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How to manage workers for the transition back to the workplace

Author David Palmieri, ADP
David Palmieri
David Palmieri is Division Vice President and General Manager at ADP.

Managing a workforce during any period of transition can be a difficult process, even during the best circumstances. Over the past 15 months, businesses have faced constant transition, adjusting operations to address the pandemic’s continuously evolving implications on the workplace. Although workforce management—the process of scheduling workers and tracking their time, attendance and absences—has always been a critical business function, its role is now more critical than ever as employers navigate the new world of work.

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As businesses reopen and introduce employees back into the physical workplace, workforce management solutions have broader applications. We’re seeing workforce management processes and technologies evolve in innovative ways to meet these new, pressing needs of businesses. Organizations must adjust their approach to tasks such as employee scheduling, skills management, timekeeping, attendance tracking and labor forecasting to bring employees back in a manner that provides all workers with the conditions they need to feel comfortable and protected.

Also see Requiring employees to return to the office? Get ready for them to quit

These considerations must be made across industries, as all businesses navigate the unique impact of the pandemic, from worker shortages in service industries to new hybrid schedules in traditional corporate settings. The pandemic has also encouraged many workers to demand more flexibility, from variable working hours to remote work from any location. This trend is pushing employers to reimagine their workplace practices to attract new talent and retain current employees.

While every company’s approach will be unique, one thing is clear: Workforce management has a key role to play in helping employees understand and adapt to the new realities of the workplace.

Scheduling Tools Can Ease the Transition

As employees return to the workplace, robust scheduling tools can help both employers and employees maintain the continuity of work during the transition. Accurate scheduling has become a broader imperative, as workers in office environments now begin to pick and choose certain days to be onsite or adjust their hours in the office to accommodate for personal needs such as childcare or eldercare. As many employers also try to reduce potential exposure by staggering shifts or bringing workers back in a limited capacity, alternating days with colleagues, there are new considerations to managing a salaried or exempt workforce.

To meet employee demand for safety and help them return to the workplace confidently, organizations additionally need to be able to monitor who among their staff is or was present and when. Employee health attestations are critical too in protecting the health of workers returning to the workplace. In the event of an absence or a worker’s possible exposure, this information enables employee proximity tracing. Some organizations may consider having employees check-in when they are coming into the workplace. Others may adopt shift practices, setting up three or more sets of start, break and end times to control traffic and congestion in common areas more easily.

Related: Cappelli: Why post-COVID remote may not be as rosy as you think

Scheduling solutions are designed to optimize employee schedules for coverage purposes, especially in workplaces where demand–typically in the form of customers, patients, and guests–fluctuates. However, its applications can be applied to the new hybrid nature of the physical workplace. By “scheduling” workers to be onsite on specified days of the week or during specified hours, companies can better manage capacity and social distancing guidelines and communicate with employees. As processes continue to evolve as workers return, timeclocks, mobile apps and web access are all strong vehicles for keeping people connected to one another and to important scheduling information. Allowing workers to use their own devices to clock in and out, check schedules and more, instead of using a shared timeclock, can help reduce contact among staff as well.

Account for Individual Worker and Business Needs

With issues like health, schooling and childcare varying from person to person, scheduling software can make it easier for managers to create forward-looking schedules and push them out to employees. This is especially helpful for hourly workers, who can then review their assigned shifts and indicate if they need to swap, drop, or add shifts if their circumstances change. By making a quick schedule change and calling it to attention for a manager’s approval, the system makes a previously onerous process much more streamlined in a constantly changing environment.

Some jobs can allow for interchangeable shifts among employees with similar skills and training. However, in certain instances where a role requires specific training or certification, accommodating absences and securing available coverage becomes more complex. A good scheduling system should raise a red flag if a manager tries to schedule someone who does not have the necessary skills for a task. It should also be able to help the manager search for workers who better fit the requirement profile. These functionalities can help managers ensure the right people are onsite at the right time when trying to limit capacity.

Related: How to embrace the new world of hybrid work

Some integrated HCM solutions additionally allow vaccinated employees to disclose their vaccination status and upload pictures of their vaccination cards, a feature we’re building into ADP’s return to workplace solution. Employers might use vaccination status to help schedule employees, manage floorplans and practice social distancing.

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse

Businesses will need to be mindful of how the transition back to the workplace is impacting their workforce by checking in with them regularly. Modern HCM and employee engagement tools can give businesses the ability to periodically check in with workers via pulse surveys, which can help businesses determine whether their employees are ready to return to work in person, among other things.

Survey questions might ask how comfortable an employee feels about returning to the workplace, which can let managers know whether their office-reopening plans are moving too quickly (or too slowly). Surveys also could ask open-ended questions to prompt for updates about how the staff is doing, which might reveal the need for more flexibility or support in some areas. The ability to customize these pulse surveys can provide employers the insight they need to manage their unique workforce, while benchmarking capabilities can help companies compare against other companies of the same size, in the same industry or in the same geographic region.

Many businesses will be learning as they go, and that’s OK. But managers who have the right workforce management tools in place will be able to better navigate any uncertainties in the road ahead.

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