How to Adapt your Workforce Management to the New Normal

Cristina Maria
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There is little doubt that we’re living through an interesting time. Being a business leader used to be challenging enough, but it’s especially difficult now, as you strive to  manage your workforce and adapt to the “new normal”.

This being said, it’s important to take a step back from the general mood and look at things through the eyes of a forward-thinking innovator. 

Some of our most important achievements, as a society, came out in a climate of crisis (fun-fact: the microwave was invented during WWII, when a radio technician named Percy Spencer noticed the chocolate in his pocket kept melting when he was near an active radio set). 

Skip to what matters most to you:

  1. Managers have to be interested in employees’ attitudes.
  2. Obstacles happen, watch how your workforce reacts.
  3. Is the new normal a permanent thing? 
  4. Characteristics of the new normal.

We’re not saying it’s time for you to reinvent the wheel as a way to make the most out of the new normal, but take Spencer’s attitude towards his discovery: he adapted. The world wasn’t exactly in the best of situations, but his spirit wasn’t deterred by this fact. Instead, he listened to his hunch, embraced change, and ended up creating a whole industry that would continue to help people later down the line, to this very day! 

The keyword here is adaptability. In order to make the most out of the situation and stay feasible as a business, as an employer, and continue to help your customers, as well as create jobs in your industry, be it plumbing, heating, HVAC, or any other you need to be adaptable.

In order to do this successfully and manage people now and into the future, you have to treat every obstacle like an opportunity. Think about the companies that flourished by being adaptable and forward-thinking, after seeing big changes in the market. Many of them didn’t reinvent the wheel, they simply made the wheel easier to handle and, key to their strategy, more enjoyable. Uber, Amazon, Google; they don’t do anything new, but they made strides to adapt and do them better than most. 

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Good business leaders see change as a good thing, a chance to identify the weak spots in their business plan and come up with better processes that can handle whatever the market throws at it. When change occurs in the world, it’s the forward-thinking, adaptable businesses that flourish and come out even stronger, ready for whatever is ahead of them.

For example, when the dot-com bubble burst in the 2000s and everyone expected online businesses to fail, Amazon’s value may have gone down by 90%, but because of their flexibility, not only did they survive, but they’re now one of the most valuable companies in the world. It’s attitudes like these that help companies thrive, no matter the circumstances. 

So, what are some measures you can take to better manage your workforce in the new normal? Let’s start with: 

1. Managers have to be interested in employees’ attitudes.

First and foremost, a business is defined by its people. Not by stock items or assets, but by the attitude and presence of each employee and how these are passed on into the customer experience they offer. It’s important to train engineers to provide excellent customer service, by accommodating the customers’ needs through the various tools they have at their disposal. 

At the same time, it’s important for a manager to stay in touch with their employees, especially during times of change. Simply because there are fewer face-to-face opportunities to interact means you will have to make more of an effort to converse with employees, even if it’s simply to chat about their day and how they’re handling the new normal. 

graphic_thumbs_up-01You’ll often find yourself surprised by people’s coping mechanisms and how employees can help each other by highlighting solutions and tools you might not have thought about. 

For example, an operations manager might have been motivated by the need to work from home to look for better tools to manage operations like adding an intelligent scheduling feature to their diary management software or looking into automated (and, therefore, touchfree) stock control

If you’re the business owner, it can be difficult to put yourself in the shoes of each and every employee, but if you invest your time in listening to their recommendations, it can have a massive impact and help you to make their lives easier. In the end, the number 1 reason a manager should pay attention to their employees’ attitude is simple: happy people are more productive. 

2. Obstacles happen, watch how your workforce reacts.

As we’ve mentioned before, obstacles and setbacks happen. Your business might not have been the most ready to tackle the new normal. Whether that’s because you were still using mostly paper diaries and hand-filled job sheets to manage day-to-day operations, or because you lost touch with customers once the word-of-mouth advertising you relied on petered off. For better or worse, that’s all in the past now. 

It’s time to look to the future and only dwell on the obstacles long enough to figure out how to overcome them. 

It’s not a great idea to let stress get the best of you and react negatively when people makegraphic_head_lightbulb mistakes. It’s normal, for example, when you implement a new tool to have employees that require more training. That doesn't mean they’re being difficult but that they want to be more efficient when using said tool rather than pretend they know and waste its benefits. 

This means paying attention to how your employees tackle obstacles. Some might throw up their hands in defeat and refuse to get back up. Those are the employees you’ll want to support with measures that are within your control like more virtual interactions to make them feel part of the team or better tools for working remotely. 

On the other hand, keep an eye out for those who welcome change and challenges. They will be the drivers behind your business’s innovation spirit and you’ll know in the future that you can rely on them whenever you introduce a new way of working, like, for example, going above and beyond to deliver an excellent customer experience. 

Some engineers might see this as their actual work taking a backseat to chit-chat and pointless loyalty schemes, but the truly great ones will understand that a remarkable customer experience is what makes their work stand out from the competition. 

In addition, it's also incredibly useful for both yourself as a leader in your business, as well as for your employees, to all be aware of the rights they have at work.

