Don’t Just Digitize Your Organization: Transform It

New Work for a New World:
How Retailers Can Accommodate
Remote Staff

Where do employees want to work? Increasingly, at home. Or while on the road. Or really, from anywhere they choose. Nearly all workers (98%) express an interest in remote work at some point in their career. Staff members cite flexibility, zero commute, and more time with their loved ones as some of the top perks associated with the remote work trend.

A question on whether digital work will stay—or eventually become a passing fad—remains. Two realities must be evaluated to properly debate the weight of remote jobs, especially in the retail sector. First, the way people shop has increasingly moved online. Second, technology advancements have made connecting digitally more accessible than ever before.

These truths, coupled with a desire among employees for balance, support the prediction that remote work will rise in the years ahead. Retailers that are shifting their approach to brick-and-mortar will face a staffing issue as well. How and where do employees work? Can they carry out tasks they view as meaningful from their own home?

Sorting out the working situation goes beyond digital processes. Retailers that simply set up the digital connections—and carry on as usual—run a steep risk. This approach could overlook key components, including how staff will collaborate and make decisions from afar.

Accommodating digital work begins with a re-imagining of the way we work. Just as the real estate sector may see more homes designed with separate office space, retailers must think about how remote work will function. For associates to thrive, they’ll need the right environment, along with systems that support an overarching vision.

To fully maximize productivity, it may be helpful to bring in an outside perspective. Managers will want to be proactive about employee health and wellbeing. Systems can be set up to virtually assess and hire new talent. Last but certainly not least, implementations can run a parallel track with strategies to generate more revenue.

First Ask, Why?

Retailers might note competitors are shifting workloads to the remote space. This change coincides with the growing wave of employees who are asking for more freedom. Associates will soon come to expect either a remote option or a hybrid arrangement. Perhaps they come into the store or office for a couple days a week. They might show up for important meetings. Otherwise, they get the work done from home.

To meet these growing expectations, retailers will do well to evaluate current circumstances. Questions can be presented, including:

  • What does our current working system look like?
  • What goals do we have for the following year and beyond?
  • Does remote work support any (or all) of the established objectives for the company? If not, could changes be made to allow it to support the main goals?
  • How can remote work help pave the way for profitability and increased revenue?

Bring in an Outsider

Sometimes a fresh set of eyes on a situation provides unique insight. An outside consultant may be able to spot opportunities and challenges that other longtime workers have not identified. They might see ways to break down productivity obstacles too.

Managers may fear the lack of supervision and control associated with remote work. A third party member could train staff on how to set up accountability in a virtual setting. The consultant could also help manage the transition to remote work.

The outside counsel could help evaluate the rearrangement of job positions. If fewer stores are needed, there may be less demand for in-person staff. On the other side, if more brick-and-mortar places are opening, a field of workers in the area could be tapped.

There could be potential to offer better customer service in online settings. Could staff members welcome visitors to a website via video, inform them of special deals, or teach them how to use products? Are there ways for associates to connect with customers after they make a large purchase? These interactions could build relationships and help clients associate the brand name with high levels of care.

Place Health Above All

There are certain aspects to physical working environments that cannot be replicated in remote settings. The chance to connect socially—in person—sits at the top of this list. It is thus unsurprising that employees are quick to mention struggles with mental health when working alone.

For those who are emotionally stable, other barriers await. With more hours to assign on their own comes a challenge to properly allocate time. While some may find it easier to exercise, others might say it is hard to maintain a workout routine. The same holds true for other areas, including nutrition. Certain associates might value the chance to eat healthy meals from their own kitchen, day after day. Others may begin to rely on carryout or fast food to avoid making their own food.

Ongoing communication and check-ins can often avoid cases that spiral out of control. Staff may meet once a week or month with a manager to go over their tasks and discuss their wellbeing. Daily connections on projects can often be revealing too. Perhaps an employee was at one time very communicative. If the individual becomes distant, a manager can schedule a meeting to see what changes might be beneficial for the worker.

Paying attention to health provides benefits to the bottom line. Workers who are sick less often can be more productive. Employees that are in good physical conditions will lower their risk of chronic ailments. Companies will have to handle fewer conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Orchestrate Virtual Hires

Human resources personnel could replace in-person interviews with video conferencing sessions. One key advantage of remote work lies in the labor pool. Retailers do not need to focus on individuals within a certain radius of a single store. They can tap into talent from anywhere around the world.

Before implementing changes, it’s important to observe current hiring practices. Companies can ask:

  • What are the strengths in our current hiring practice system? Where are the holes?
  • How do we want our company to come across to potential hires?
  • Are there ways to “sell” our brand, making our company an attractive place to work?
  • What compensation do we offer? Is it equal to, or higher, than our competitors?

Look for Revenue-Generating Opportunities

Remote work doesn’t have to equate large implementation expenses. If the technology is used to provide superior service, customers may be willing to pay. A concierge that meets via video conferencing and curates a client’s wardrobe could be a delightful experience. A price for the service could be included in the bill.

The same holds true in other areas. Perhaps customers don’t want to wait for their call to be answered by a representative. If they pay a premium, their issue could be handled in an expeditated fashion.

The world of work is changing and will continue to evolve. The retail landscape is undergoing a profound shift too. These two waves make it apparent that remote work will remain part of the future. Retailers must evaluate their purpose, look for ways to help employees thrive, and set up systems to balance flexibility and accountability. When this is carried out, the doors for increasing profitability and boosting the bottom line open wide.

Gerard Szatvanyi

Author: Gerard Szatvanyi

As a founding member and CEO of OSF Digital, Gerry has more than 15 years of experience managing start-ups and medium-size IT businesses and driving them to peak performance. With background in Enterprise Applications, IT Services and Consultancy, Gerry's impressive client and business portfolio sets him in the new breed for global entrepreneurship.