July 2, 2020

3 Keys for an Employer’s Smooth Transition to the New Normal

Business as usual has changed as a result of the current pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders. As companies forge a path ahead, they must have the right tools in place to ease the transition to our new normal. Contact tracing and absence management have become critical transition tools. Perhaps even more importantly, employers will need to recruit and retain employees to successfully emerge from what has been, in some cases, a devastating blow to the workforce.

Contact Tracing

The World Health Organization (WHO) and other professionals in the infectious diseases field stress that when someone has an infectious disease, such as COVID-19, managing their potential for transmitting the illness to others is a challenge to public health. To reduce the spread of the disease, those who have had contact with an infected person should be notified as quickly as possible so they can receive appropriate care and self-isolate. Contact tracing is the process for monitoring people in close contact with someone infected. According to WHO this process is comprised of three steps:

  1. Contact Identification
  2. Contact Listing
  3. Contact Follow-up

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), contact tracing is essential to halting the chain of COVID-19 transmission. In the context of the workplace, without visibility into who was working when and with whom, this process can be cumbersome. Yet, access to information that can quickly identify employees who may have come into contact with an infected individual is business critical.

The question then becomes, how can a business effectively contact trace in an environment with a remote workforce or employees who transition from property to property or location to location?

There certainly is no one-size-fits-all solution. In one instance, a company in Holland, Michigan developed contact tracing badges as a prevention tool. These badges are programmed to vibrate when social distancing protocols have been breached. The process also allows for the storage of contact tracing information for 90 days. Employees simply wear the badge and, at the end of their shift, scan a QR code at a kiosk that stores the data. Although this may be a viable solution, it is still reliant on employees being proactive in the process and, therefore, subject to employee cooperation and participation. An alternative solution involves creating reports in existing software (time and attendance, ERP). By identifying common cost centers, properties or locations at specific dates and times, employers can track potential worker exposures by utilizing reports they already have available.

Absence & Schedule Management

As employers begin to rehire or resume staffing levels near normal, managing schedules and unexpected absences is more vital than ever. A recent survey conducted by the Workforce Institute at Kronos, Inc. showed 7% of labor hours are scheduled but not worked, resulting in a 7% direct impact on an organization’s labor budget. Alternatively, as a measure of reaction, the survey showed an average of 6% of labor hours worked but not scheduled (also known as worked but not needed).

The wider business impact of absenteeism is often hidden by the pure financial cost of labor. Financially, assuming employee contract terms dictate that employers pay only for hours worked, the cost of labor deployed is -1% of the planned labor budget (6% worked minus the 7% budgeted). On paper, this appears to be a financially positive labor cost savings; in reality, this means 13% of labor hours were not deployed as planned, indicating that alignment with customer demand has been compromised. Consequently, the 1% reduction in labor hours could easily translate into the 2% impact on bottom-line performance.

Building work schedules that accurately align with the demands of customers, businesses and employees is one of the most complex and time-consuming issues affecting managers. Modern workforce management solutions can simplify the forecasting and labor scheduling process by determining accurate demand forecasts built upon historical data, known events and algorithms. These tools, now aided by new machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques, can enhance accuracy and provide direction in optimizing the deployment of workers.

Accurate labor planning begins with an accurate demand forecast, using budgeting functionality in workforce management solutions. When creating a subsequent staffing plan, employers must take the time to understand regional factors affecting recruitment, deployment and retention. Labor analytics can provide insight into the causes and correlations of absences while enabling managers to be proactive in mitigating and reducing their impact. Using these labor analytics will aide in evaluating historical trends and spikes in unplanned needs for on-call or emergency maintenance work. While seasonality may play a pivotal role in scheduling, having the data and analytics to make more informed will help.

Gone are the days of schedules written on a bulletin board; instead there are real-time alerts delivered directly to an employee’s mobile device. Employers are putting the power in the palm of the employee’s hand, and it’s resulting in increased productivity and a more engaged workforce. Employers that directly and efficiently deliver solutions and schedule reminders to their employees are reaping the rewards.

As employees are more likely now than ever to report directly to a job site or remote property, communication between manager and employee is essential. Leverage technology to ensure the correct employees and appropriate number of employees with the appropriate skills are at the right job or correct property at the appropriate time.

Knowing the data and identifying trends and anomalies is vital to strategic decision making. Likewise, in today's environment, it is critical to have a workforce management software (aka time and attendance) to alleviate the manual steps associated with scheduling and analytics. Current technology should address some of these key components of schedule and absence management:

  • Approvals and communication between employee and manager
  • Staffing level needs, including specific skills needed
  • Shift swapping with or without manager involvement
  • Transparency to employees on schedule performance
  • Across-year and pay-period reporting
  • Mobile or other smart device functionality

Recruitment & Retention

Turnover can be extremely expensive when lost productivity and replacement costs are considered. With the recent changes in the labor market, many companies are struggling to recruit and retain employees. Today’s employees are less committed to companies than they were 20 years ago, and millennials, for example, will typically stay at a job for fewer than three years. The question then becomes, how do employers combat the statistics?

Job seekers desire a streamlined, user-friendly recruitment process. Employers can easily offer this by taking advantage of internet-based recruiting and job-posting apps that make it easier for applicants to apply on their mobile devices. Employers can increase retention and enrich the employee experience by offering referral incentives or on-the-job perks, such as team lunches for achieving desired operational metrics.

On-the-job perks and benefits are highly valued. Millennials value company culture, community involvement and benefits as much as, if not more so than, pay according to many recent surveys. Consider your contributions to the communities you operate in and use those as opportunities to highlight during the recruiting process.

Amid COVID-19 many are now financially surviving day to day rather than paycheck to paycheck. As a result, many companies are offering early access to pay to replace the outdated and sometimes controversial payday loans. This is just one example of some of the new benefits that help employers stand out as they search for talent.

Above all, communication is a key component of employee satisfaction and retention, whether it involves discussions regarding performance and quality of work or a career path within the organization. Employees are more likely to stick around if they’re aware of the opportunities for advancement and know what actions they should take to reach their career goals. Simple questions can help employers understand what is important to employees. Is it work-life balance? Community involvement by the company? Great benefits?

Finally, it is essential to hold managers accountable for retaining workers. Positive working relationships between managers and direct reports are critical not only to the success of the business but also to achieve a content, cohesive and productive workforce. Ensure you are providing the necessary resources to your management team so they are equipped and enabled to do their part in retaining staff.

The two components that most managers value most are coaching and technology. Coaching in the field of work is vastly different than coaching in an office environment. Invest in training for your management team to help them learn the art of feedback and performance management, but ensure your training is adaptable to coaching on the fly. Technology helps a manager see employee progression or ensures that conversations are documented properly. For employees who change job sites often, having technology that will allow managers to see each other’s notes about the progression in performance of an individual will provide for a more cohesive plan for improving and maximizing employee performance.