The Coronavirus and Your Labor Model: Immediate Steps You Can Take to Catch Up with COVID-19

by | Apr 7, 2020

The Coronavirus is causing havoc for retailers and hospitality providers across the world. Grocers, drug stores and other essential services remain open but are required to enact new protocols to protect customers and employees. Restaurants and some specialty retailers have pared-down services to drive-through, take-out, curbside pickup, or home delivery. And finally, many businesses like movie theatres and fitness centers have been forced to shut down altogether.

Our March 31st blog examined the operational impacts businesses are facing during this “New Normal”. Today, we focus on identifying some of the specific labor model and staffing changes you’ll need to make as you respond to the pandemic.

Below are some of the immediate impact areas and our recommended approach for modifying your labor model or staffing forecast. While some of these impacts will only affect grocers, the vast majority will also affect retailers selling most other types of hard and soft goods as well.

Health and Safety

Open stores are now required to perform additional cleaning tasks, enforce or encourage social distancing, and enact other new health and safety procedures to protect employees and customers. Here are some examples of how these changes could impact your labor model:

  • Create new standards for sanitizing shopping carts, baskets, credit card readers, and door handles
  • Create new standards for putting on and taking off protective gear
  • Create new standards for monitoring employee health (i.e. temperature checks)
  • Update standards to account for more frequent deep cleaning of the sales floor
  • Update standards for checkout time due to customers standing farther apart in line

Customer Service

Open and partially open stores are seeing a significant shift in customer patterns and are employing new processes to direct traffic where necessary. Here are some illustrations of where service is changing and how your labor could adjust as a result:

  • Create new standards and/or minimum staffing for “greeters” that limit the number of customers allowed inside the store at a given time
  • Create new standards for curbside pickup for retailers that did not previously offer this service
  • Update standards related to customer interaction on the sales floor due to social distancing
  • Update standards to reflect changing ratio of traditional checkout vs. self-checkout
  • Update standards to reflect increased use touchless or “tap and go” payments

Production and Replenishment

While some task areas of your stores will come to a complete standstill, other task areas will experience significant spikes or shifts in timing. Here are some of the potential impacts to production and replenishment tasks within your labor model:

  • Deactivate standards for food sampling, bulk bins, or other production/replenishment of self-service or unwrapped items in deli, bakery, or market areas
  • Update standards for increased replenishment time during open hours as social distancing is observed when customers are shopping in the same area
  • Update standards for back-stocking time from shipments as delivery loads increase but sales floor capacity remains the same
  • Update standards for processing increased volume of “go-backs” as customers attempt to exceed product type limits for items such as milk or toilet paper

Additional Considerations

The labor model interacts with volume driver forecasts and labor distribution rules to allocate workload for scheduling. While we’ve outlined several areas for new or updated labor standards, it’s just as important to consider how drivers and distributions will need to be managed to account for the Coronavirus impacts. Here are some examples:

  • Adjust drivers to reflect temporarily suspended services such as returns and exchanges
  • Adjust forecasts for category-specific sales volumes for high-volume products like paper and cleaning items
  • Adjust labor distributions in line with your stores’ changing hours of operation
  • Adjust back-of-house hours to line up with changing time windows for receiving merchandise

We hope that this gives you some initial insights into where to make value-added adjustments to your labor model for the short-term. We will revisit this topic over the next few weeks, with the potential longer-term impacts and considerations for reopening stores in mind. Follow along as we will continue to update our Coronavirus information on our Retail Responds site:

In the meantime, I encourage you to reach out to me or your Axsium account representative with any questions or requests. We’ll gladly do a free consultation, helping you identify new/modified processes specific to your business and help prioritize which labor model elements are worth the effort to update. Axsium offers a world-class labor modeling solution – Opus – and Managed Services to support client labor models, so if your team doesn’t have the toolset or bandwidth to manage this, our productivity team is here to help, both now and in the months to come.

In a blog post coming soon, we will examine the process changes that might stay for the long run and assess the labor model considerations for reopening operations that have been completely shut down.


Luke Muellerleile

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