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Is Your Workforce Ready for Recovery?

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For months, COVID-19 vaccines have been available in the U.S. Experts initially said that it would take the better part of a year before we would get the pandemic under control and life could go back to normal; now, many businesses are wondering if it ever will. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Harvard Gazette that if 75 to 80 percent of Americans receive the vaccine, then by the end of 2021, we’d reach some semblance of normality. That was back in December of 2020, nearly a year ago. Since then, we’ve seen shifts in the labor market and consumer trends, both of which have affected the way restaurants and retailers do business. If the definition of normal has changed, then what does recovery even look like now? And is your workforce ready for it?

Getting Your Workforce Ready for Recovery

Your decisions today have an impact on the future – both for your business and for your workforce. What you do now is going to have an impact on your ability to hit the ground running when the time is right. For a few businesses, COVID-19 brought new revenue and markets. But for the majority of businesses dependent on labor, times have been tough.

Tip: If you’re in the food service business, you may find our guide to dealing with the restaurant labor shortage useful.

Chances are, your supply chains and vendors have also suffered, making it difficult to get back to “normal.” You may be struggling to make ends meet or to move the needle on your profit margins. To survive the pandemic, you may have had to change your business model and explore new revenue streams. You may have had to scale down business operations. Or perhaps you adopted technology in haste even though it didn’t integrate with your POS or other solutions. Finally, you may have had to let go of some staff, only to find them unavailable or uninterested when you were ready to rehire.

All that is going to be in the rearview mirror eventually; it’s just a matter of time. For now, ask yourself: is your current workforce ready for recovery, and if not, what’s left to be done? If you’re not sure, keep reading. We’ll help you get there.

Planning for Recovery

Before we get into next steps, here’s a few things to keep in mind while planning out the next several months:

Some businesses have been more affected than others

Is your business in any of these categories?

Retail and grocery

Food service

Commercial food service (~75% of food service industry)

  • Restaurants
  • Catering
  • Prepared food retail
  • vending machines

Institutional food service

  • Stadiums and clubs
  • Airlines
  • Cruises
  • Schools and universities
  • Child-care facilities
  • Military facilities
  • Health-care facilities and hospitals
  • Businesses

Hospitality

  • Hotels
  • Motels
  • Resorts
  • Bed and breakfast inns
  • Ski lodges
  • Casino hotels
  • Cabins and cottages

If so, you’ve probably been hit harder: that’s because your business relies on labor and high customer satisfaction. As you think about your plans for the next year, remember that you need happy employees in order to have happy customers.

Recognize and accept that normal is different and recovery will be, too

By now, you’ve probably begun to realize that recovery isn’t going to be a quick process. So much has changed since 2019. To keep up, businesses have had to adapt and evolve. But remember: you’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way. You may have learned how to get things done with a distributed team or while shorthanded, for example.

Take a moment to jot down all the positives and negatives. Both your major successes and failures. They say history is bound to repeat itself, but if you go into the next few months with eyes open and those memories fresh, it doesn’t have to.

The pandemic broke through some cultural and technological barriers

The pandemic managed to do something that many of the world’s change management and digital transformation consultants envy. It broke through cultural and technological barriers that have resisted remote working and slowed down digital transformation efforts for years. As time goes on, you can expect a wider variety of options when it comes to online tech. This means more flexibility in how you structure your teams and get work done. That’s a good thing! What you thought was your only option 18 months ago almost certainly isn’t now.

Tips for Getting Your Workforce Ready for 2022 and Beyond

Being ready for recovery means having your workforce on the same page, all working toward your goals. It means having a plan in place to fill skill gaps and job roles that might still be empty. It may even mean having a plan in place to replace processes or tech that you now realize aren’t a good fit for your business.

So, what does it take to get your workforce ready for the next several months? Here are 6 tips to help you align your workforce, communicate your goals, and close gaps:

1. Make sure you’re keeping up with business trends and forecasts, and align your workforce planning with your business strategies

Trying to understand the post pandemic world of business is a good place to start if you haven’t already. If you’re serving consumers directly, it’s important to know how the pandemic changed consumer perceptions and behaviors over the past year. Are there ways you can pivot your business model to meet shifting consumer demands? If you’re not sure, take a look at what industry leaders and some of your local competitors are doing. For example, in the grocery industry, we’ve seen heavy adoption of the “grocerant” model. Whatever you decide, though: make sure your workforce planning and technology are in alignment with your goals.

2. Keep communicating your business plans with your workforce

In our article on how good communication contributes to a ready workforce, we recommended being transparent and honest with employees. That still holds true, even if the COVID-19 situation has largely stabilized. And don’t forget to check in with and keep track of former team members, too. They’re still your next best option for rehire – if not now, then possibly in the future. Reboarding is always easier and more cost effective than hiring new staff. Your rehires are also likely to be more workforce ready, too.

3. Create a skills inventory for your workforce and plan ahead

A skills inventory is a fancy term for listing out all the skills, education, and experience of your current employees. With a skills inventory, you’ll be able to identify ongoing or potential gaps that need to be filled. This, in turn, will allow you to plan out steps for filling those gaps before they become a real problem. Knowing your skill gaps, critical skills, and capabilities and how to replenish them quickly will also help you stay flexible.

4. Know what changed for your business

Did your supply chains change significantly this past year? How about liquidity and finance? Did your technology help you or hurt you? Each of these has an impact on your business and can affect your plans for the future. If there were big changes to how you operate, you may need to redefine your performance metrics, as well.

5. Try to achieve the best of both worlds – pre and post pandemic

What new ways of working, or new technologies, should you retain in the post-pandemic era? Which should be dropped or traded out for something better? Make sure you have a plan in place for reviewing both and for cutting off the fat, if need be. A mistake businesses often make is to double-down on a bad solution in the hopes it’ll be a better fit later. Don’t fall into that trap.

6. Take care of your employees and understand their needs

Keep a close eye on well-being and productivity of your employees over the next several months. With the ongoing worker shortage, you can be sure they have other options out there: make sure yours is the best one. A good place to start is to make sure your employees have access to their work schedules and time cards online or through a labor management mobile app.

More Tips to Get Your Workforce Ready

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