As Minnesota begins its phased approach to reopening under the Stay Safe MN Plan, businesses and employers of all sizes, industries and backgrounds are preparing for a new normal. Whether temporary or longer-term, the economic disruption caused by COVID-19 has led businesses to reconsider their business prospects and workforce needs. Questions about how, when and why to bring employees back, or hire new employees if need be, permeate the moment. Simultaneously, employees who are returning to work have concerns about their health, safety and job stability.
Throughout Minnesota, the economic recovery will depend largely on how well small and mid-size businesses are able to navigate these choices. To assist, DEED’s Workforce Strategy Team developed the Workforce Optimization Cycle, a strategic framework to guide businesses who have been forced to make adjustments and are trying to determine their current and future workforce needs. There are six stages to the Workforce Optimization Cycle:
- Assess Your Business
- Project Labor Demand
- Workforce Gap Analysis
- Develop Workforce Strategies
- Implement & Communicate
- Monitor, Evaluate & Adapt
Due to the uncertainty in the length, type, or complexity of the recovery, it is best to see this as a cyclical business process. Companies may be at different stages of the cycle for different lengths of time. Some may even find themselves repeating steps more than once.
Over the next six weeks, we will explore each phase in more depth and share resources that will ease the transition for businesses and their employees. Below is a snapshot of each phase and the subjects we will be exploring:
1. Assess Your Business
Before a business can get back to work, they need an honest assessment of how the crisis has affected their finances, their access to workers, and role in public health and safety. For example, even if a company is financially prepared to bring back their entire workforce they might not have the flexibility to accommodate workers or customers in the current environment, which requires businesses to adhere to social distancing, health and safety requirements.
Preparing facilities and remote work resources, when applicable, are primary concerns. DEED posts regularly updated guidance for businesses, including a template to develop their COVID-19 Preparedness Plan. This includes guidance to comply with OSHA, CDC and MDH requirements, prevent infections, develop controls for social distancing, and communicate with workers. Communicating with your employees is critical to easing the transition for all parties. An employee survey would help employers understand the safety concerns of their employees, and make it easier to implement the reopening plan together. It’s also a good way to determine how ready staff is to return, their comfort level with remote work, and other barriers that surfaced from the pandemic.
2. Project Labor Demand
In addition to internal considerations, it’s clear the current state of the economy is significantly different from pre-COVID-19 conditions. Understanding the new economic landscape will help to forecast revenue, at least in the short-term, and inform businesses how demand for workers has changed.
Many factors influence revenue and labor demand. Some inputs, like change in product orders and supply chains will serve as initial indicators to future sales. Less predictable is how well consumer confidence will rebound. Concerns for health, safety and financial stability are likely linger and affect spending patterns. Until there are less unknowns, an incremental approach is best, meaning business owners and employers may return to this stage in the cycle frequently.
3. Workforce Gap Analysis
A workforce gap analysis allows companies to map and design their path forward. In order to outline the progress and benchmarks needed to bridge the gap, a business would be wise to convene a ‘return to work’ committee made up of a diverse group of employees. Innovative workforce retention strategies like long-term furloughs, schedule flexibility and job share adjustments may be considered. Resources should be identified for staff not returning, such as dislocated worker training, cobra insurance and early retirement options. Opportunities for automation may also exist when measured against the costs of hard to fill positions.
As plans are being developed to return employees back to work, employers should know their limitations as well as those of their employees. Discrimination laws based on age, gender, disability, race or creed remain in place, and employees may be facing difficult choices themselves in their work-life balance. Participation in programs like unemployment insurance, Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) or the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) may complicate the transition back to work for some, while others will be eligible for further protections.
A review of the regional labor market information will help if new hiring is needed. Minnesota’s unemployment rate is abnormally high right now, but that will change over time. DEED has an online data tool showing the number of layoffs during the COVID-19 crisis by occupation, region and demographics, along with historical wage data for a variety of positions. Understanding Labor Market Information (LMI) is the first step to mapping out your talent pipeline, and from there DEED’s Workforce Strategy Consultants can connect employers with regional training partners and other workforce development resources.
4. Develop Workforce Strategies
In addition to finalizing a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan and building out remote work capacity, there are several other workforce development strategies that employers can leverage to bolster their recovery efforts.
DEED’s Workforce Strategy Consultants are experts in activating resources to build and improve the talent pipelines of various industries, and have strong relationships with regional training partners. Currently WSC’s are connecting businesses to online job matching platforms such as MinnesotaWorks.net and CareerForceMN.com, developing virtual career fairs for a variety of industries, and aligning companies with training dollars for new hires and incumbent workers. Our regional training partners support career seekers with a variety of skills, including veterans, young adults (ages 16-24), workers with disabilities, and those dislocated by layoffs or closings.
5. Communicate and Implement Strategies
Clear and ongoing communication of workforce changes will be critical to a smooth recovery and sustainable success. Delivering quality training is perhaps the most important step, although consistent messaging and follow-up conversations are also important. It’s vital to remember that adjusting to major shifts in workplace policies takes time. However, companies that foster an inclusive culture tend to embrace change more easily, and those who involved employees when developing their COVID-19 Preparedness Plan with will find a smoother implementation process.
In addition, promoting a commitment to public health and workplace safety will encourage unity between your employees and customers, especially for public-facing businesses.
6. Monitor, Evaluate & Adapt
Rather than following a one, two, or five-year plan, now is the time to evaluate often and pivot accordingly. The full impact of COVID-19 and the pace that the economy recovery are still to be determined, but we WILL recover. Some of these questions will be answered by the steps businesses and employers are taking today.
The Workforce Optimization Cycle is an operational guide that each business can follow to identify their unique challenges and best strategies for re-opening. Most importantly, it will enable workforce strategies to be implemented safely, effectively, and productively under new and largely uncertain economic conditions. Follow DEED’s Workforce Strategy Team as we dive more into each phase, talk with subject matter experts from organizations throughout the state, and share resources that will help along the way. Our content schedule is below, and the full menu of content will be available on CareerForceMN.com as it is released.