a web-enabled device, and other forms of self-service will help reduce amount of human interaction. Consider implementing flextime to stagger employees and reduce amount of time they spend together.
Lean into digital commerce wherever possible. As time progresses, consumers will begin to feel more comfortable spending money on what’s deemed as ‘non-essential’ retail – and ecommerce is a safe avenue to do this, as reported by Essential Retail. While we’ve been seeing retailers working to harmonise the digital and physical consumer experience, COVID-19 will surely accelerate retailers’ transition into an omni-channel approach. Train and empower employees to support online shoppers to handle the volume as it is likely to increase. As we know, superior customer experience and service transcends channels – that’s how the best brands set themselves apart.
Be open and transparent about the status of employees’ payroll. As we know from Ceridian’s 2019 UK Pay Experience Report, keeping your employees informed and up to date on their payroll situation maintains trust amongst employees. It’s also important to make sure your employees are equipped with the proper information on how they are paid and the way in which they are paid.
Encourage your people to leverage electronic direct deposits as much as possible. There are many benefits to moving from paper cheques to electronic direct deposits – namely reducing the amount of human interaction. As well, electronic deposits eliminate lag and delay in payroll processing, avoids the administration of transacting deposits, provides more flexibility in real-time access, enables on-demand pay access, options for free checking accounts (i.e. online banks), and further reduces overall costs and efforts. If electronic direct deposit is not a possibility for your employees, employers should switch to delivering checks at home. Now more than ever, employees need flexibility in managing their finances, and doing so using HCM technologies and on-demand pay software lessens the burden.
As well, using HCM technologies, employees who are working from home have easy and quick access to their personal information, including paystubs and tax forms, and can easily access their calendar and time-off requests should they need to. These technologies can also act as learning and resource hubs and can help employees stay in the loop with the organisation, their teams, and peers, thus helping with productivity and engagement.
Most businesses should have a crisis plan – but in this unprecedented situation, things are changing daily, including federal legislations. If a retailer needs to do mass lay-offs or furloughs, the use of an effective HCM system can help employers more easily manage off-boarding and forecast what their company may look like after. And – HCM systems can be flexible enough to handle special pay codes and tracking to be prepared for absences during COVID-19, and for any federal relief for wages paid for non-work, training investments, etc.
It is also inevitable that there is going to be a major uptick in workforce absences as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread – organisations must be prepared to cover for these absences. While we expect more details on government assistance to individuals and to retailers, retailers need to be prepared. Retailers should immediately start tracking hour and wage by a specific COVID-19 code identifier within their workforce management tool. This accounting will help with accessing compensation relief, and/or tax benefits.
Many retailers have been pushed into a new “normal”. Whether an urgency to reconcile their slow logistics and inventory systems investments, acceleration of their digital and BOPIS operations, faster shakeout of already failed models, etc., there will be no shortage of change to adapt to when all is said and done. There is no question that the ramifications of this new normal will persist and re-shape retail going forward.
It’s critical that retailers begin to develop a plan for when workers can get back to work in full operation mode, and to communicate this planning to all employees. It will be focused on mission critical projects but will re-evaluate processes and their supporting systems for scalability. Operations will need to continue complying with the lingering requirements when headcounts are reduced, while it begins to ramp up the business operations as stores re-open. Distribution centres and warehouses will be recovering from overload and burnout as they recover from the excessive demand during the pandemic. Lastly, HR will be left with a talent gap that will eventually need to be filled – how this is communicated will need to be handled with sensitivity.
To conclude, I think that many retailers have been exemplary in managing this crisis. I give kudos to all retailers as they navigate this strange, uncertain time.
Josh Hardie, the deputy director general of the CBI, said: “The need for business heroes has rarely been greater. Firms of all sizes and sectors have been bolstering the national efforts of the government and NHS in these testing times. By looking after their employees, combating medical shortages and supporting vital companies across the economy, firms are stepping up. We are all in this together.”