Re-entering the workforce

As restrictions ease and industries prepare for their return to work, employers are faced with management challenges including re-hiring employees who have been furloughed or in some instances laid-off, and training and communicating new safety compliance protocols, as well as adapting to new scheduling considerations.

These challenges are business-oriented but also deeply personal and situational, as individual employee lifestyles and circumstances have drastically changed – some are caring for extended family members, facilitating childcare, or emerging from total isolation. Organisations need to therefore ensure they have new measures in place that cater to these varying requirements and prepare the ‘new normal’ of work.

Ensuring a safe working environment is more important – and feels more daunting – than ever. However, rapid advances in workforce management and human capital management (HCM) technologies that leverage emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will allow organisations to streamline certain aspects of re-entry by automating or replacing manual processes and extending management’s capabilities.

These technologies use forecasting algorithms to create optimal schedules, enabling managers to accurately forecast demand and align labour accordingly. Additionally, insights are provided into how many employees are scheduled, where they will be locationally and at what time, to ensure adherence of safety guidelines from governmental and health officials, while also providing insights on labour shortages.

Ensuring employee safety: contact tracing and containing exposure

The threat of infection is still very real. When or if an employee tests positive or is presumed positive for COVID-19, it’s vital to immediately begin the process of contact tracing in the workplace. This is a globally recognised method of identifying and monitoring people who have been in close contact with someone who is infected.

While the government is still working on its contact tracing tool, it’s crucial that organisations have the capability to take action on protective measures. In the workplace, while we are dealing with a far smaller population than the entire country, the process is just as cumbersome without visibility into who was working when and with whom. If you ask an employee to list every person they worked with over the last two weeks, it’s very likely someone would be forgotten. Consulting labour schedules has its limitations, too: if an employee works an unscheduled shift, they wouldn’t be accounted for. These are critical gaps.

Workforce data is the key. With a digital tool to analyse that data, organisations can quickly and accurately identify who worked at the same time and same location as an afflicted employee based on time clock punches and attendance data collected by their workforce management system. Automating what would otherwise be a manual (and less accurate) process, this approach will allow employers to immediately remove potential contacts – even if they are asymptomatic – from the schedule and give proper direction (e.g., encourage self-quarantine protocols, increase frequency of cleanings) to reduce risk of an outbreak at work.

Adhering to new protocols

Getting people back to work safely relies on an organisation’s willingness to introduce a broad set of safety protocols, such as workplace policies around social distancing; scheduling protocols to reduce people density and limit intermingling; and increased measures to sanitise workspaces.

While the onus is on each organisation to develop its own plan for re-opening, it will benefit leaders to consider how their existing workforce management toolset can automate the various safety protocols and processes they decide to put in place.

For instance, restricting the number of employees allowed on premise at once; staggering shifts and breaktimes to minimise crowding in high traffic areas; adjusting shifts to allow extra time for disinfecting surfaces or equipment, or for dressing in protective wear; and creating scheduling groups and assigning the same individuals to the same shifts—a practical method for containing exposure.

Coping with labour shortages

With everyone experiencing disruption to their schedules, whether that is down to changes in the way they have to work or the way their children are having to be schooled at present, it is likely many employees may not be able to work the same amount of hours they normally would. Adding to this, many organisations are likely to see a rise in employee sickness due to COVID-19. Knowing exactly how many people in the workforce are available for work and identifying who they are is critical to be able to ensure there is the right number of employees to cope with demand.

But implementing various shift controls should not put production schedules, customer service, or patient care at risk – nor put undue administrative burden on managers. Modern scheduling systems will instead have the capacity to automatically balance staffing plans with volume, demand, and other variable trends, and identify the right set of people who are available for work based on scheduling preferences, real-time availability, and skill requirements. With this technology, organisations are able to carefully plan employee schedules to optimise resources and minimise the impact of a shrunken workforce or fragmented availability on productivity or service levels.

Employee and organisational wellbeing facilitated by technology

There are many uncertainties in the world right now and COVID-19 has posed a workplace crisis. While no one is certain of the rules and regulations that will stand for returning to work, one thing that stands true – workforce management technologies matter now more than ever. The right tools and technologies can assist with critical information needed to make decisions and aid in safety and compliance for the organisations that have already begun returning to work and those that will resume operations in the months to come.

The key element as industries return to work will be to focus on employee wellbeing as well as organisational wellbeing. Ensuring employees’ physical and mental wellbeing are protected is paramount and managers need to ensure they have the right tools and insights at their disposable in order to achieve this.

[1] “Retailers still pessimistic despite lockdown exit – CBI” by Elias Jahshan, June 25, 2020

[2] “79% UK retail landlords say Covid-19 permanently changes leasing terms” by Sahar Nazir, May 12, 2020