Tackling Disruption Head On: How to Foster More Agile Store Associates
COVID-19 has completely changed the job of the retail store associate, putting these frontline workers under more pressure than ever before. Many are concerned about their safety, worried about whether they will get sick and whether they will get those around them sick. They have to handle a variety of new tasks with minimal training, as many stores are implementing now-essential curbside pickup, BOPIS services, and more. And they have to handle frustrated customers who may dislike mask policies or other new or evolving COVID-19 rules.
All of this is happening while COVID-19 cases are on the rise all around the United States and Europe. It’s uncertain how profoundly this will impact retailers and retail employees, but it’s clear there is some further disruption to come. And while lockdowns are unlikely in the United States, an increase in cases will certainly change how customers shop in retail stores, and will diminish employee morale and productivity.
Expecting store associates to just adapt to all of this is setting them up for failure. Even prior to the pandemic, many store associates were frustrated by labor schedules that were inconsistent or inequitable, and didn’t feel that they were getting adequate training or support. These frustrations have only been magnified throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, taking these tensions and pushing them to the breaking point.
In the face of this turbulence, many retailers are taking steps to make their employees happier. H-E-B is giving $500 bonuses to each of its more than 120,000 employees, Target has increased its minimum wage to $15 an hour, and Lowe’s is giving out $100 million in bonuses to hourly employees. All of this goes a long way towards providing employees with support during increasingly stressful times.
In addition to these benefits, retailers can also provide store associates with tools and technology that give them the ability to be more agile and responsive to rapidly changing circumstances. Real-time store operations solutions can empower agility at the store-level, helping you create schedules that work better for store associates, and making it easier to communicate tasks and other critical information.
1. Create Schedules that Work Better for Store Associates
COVID-19 has dramatically changed how and when employees are available for their shifts. Many have to respond to distance learning needs, supervising children at home. Many also have to take care of sick or elderly relatives who are high-risk for COVID-19 and cannot leave the house. Many may also be high-risk themselves and want to limit or move their shifts to accommodate personal needs. All of this makes labor scheduling incredibly volatile, increasing absenteeism and making it harder to adequately staff your stores.
Intelligent workforce management can address many of these challenges, creating optimized labor forecasts and schedules that account for key drivers such as customer traffic, sales, and in-store workload. These solutions also automatically factor in employee availability, skillsets, alternate work sites, and other preferences, a feature that is especially useful during disruptive periods where employees’ personal responsibilities are in flux. They also enable retailers to schedule an employee across multiple stores, making it easier to accommodate rapidly changing employee preferences and needs.
Used alongside intelligent workforce management, employee self-service solutions can streamline any changes that need to be made to labor schedules. If a store associate cannot line up child care or has to take care of an elderly relative, they can simply request time off using their mobile device. Managers get real-time visibility into all time-off and shift-swap requests on their own mobile devices, and can approve them with the touch of a button. All changes are automatically reflected in the updated labor schedule. This can make a big difference during periods of disruption, simplifying the process of managing and modifying labor schedules.
All of this works to make store associates more agile while on the sales floor. If they’re not worried about caring for children or relatives, if their availability and preferences are taken into consideration, and if they can easily modify their schedules, they are far more likely to be motivated, productive, and adaptive while working their shifts. It’s also more likely that they’ll have the support they need both from other store associates and from their managers. If schedules are properly staffing your stores, associates will be able to not only complete their daily tasks, but quickly respond to other unexpected tasks when needed.
2. Simplify Communication Across Your Organization
Keeping store associates informed is an essential part of responding to any major disruption. Employees need immediate access to the most up-to-date safety information, as well as any changes to store policies such as occupancy limits or modified store hours. They need access to the latest training documentation, whether it’s procedures for new curbside pickup services or what the cleanliness procedures are at point-of-sale. Without this information, store associates might not be able to carry out essential safety-related tasks, which poses a massive risk to both your staff and to customers.
With mobile access to real-time communication and task management solutions, you can streamline the process of sending critical messages across the organization. Real-time communication solutions enable instant peer-to-peer messaging and group chats, cutting down on inbox clutter and funneling all messaging through one single application. They give you the ability to create distribution lists and templates for recurring communication, making it easy to set up weekly or daily messages, keeping all relevant employees up-to-date on the latest safety procedures and policies.
These solutions also simplify the process of training your store associates on new or updated tasks in the store. If newly-hired store associates aren’t sure exactly what the procedure is for cleaning the point-of-sale after a purchase, or don’t know how or when to refill hand sanitizer stations, they can send a quick message to their managers, who can then respond from anywhere in the store.
Store associates can also use real-time task management solutions to send a picture of a planogram, for example, or a message to their managers when they complete a task. Managers can use this information to verify that tasks have been completed correctly, and can respond if associates need additional information to fix any mistakes and improve performance in the future. This helps make store associates more agile, simplifying the process of learning new procedures and executing new tasks.
For more insight into how you can foster agile store associates during disruptive times, check out RSR’s recent white paper, “Workforce and Compliance Management in the Age of Disruption”.