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Frontline Workforce Management During the Pandemic

In today's post, we asked three Kronos Workforce Dimensions Technology Partners to share the lessons they are learning about frontline workforce management during the pandemic: Butterfly on frontline engagement, SYRG on staffing levels, and Widget Brain on scheduling.  

Managing a business with frontline workers during a global pandemic is extremely difficult. Employers need to rethink their operations from small gestures to fundamental assumptions. Below, our contributors respond to three questions that employers with frontline hourly workforces are asking themselves, or being asked by their leadership teams and boards. 

How should organizations approach hiring to meet changing and unpredictable needs?  

For companies that have just gone through furloughs and layoffs, are facing financial insecurity, and have no model for what the future holds, the intuition may be to conservatively rehire and to staff stores leanly. This will prove to be a dangerous mistake. We now live in a world where demand is unpredictable and employee availability and willingness to work is ever-changing. Employers who respond slowly will find themselves fighting last month's fires, unable to take advantage of emerging opportunities. 

Leaders should consider embracing a staffing model based on the United States Army Reserves, with a pool of trained staff at the ready to be activated on-demand. 

Companies cannot afford to only focus on active employees. They need to re-engage furloughed employees, rehire former employees, hire seasonal workers, and activate applicants. Some may even enter workforce sharing agreements with other companies. To enable all of these employee populations proactively, employers must make training and certification more accessible, simple, and digital. Just as importantly, they need to make it easy for frontline managers to quickly tap into this new workforce asset as needs arise. 

Companies have little choice. In an uncertain, unpredictable world, they need to leverage their total talent network to meet evolving needs.  

What can be done to keep frontline employees engaged in these challenging times? 

Acknowledgment and recognition goes a long way, whether it be from a manager or someone very senior within the organization.  Humility and appreciation from leadership can help make coming into work every day–and possibly putting themselves at risk–feel more worth it.  

Here are the top ways to help incorporate acknowledgement and recognition into management culture: 

  • Say thanks. You understand the risks and sacrifices the people coming to work everyday are making. Show it! Say it directly to each team member via text, email or safely face-to-face. 
  • Hear and respond to feedback. Timely insights from your frontline workforce are vital. When you respond to feedback quickly, employees are more willing to speak up going forward. 
  • Join them in their day-to-day. See what your frontline employees experience daily to catch challenges you'd otherwise miss. Things change quickly, so try doing this frequently. 
  • Celebrate them across your company. Remind people who aren't on the frontlines what things are like for these employees right now. Send kudos via email to everyone across the business. 
  • Extend perks, if possible. Can you provide these employees with lunches or expand company discounts? Acknowledge their efforts by matching them with your own. 

How can fatigue and safety be factored into scheduling? 

Employees are the lifeblood of an organization. Managing fatigue and burnout is more important than ever in the current climate, as their physical, mental, and overall well being translates to the quality of their work and the success of the organization. While this can be a daunting task as a manager or business leader, it's important to consider all aspects of the situation.

That means leaders should be factoring in the new and incremental burdens their workers face: increased emphasis on tasks (cleaning, sanitizing, restocking); extra stressors (caring for family members); and extra demands (new store hours, fewer available employees). Leveraging a modern workforce management solution is imperative to gain valuable insight into the factors needed to help make essential work as safe and comfortable as possible.  

Here are a few scheduling strategies to consider:  

  • A/B shifts: To minimize overlap and exposure across employees, an A/B shift model groups employees with the required skills to run the business and alternate with other fixed groups. 
  • Recognize & adjust to demand fluctuations. Your business most likely has a new and different demand pattern that is potentially causing stress and uncertainty for your workforce. It's critical to recognize, understand and respond to demand fluctuations. How can you improve if this week's demand repeats? Alternatively, what additional employees can you call in? Or how do you slim down labor hours while ensuring service levels and cleanliness when demand decreases?  
  • Enforce breaks, rest time between shifts, and employee preferences. Even though new measures can be taken, don't forget the basics! Frontline employees are giving their all right now, and expect their employer to continue to consider their needs and preferences where appropriate.  

About the partners featured in this post 

Butterfly is an employee engagement software built for the frontline workforce 

Syrg helps companies redeploy and extend their workforces 

Widget Brain helps companies optimize employee happiness, ensure compliance and improve business performance with our Workforce Optimization AI Services.  

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