3 hourly workforce trends we’re seeing in the wake of COVID-19

From supply chain bottlenecks to inflexible work hours, the post-coronavirus world has exposed a laundry list of weaknesses in what was once considered “business as usual.” Today, many companies are struggling to incorporate new coronavirus restrictions while maintaining workplace productivity — especially those that rely on an hourly workforce who can’t do their jobs remotely.

According to a recent survey, two-thirds of executives believe that this will be the most challenging moment in their careers. But along with the headaches and costs associated with implementing new processes, the COVID-19 crisis also presents opportunities to innovate. Forward-thinking companies are “leaning in” to the chaos and reimagining the way they do business.

Here are some trends we’re seeing for the hourly workforce in the wake of COVID-19.

Virtual interviews, training and onboarding

During the first wave of the pandemic, we saw a spike in demand for teamsters, delivery drivers and other essential workers. This created a major recruitment deficit at a time when many states were under stay-at-home orders, which forced businesses to double down on virtual recruitment efforts.

To meet social-distancing requirements, many businesses have continued to conduct virtual interviews via video chat. And to train these new workers, companies are relying on virtual onboarding and training more than ever before. This month, Walmart opened a new training center in Loveland, Colorado, which will offer virtual training on leadership, safety and supply chain foundations. Community colleges in Alabama are diving into virtual reality to train skilled workers, and now doctors and nurses are being retrained to treat infectious diseases using VR.

RelatedCOVID-19 Will Fuel the Next Wave of Innovation

Contactless interactions and enforced social distancing

The start of the pandemic brought a shift to curbside pickup, “contactless” delivery and employees stationed at store entrances to count the number of customers entering. The focus was on keeping customers safe, with less emphasis on interactions between workers. But as more data emerges about workplace transmission, we’re seeing a demand for tech designed to reduce contact between employees, ranging from mobile time clocks to social-distancing tools.

Amid concerns over workplace safety, Amazon began using AI to detect social-distancing violations. Ford Motors Co. started testing wearables that vibrate when workers get too close to one another, and Chicago-based Pepper Construction has rolled out AI software to detect clumps of workers congregating on job sites.

Reimagining scheduling and workforce planning

Absenteeism puts holes in hourly teams all the time. Even prior to the pandemic, absent workers cost American employers $36.4 billion per year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Citing illness, fear of catching the virus and childcare issues, employers now report no-shows have surged

Entrepreneurs may not be able to allay every fear or childcare challenge, but they can give hourly workers more flexibility. A study by workforce management platform MyWorkChoice found that 75 percent of hourly employees would be less worried about going back to work if they could schedule their own shifts up to a 40-hour limit.

Flexibility is a small price to pay for a more reliable hourly workforce. Here’s how you can manage yours more effectively: 

  •  Develop a streamlined interview process. While virtual interviews take some getting used to, they can actually save you time when hiring workers en masse. The most time-consuming portion of any interview is often briefing candidates about the position and answering their questions afterward. If you’re conducting multiple interviews, consider tag-teaming candidates to increase efficiency. Have a representative from HR or a veteran employee brief interviewees together in one virtual “room,” and then transfer individual applicants to the hiring manager for one-on-one interviews.
  • Plan for a tech-related learning curve. If you plan to implement social-distancing technology or other tools to reduce contact, you should expect the technology to make things harder at first. Don’t assume that your employees are comfortable with new technology — even if you are. When introducing virtual training, contactless payment or a new app, make sure you take the time to provide clear instructions, and be prepared to do some troubleshooting.
  • Don’t be Big Brother. The COVID-19 crisis has brought a groundswell of changes, not to mention lots of new rules. Mandatory health screenings, social-distancing requirements and mask mandates are for everyone’s safety, but they can also make a workplace feel authoritarian. Remember that your employees are still trying to adjust to the changes, and old habits die hard. Don’t make things worse by creating an atmosphere where employees are afraid to socialize or get caught in a sneeze.
  • RelatedAmazon Develops Social Distancing Tech Using Augmented Reality

Remember: We’re all navigating this brave new world together. We may not be back to “business as usual,” but you can still manage an hourly workforce that’s healthy, happy and productive. The companies that will emerge from the crisis stronger are those that use this time to innovate.

This article first appeared on Entrepreneur.