Blue Yonder is committed to helping its customers face the unexpected. To provide insights into the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its impact on supply chains around the world, we are delivering a blog series to help anyone looking for support and advice. Our experts, who have spent years in the supply chain industry, share their insights.

COVID-19 has impacted businesses in unique ways. While some are seeing huge spikes in demand, others are having to shut their doors temporarily to accommodate shelter at home orders and social distancing measures. The common theme at hand is that there was no way to predict this would happen.  But what will we do to make sure its impact can be accounted for in planning our labor for the future? How many associates do I need during the pandemic? Should I consider temp workers? Will I have to let associates go? Will things go back to ‘normal’ when the pandemic ends? When should I revisit staffing and hiring decisions?  These are all questions that retailers and manufacturers are asking themselves right now. Traditional systems were not built to adapt so rapidly to such a radical change in demand. It’s more critical than ever to have the right number of people staffed to meet your current demand and your future ‘new normal’ demand.

With a pandemic like COVID-19, the information available and necessary responses are rapidly changing. Our new normal might differ from before, but we can adapt and learn from it to better support our customers and associates. There are 3 key factors to keep in mind during and after this public health crisis for labor demand and scheduling:

  1. Listen to your employees
    • This is a trying time for your employees. There is the uncertainty of when and if they will get their next paycheck, and how this changing environment may impact their total hours. Therefore, it is important to understand the preferences of each employee and let them adapt as their lives change. In some situations, associates may be desperate to pick up extra shifts. In other situations, associates may have an underlying condition increasing their risk, which means they need to adapt to a different role or take a leave of absence during this crisis. Flexibility for your employees is crucial.   
  2. Adapt to the current environment
    • We are seeing new trends in the pandemic’s wake that are shifting the way people shop and how associates work. We not only need to consider employee preferences, but we also need to adapt to customer preferences. For example, this new wave of click and collect and order delivery will undoubtedly change how we schedule employees. I looked yesterday at getting a delivery of groceries. The next available window was 16 days out, which would not work to feed my family that evening. Instead, I got in my car and drove to the store instead. Consider if labor could adapt as rapidly to this changing environment.
  3. Plan for the future
    • Planning is critical in how businesses will come out of this ahead of the game. One thing we know is that once your business has adapted to the current environment, having an approach to planning will be one factor in how you come out of the crisis. Having the tools to know what part of this demand is dedicated to panic buying, and which part of the demand will stay steady will help businesses to know the right number of associates to employ, and the right roles needed to best serve their customers. 

None of this was expected, but how you react now will determine how your business will come out of this. Giving autonomy to your employees, to empower them to update their preferences, work the shifts and jobs they want, and the flexibility to change preferences in real-time to adapt to their situation is key. Businesses must adapt to their environment, and they need the right people, doing the right roles to service their customers. And lastly, we know that this pandemic will end, but when we come out of it, you need to understand how your business will be affected, and if you will be prepared to best serve your customers.