Come Together: Sharing Labor to Optimize Retail Scheduling

Emerging stronger post COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the retail industry by forcing nonessential businesses to close their doors in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. With storefronts shuttered, many retailers are generating far less revenue, forcing them to furlough associates in significant numbers. The good news is that many states are starting to ease restrictions and some stores are reopening — albeit with limited capacity and strict social distancing protocols to start. But will furloughed retail associates simply return to work when stores reopen? Not necessarily. Some employees may be reluctant to go back to work right away, especially if they have underlying medical conditions or vulnerable family members. Others may have taken jobs at essential businesses that were hiring during lock down. Employees with children may not be able to return to work while schools and daycare facilities remain closed. The bottom line is that retailers may find it challenging to staff stores as they begin their phased reopening. 

In this blog post, I’ll discuss how sharing labor can help your retail organization address this challenge and how technology can help you implement this strategy effectively.   

Sharing labor across locations and brands

Some chain retailers plan to tackle scheduling and staffing issues by sharing associates across store locations. That way, larger stores that can reopen with higher capacity can leverage associates from smaller, lower-occupancy stores that may not be able to bring as many employees back. This approach is a win-win for both employers and employees. It gives managers the flexibility to tap into a larger labor pool to fill shifts and it allows associates to get more hours as stores resume operations.  

Several large retailers are exploring sharing labor across not just stores, but brands, stated Scott Knaul, EVP of Retail Solutions for Workforce Insight, a leading workforce management consulting firm and trusted UKG Services Partner.  “Traditionally for many retail organizations, each brand has been an island unto itself in relation to stores, labor, and staffing. However, the pandemic is prompting multi-brand retailers to take a more holistic view of their organizational structures, labor models and break down artificial barriers that stand in the way of operational flexibility and efficiency.” While this strategy may require cross-training associates   on each brand’s systems, policies, and procedures, it could open up new possibilities for optimizing schedules in reopening phases and beyond. 

Back up your strategy with the right tools

There are a number of ways workforce management technology can facilitate the sharing of labor across locations and brands. You could have store managers post open shifts to all qualified associates across the district via the scheduling software. Team members can then use employee self-service tools to view the open shifts and sign up for the ones they want right on their mobile device. This not only empowers employees with more control over their schedules, but it also reduces the time managers spend on administrative tasks. 

Alternatively, you could take a centralized approach to scheduling across the district. In this scenario, a district scheduler creates schedules for each store, assesses the staffing at all locations, and fills the shifts with the associates from across the district based on availability and qualifications. Automated skills and certification tracking helps ensure that associates with the right training and experience are working in the right place at the right time. With centralized scheduling, locations no longer have to operate as silos. The district scheduler can even out schedules across stores, giving employees more opportunities to work and enabling managers to deliver a more consistent customer experience. 

Communication and cooperation are key

In order for labor sharing to work effectively, retailers must make communication a top priority. This starts with up-front conversations between managers and their associates. Managers need to inform associates that they may not get the hours they want if they choose to work in only one location. At the same time, managers can give associates a voice in the process — asking them when they’re available and where they’re willing to work — so they feel valued and heard. 

Communication between managers is equally important. When you’re first implementing labor sharing, you need to foster a spirit of cooperation — not competition — so everyone feels like they’re gaining flexibility rather than losing control. Establish a process for managers to share feedback on employee performance so they can identify issues or accomplishments and provide appropriate coaching or recognition. Effective communication will go a long way toward engaging and retaining employees even in the midst of change. 

Keep employees as safe as possible 

Because sharing labor across locations and brands involves mixing different employees on a daily basis, you’ll need to take steps to mitigate the risk of exposure to coronavirus. Taking temperatures, providing masks and gloves, and implementing rigorous cleaning and hygiene practices can help protect employees and provide a safe shopping experience for customers. UKG offers technology to support your COVID-19 response. Our attestation tools let you tailor messaging to ask associates whether protocols were followed or whether they felt safe and protected during their shift. Plus, our new employee contact tracing capability helps you quickly identify and communicate to employees who may have come in contact with a co-worker who has tested positive or is presumed positive for COVID-19.

At UKG, we’re working with retailers across the globe to emerge stronger from these uncertain times and drive successful outcomes. Feel free to reach out to us for practical guidance as you adjust your workforce strategies for the new normal.  

Learn more strategies for retailers to emerge stronger  


About Workforce Insight: 
Workforce Insight is a world leader in workforce optimization, delivering workforce management (WFM) and human capital management (HCM) advisory, analytics and technology services. Scott Knaul, EVP of Retail Solutions, leads Workforce Insight’s Retail & Hospitality Practice focused on helping clients adapt labor strategies, operating models, processes and technology to align staff with the changing demands of their business while delivering a consistent customer experience.