How To Implement Remote Working Options In The Retail Sector
When the average business individual thinks about careers that offer a remote working environment, the last sector they will conjure up in their mind is the retail sector. With the nature of the retail store and its complexities, dynamics, and extremely hands-on staffing model, telecommuting opportunities would appear conceptual at best or asinine at worst.
The basic idea of remote work is exactly spelled out in the name remote (e.g., faraway, distant, or far off). Moreover, how are the customers going to be serviced or assisted by an employee who is NOT PRESENT IN THE STORE???
If anyone would have mentioned the remote work concept to me twenty years ago, I probably would have asked them: What planet are you living on? or Are you out of your mind? However, there are some opportunities within the retail sector to abolish this parochial idea. When approached with the proper perspective, remote working options can work tremendously well while providing a new way to reward your associates/leaders.
According to a recent Gallup poll, only 33% of workers in the United States are engaged in their jobs, which means the remaining 51% of employees are disengaged and 16% are actively disengaged. In their study on remote work arrangements, they found that ALL degrees of remote work options showed higher levels of employee engagement than without remote work options. In addition, Shiftboard estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity.
According to Forbes, “It is estimated that employers in the US lose $1.8 trillion a year in productivity. From distractions like water cooler gossip to excessive commuting, health problems, and more. Workers are finding it harder than ever to hit maximum productivity in a traditional office work environment.”
I wrote the article to spark the conversation surrounding this innovative strategy to help retailers create a healthy balance between customer, associate, and leader. Each type of store volume presents its own unique subset of challenges i.e. higher volume have more associates but higher customer demand while lower volume stores have fewer staffing hours to work with but less opportunity for scheduling issues.
Let’s discuss some areas of opportunity for the retail sector to take advantage of this expanding trend within the business world. First and foremost, with the technological advancements, we have at our disposal (Skype, Zoom.us, Sqwiggle, or as a virtual assistant) staying connected and productive is easier than ever before.
DISTINCT ADVANTAGES OF OFFERING REMOTE WORK
- Increased productivity.
- Improved employee health and work/life balance.
- Increased employee job satisfaction.
- Reduced associate expenses e.g., commuting, fuel, and vehicle maintenance.
- Reduced company expenses e.g., employees not using electricity, not consuming company resources, and decreased equipment usage resulting in fewer maintenance costs.
- Decreased employee absenteeism.
- Ability to attract & retain top-tier talent.
PERCEIVED DISADVANTAGES ASSOCIATED WITH REMOTE WORK:
- Lack of collaboration with colleagues.
- Distractions at home or off-site location.
- Productivity issues and concerns.
- Unable to communicate effectively.
- The diminished ability for individuals to be involved with daily activities.
- Leaders fear their loss of power, control, and influence over their subordinates.
“Many (but not all) executive leaders in the retail sector frown on associates/leaders who want to work remotely when they could easily achieve the same workload at home or offsite for specific functions.“
At the core of this controversial program is the propensity of many leaders who feel inadequate about their ability to DIRECTLY control and influence their teams with some of their subordinates working remotely. It is becoming a growing concern for many retail leaders to accept this positive, yet productive trend, while attempting to relinquish their steadfast beliefs that this is nothing more than pure boondoggle.
Many (but not all) executive leaders in the retail sector frown on associates/leaders who want to work remotely when they could easily achieve the same workload at home or offsite for specific functions. This viewpoint is an outdated mentality that is not allowing the retail industry to transcend and become strategically aligned with other industries.
At the corporate level, there are myriad of occasions when remote work could be offered:
- Employees working on a project.
- Facilitating a meeting or conference call.
- Planning a work assignment.
- Performing menial tasks that do not require an associate/leader to be “anchored” to a desk.
- Succession planning.
This type of program could easily improve employee morale while simultaneously providing a proverbial win-win for both parties. Employees will have better work/life balance and the organization receives increased productivity while minimizing their associate usage expenditures. I have rarely heard about an individual who DID NOT want to participate in remote work or telecommuting opportunities within their company.
“If proper discernment is used in selecting the appropriate employees to partake in remote work while communicating the expectations of the program to your teams, then you should experience a fluid transition with minimal problems or issues.”
