The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the world of work, forcing many companies to try telecommuting for the first time.
According to the National Statistical Office, professional workers are nearly four times more likely to work from home than in sales and customer service occupations.
With the retail sector still facing a staffing shortage, offering remote work in some roles could make them competitive for people. Consumers are now accustomed to the convenience of online shopping and becoming more popular than ever, propelling the sector towards more hybrid operations.
Tony Gregg, CEO of Anthony Gregg Partnership, a retail executive search firm, discusses how retail businesses can implement hybrid operations in the retail sector, and what leaders should consider when adopting a hybrid model.
How can retail be hybrid?
Retail may not be the most comfortable sector for a hybrid model, but when the pandemic strikes, people in tech and senior leadership positions are stepping up to provide solutions. In addition to virtual team meetings and the rise of online shopping, data analytics will support demand forecasting, highlighting when more people are needed in the field.
This kind of setup will only help consumers to satisfy their growing desire to shop online and improve their overall experience. Many of them will adopt a hybrid habit, occasionally shopping online and making other purchases in person. Businesses must reflect this demand by matching the level of face-to-face shopping with the appropriate level of store associates.
The hybrid approach can also be applied to retail executives, who can easily do more remote work just like any other sector. They can also greatly benefit from hybrid work, where they enjoy more flexibility, less commuting, and more time spent with their families. For example, people with children can return to school by replying to an email before school starts. Decisions no longer have to wait until the 9am office arrives.
And because vacancies have outpaced unemployment figures for the first time since records began, candidates can choose roles that include more flexibility. To alleviate workforce shortages, the retail sector must provide flexibility wherever possible.
Advantages of hybrid work for retail leaders
In addition to attracting candidates to the industry, a hybrid working approach will help increase job satisfaction, which is especially important when jobs are plentiful. Giving people choice and flexibility can help them feel valued and be productive.
Teleworking also offers a wider pool of candidates. For example, if people only have to work in the field twice a week, they may come from farther away.
As more employees work from home, office space is also likely to be reduced. Although brick-and-mortar stores are still needed, companies can reduce their office space, saving rent, utilities and even IT equipment.
The Challenges Retail Leaders Face with Hybrid Operations
Due to the nature of the retail industry, local stores and warehouses always need staff.
Leaders may face some resistance when implementing a hybrid approach. Employees may not appreciate knowing where they will be working from one week (or one day) to the next. It’s good to remember that leaders like consistency and set clear policies and systems to help employees organize their roles and complete important day-to-day tasks.
It is important to have effective communication channels so that employees can still receive guidance and raise concerns as needed. Meetings should be scheduled while workers are on site, but to maintain a sense of belonging, employees at all levels must maintain regular contact with colleagues when working remotely.
Measuring morale is also more difficult because employees work remotely. Anonymous surveys can help uncover motivation levels, and team building activities can boost morale.
Hybrid sleeves that really work
In response to the pandemic, Apple launched its famous ‘Retail Flex’ program, in which employees work from home for several weeks and in stores for another few weeks. When the demand for offline shopping grows relative to the demand for online shopping, more employees are deployed to the store.
Retail executives must not only understand this approach, but advocate it when appropriate, increasing efficiency and job satisfaction.
Primark is another retailer making a big difference. The new hybrid work model has office-based employees working in the office an average of three days per week. The fast-fashion company implemented its policies after extensive internal listening sessions and job-type assessments.
Will hybrid operations continue in the retail sector?
The industry must certainly adapt to the new hybrid work environment and borrow ideas from other sectors as needed. Leaders must also remember to listen to workers themselves when considering new ways of working. After all, they know their job better than anyone, and they are the very people that hybrid work is designed to help with.
We found that many executives are in the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, or in their local stores. This type of deployment truly offers both advantages for retailers and individuals. Employees not only gain additional flexibility, but also enjoy ample time in the office to develop and maintain the necessary relationships with their colleagues.
This balance is key to hybrid operation. If the company can achieve it, it benefits both parties and successful practices can be incorporated into company policy just like any other aspect of work life.