Cross-Training: An Effective Strategy for Building a Leaner, More Flexible Retail & Hospitality Workforce

man with hospitality cart and mask

As some states ease their COVID-19 restrictions, retailers and hotels are re-opening their doors to shoppers and guests. This is great news for your business, but it comes with its own unique set of workforce challenges. In accordance with government-mandated health and safety guidelines, you’re likely operating at reduced capacity, (25% - 75% of maximum occupancy), depending on your location and its reopening phase. Since total occupancy includes employees, you need to find a way to staff your stores or properties with fewer team members while still delivering the exceptional service experience your customers have come to expect. 

More and more businesses are addressing pandemic-related staffing challenges by cross-training their employees in multiple operational roles or functions. Cross-training gives you greater flexibility in managing the workforce to get the job done — especially in reopening phases when you can have fewer team members scheduled at one time. Looking ahead, it’s an effective strategy for creating an agile workforce that can deliver great service — even in times of disruption — for leaner, more efficient operations. 

In my role as a Kronos® solution consultant, I work with retail and hospitality companies that are successfully leveraging cross-training to not only respond to COVID-19 challenges, but also to create a more flexible, efficient, and engaged workforce moving forward. Let me share some of the ways cross-training can benefit your organization and how workforce management technology can help optimize its effectiveness.

Stay agile to weather any circumstances

If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s to expect the unexpected. Scheduling to demand is a challenge under the best of circumstances, but when you factor in unplanned absences, turnover, and COVID-related staffing limits, things get complicated fast. Cross-training not only supports more flexible scheduling, but also helps managers respond more effectively to last-minute changes like team member call-outs or sudden spikes in demand. At the same time, it gives associates the opportunity to learn new things and work more hours, so they’re more likely to stay engaged and stick around. 
Consider a sporting goods store with four departments: apparel, footwear, equipment, and check-out. If associates are cross-trained to work in all these departments, chances are they can pick up more hours if they want them. Even if an employee can only get 20 hours per week as a cashier, they may be able to sign up for an additional shift in footwear or apparel to earn more money. In addition, because cross-trained employees are more knowledgeable about products and policies throughout the store, they’re in a better position to cross-sell goods and deliver excellent service — all of which is good for business. 

You can make productive use of downtime by using it as an opportunity to cross-train your staff. If traffic is slow, have your footwear associate shadow a team member in sports equipment to learn the ropes. The footwear associate gets to expand their skills and increase their value to the organization, while the sports equipment associate gains manager recognition and the chance to share his or her knowledge and experience. The shadowing model is also a great way to foster teamwork and build positive employee relationships on the job.

Improve efficiency with cloud scheduling 

Cloud scheduling is gaining traction as a way to optimize labor utilization and drive operational efficiency. With this scheduling model, a retail or hospitality company might group together several properties within a specific geographic region and share employees across these locations. 

A centralized scheduler creates schedules for each property and fills the shifts from the employee pool based on availability, preferences, skills, certifications, and experience. This approach enables the scheduler to even out schedules across locations, giving employees more opportunities to work and helps managers deliver a more consistent guest experience. It’s similar in concept to the distribution industry’s just-in-time inventory strategy, in which goods are stored in a centralized location and shipped to locations as needed. Both strategies increase operational efficiency and reduce waste for better business outcomes. increase operational efficiency and reduce waste for better business outcomes. 

It’s important to note that the labor sharing model requires employees to be cross-trained from the get-go. The hotel group, for example, may include multiple brands, each of which has different operating policies and procedures that need to be followed. In this case, it makes more sense to conduct employee cross-training as part of the onboarding process, so employees are prepared to work in any of the properties from the start of their employment. 

How workforce management technology can help

There are several ways in which workforce management technology can help you take full advantage of a cross-trained workforce while driving compliance, payroll accuracy, and employee engagement. 

First of all, your workforce management technology can capture and record employee time accurately, including hours worked, rest and meal breaks, and any transfers. Since cross-trained team members may work in different jobs that pay different rates, you need to make sure your system supports multiple pay codes per employee to ensure accurate paychecks. 

From a scheduling perspective, you want a system that’s intelligent enough to help you best utilize your cross-trained employees. Modern workforce management solutions can align your workload with the people you have available to work in multiple segments throughout the day. For example, let’s say a hotel hired an employee to work a full eight-hour shift as a front-desk associate, but data shows that reception is only busy for the first six hours of that shift on weekdays. Your system should be able to identify demand in other areas of the property and assign that employee to another job, such as hostess in the lobby restaurant, for the last two hours of the shift. Some solutions even let you configure rules that stipulate an employee needs to work in one job for a specified number of hours before they can be transferred to a different job. 

As employees learn new skills, earn certifications, or renew licenses, you can store and track that information in your workforce management system. In some cases, this employee data can be leveraged to build scheduling requirements, making sure you have associates with the right skills on the sales floor when necessary or that employees scheduled to drive the shuttle are all operating with valid licenses. 

Flex your workforce muscle with cross-training

While cross-training offers particular advantages as your store or property reopens, it may be a strategy worth considering for the long term as well. A flexible, cross-trained staff can help you stay lean and efficient, adapt to changing market needs, and deliver at consistently high service levels. Kronos is ready to assist you with innovative workforce management strategies and technologies so your organization can re-emerge stronger in a post-COVID world.