Furthermore, not every associate can work remotely; however, the main factor is determining which of your employees can work remotely and still be productive. Newly hired employees might take some time to adjust and acclimate to their new roles. Some of your tenured and most experienced associates might need more time in the office or stores to be hands-on with certain projects or events. Employees who have recently transferred to different roles within the company will probably need a break-in period.
If proper discernment is used in selecting the appropriate employees to partake in remote work while communicating the expectations of the program to your teams, then you should experience a fluid transition with minimal problems or issues.
High volume, Big Box stores are more of a challenge due to the high customer demand. In a lower volume store, you will have to maximize your slow time versus peak demand scheduling. Remember, the hybrid version is not a “one size fits all” program. Each store will have to find a healthy balance with their scheduling. The linchpin is strategic scheduling which allows adequate time for training, learning, and growth.
During my retail tenure, I constantly heard my superiors and the corporate teams admonishing any individual who mentioned the remote work option for the retail stores. Every associate/leader needs to be in the store for the customers at all times with an all hands-on deck mentality.
“I firmly believed in a “hybrid version” of remote work scheduling in the retail stores that would accomplish and achieve all the desired results (financial, operational, and behavioral) while brandishing this concept for others to follow.”
I completely understand that the retail stores are truly different apropos customer service levels, product fulfillment, product pack-out/pack down, and daily demands than other business sectors e.g., technology, healthcare, or education etc. However, I remained confident that the retail stores COULD transition some of their associates/leaders to working a modified remote schedule while still fulfilling their retail store responsibilities throughout the week.
“When I mention a hybrid version of remote work scheduling, I am referring to a modified schedule e.g., only a couple of hours, ½ day or full day (not an entire week or numerous days in a week etc.) depending on the nature of the occurrence.”
I firmly believed in a “hybrid version” of remote work scheduling in the retail stores that would accomplish and achieve all the desired results (financial, operational, and behavioral) while brandishing this concept for others to follow. There is a plentiful amount of opportunities to implement a hybrid version of the remote working schedule within the retail stores:
- When associates/leaders need to write employee performance appraisals.
- When associates/leaders need to prepare for a presentation or event.
- When associates/leaders need to complete e-learning modules or classes to stay current with industry standards.
- When associates/leaders need to establish detailed summaries about their future growth opportunities to succeed or ascend managerial ranks.
- Creating schedules (remote working or standard).
- Taking conference calls or other business meetings.
- Succession planning.
When I mention a hybrid version of remote work scheduling, I am referring to a modified schedule e.g., only a couple of hours, ½ day or full day (not an entire week or numerous days in a week, etc.) depending on the nature of the occurrence.
“I can remember the deluge of interruptions and emergencies that would always arise when I was attempting to write a performance appraisal, coach another associate/leader, or forecast my weekly/monthly budget.”
The GIGANTIC ISSUE that is prevalent with working in the retail stores is the scarcity of complete silence with the plethora of interruptions when an individual is attempting to focus on their responsibilities. Sometimes, an associate/leader needs complete and utter silence with zero interruptions for a specified period of time to achieve their objectives.
I can remember the deluge of interruptions and emergencies that would always arise when I was attempting to write a performance appraisal, coach another associate/leader, or forecast my weekly/monthly budget.
I understand that each new level of leadership encompasses increased challenges and responsibilities; however, all the great innovators and leaders always set aside QUITE TIME to just think or tackle their obstacles assiduously. It is damn near impossible to fully concentrate on important store issues, focus on innovative ideas, or prognosticate the future of your store when you are being inundated with constant interruptions that destroy your train of thought.
This is where remote scheduling would become a perfect solution to these paramount concerns that all employees at the store level (associates up to the Store Manager) have concerning their quite time.
I was never given permission or allowed to execute ANY remote working schedules throughout my retail tenure (30 years!). I felt so handcuffed by my retail organizations for not affording me the opportunity to explore this amazing method which would establish a mutually beneficial and rewarding partnership for all parties involved.
It is one of the few regrets I have for working in the retail sector for so long. I did not continue to pursue this method of rewarding my teams. Instead, I succumbed to corporate malaise and peer pressure. I would highly encourage all retail C-suite leaders to consider a hybrid remote scheduling option for your associates/leaders. Now is the time to embrace innovative ideas while accepting a positive change that will reignite your employee’s passion for your organization.
EMBRACING CHANGE IN RETAIL