As Manak Solicitors puts it in their essential article 10 Employee Rights You Should Know (e.g. statutory sick pay, flexible working, parental leave), "Employee rights are the moral or legal entitlement an employee has to have," and it's true that an awareness of these rights can make it easier to:

  • overcome workplace obstacles
  • reduce friction amongst teams
  • ensure everyone can work more harmoniously

For instance, when you consider the shift toward more remote working opportunities, knowing that employees have the right to request flexible working or to better understand rights concerning COVID-secure workplaces during the pandemic, could be a big help, especially when colleagues are likely reacting in favour of new set-ups!

The article is a great resource, so be sure to review and share the advice, available here

3. Is the new normal a permanent thing? 

As a leader, it’s your role to adapt the business to the requirements of the new normal, but it’s understandable if you’re wondering whether the changes that are happening, in general, will become permanent fixtures. However, this shouldn’t lead to indecision and a freeze in business decisions.

On the contrary, it should promote even more flexibility and agility in the way you approach work processes. 

Therefore, the question isn’t about whether the new normal is a permanent thing but what can you do to succeed regardless of the answer to that question. 

Since it’s always best to consult the experts when it comes to legal matters, we’ve asked Daniel Cotton, an employment law expert at Simons Muirhead & Burton, and he kindly outlined the situation for us, starting with the fact that nobody should feel bad about being confused by what the new normal implies

graphics_magnifying_glassDaniel mentioned, for example, that while people will eventually start coming back to work in offices, this could happen in stages, so those who are able to do their job from home easily could return later. Therefore, your admin could continue to work remotely, at first, then transition to part-time at the office, and, finally, return for good. At the same time, there is chatter about giving employees greater rights in relation to flexible working but, at this point, there’s no certainty and even legislators are taking the situation one day at a time. 

In practical terms, Daniel added, "Most companies have had to get used to operating in different ways and some employers have had their eyes opened. As the lockdown eases, it is very likely that far more people will continue working in a flexible manner than before."

This can mean that field service companies operating in expensive areas like city centres, could save money on office space by hiring remotely and reap the benefits of increased productivity, as well as decreased costs. 

As far as the furlough scheme goes, it is simply a measure temporarily put in place to help employers retain their employees, without having to pay all their wages. This also means that until August when further changes are expected, under no circumstances, can employers ask a furloughed employee to work for the company, unless they’re ready to start paying all their wages again.

However, the intricacies of the law shouldn’t be a great cause for stress despite the reports of some employers abusing the system: 

"As long as you’re following the guidelines and act in an ethical manner, without trying to abuse the system, there’s no need to worry about honest mistakes. Legislators are aware that there are still many details to iron out and guidance is regularly updated so they’re likely to operate with leniency if it’s clear mistakes were made in good faith," added Daniel.

When the furlough scheme ends, the initial employment contract will come back into place, together with everything you’ve previously outlined in it. 

The conclusion is that a proactive attitude is essential and calmly assessing the various outcomes and what would benefit your business is the best course of action. This takes us to the next point which should get you started:

4. Characteristics of the new normal.

We’ve put together a list of things that you can expect to become, if not standard, at least very common and a solution that you can consider in order to make your business future-proof: 

  • The office can be anywhere. Cloud management software means you can manage your business from anywhere, using nothing more than a laptop and an internet connection. 
  • Schedule changes won’t come with a 2-week notice. Instead, as people get accustomed to the situation, you’ll see more customers requesting appointment changes with zero notice therefore a dynamic scheduling tool will be essential to ensure that your admin team doesn’t become overwhelmed and start making errors.

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  • Touchfree technologies. We’ve been getting used to less and less physical contact for a while but this trend will be accelerated now. AR apps like Diagnose by Commusoft, will help you do soft-repairs remotely and build trust with customers that will pay off later down the line. Additionally, the ability to accept contactless payments on the spot and digital signatures will become a requirement rather than an option. 
  • Digital stock information. You’ve probably noticed how much time you’re saving but not having engineers driving back-and-forth from the stockroom so it’s only a small step from that to digital stock control, where your data is updated in real-time, without needing anyone to physically fill in check-in sheets or interact with a stock manager. 
  • Stress-proof procedures. We’re not talking about psychological stress but about applying a stress factor to your procedures. If your admin teams are used to doing things on the fly, the new normal will require a different approach. Having a strong standard for every process, that can’t be disturbed if an employee is unwell or if you’ve just hired a new person, will keep your business thriving regardless of market circumstances. 
  • Essential recurring income. Setting up service reminders will become an essential source of income, as customers will be more apprehensive about switching to a different provider and acquiring new customers could be more challenging. This means keeping every recurring customer close and automatic service reminders will do that for you. 
  • Customer experience. Keeping in touch will be more important than ever so that customers don’t forget about you. From service reminders to regular newsletters, nurturing the trust you have built with customers will be vital when it comes to them letting you in their home or property again. After all, tradesmen will always be in demand - one can’t go without hot water or live with a smoking fuse box - but you want your tradesmen to be in demand. 

The Takeaway

All in all, the new normal will soon become...well...normal, much like every challenging situation before it. If you're ready to go digital and reap the benefits of the changes we've outlined above, take a look at Commusoft. If not, give yourself the best chance to adapt comfortably, with our guide to working remotely:

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