The future of hybrid working in retail

By on July 3, 2022 0

The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the world of work, forcing many companies to try working from home for the first time.

According to the Office for National Statistics, people in professional occupations were almost four times more likely to work from home than people in sales and customer service roles.

With the retail industry still facing staff shortages, offering remote work in certain roles would allow it to compete for people. Consumers are now used to the convenience of shopping online and it is more popular than ever, which is also pushing the industry towards more hybrid work.

Tony Gregg, managing director of retail executive search firm Anthony Gregg Partnership, discusses how retail companies can implement hybrid working in the retail industry and what executives need to take into account when introducing a hybrid model.

How can retail become hybrid?

Retail may not be the industry most comfortable with the hybrid model, but when the pandemic hit, technology and people in leadership positions stepped up to provide solutions. In addition to virtual team meetings and the rise of online shopping, data analytics has helped forecast demand, highlighting when more people are needed onsite.

This type of setup will only benefit consumers, satisfying their growing appetite for online shopping and improving the overall experience. Many of them will also adopt hybrid habits, sometimes shopping online and other shopping in person. Businesses should seek to reflect this demand, matching in-person purchasing levels with the appropriate level of in-store staffing.

Hybrid practices can also be applied to retail executives, who can easily do more work remotely, just as they do in other industries. They can also benefit greatly from hybrid working, enjoying greater flexibility, less travel and more time spent with family. Those with children, for example, can now get a head start on the day, answering emails before the school run. Decisions no longer need to wait for the office to arrive at 9am.

And as vacancies exceed unemployment figures for the first time since records began, candidates can choose positions that include more flexibility. To help alleviate its staffing shortage, the retail sector needs to provide flexibility wherever it can.

The Benefits of Hybrid Working for Retail Leaders

In addition to attracting candidates to the industry, hybrid work practices will help foster job satisfaction, which is especially important when vacancies are so plentiful. Giving people options and flexibility can also make them feel valued and result in greater productivity.

Remote work also opens up a wider pool of candidates. If people only need to work on site twice a week, for example, they can come from further afield.

Having more employees working from home also increases the possibility of reducing office space. While brick-and-mortar stores will always be needed, businesses can downsize their offices, saving on rent, utilities, and even computer equipment.

The Challenges Retail Leaders Face with Hybrid Working

The nature of the retail industry means that there will always be needed employees in local stores and warehouses.

Leaders may encounter some resistance when implementing hybrid arrangements. Employees might resent not knowing where they will be working from week (or day) to week. Leaders would do well to remember that people like consistency, having clear policies and systems in place to ensure that employees stay structured in their roles and important day-to-day tasks get done.

It is essential to ensure effective communication channels, so that employees can always receive advice and raise issues if necessary. Meetings should be scheduled when workers are onsite, but employees at all levels should still be in regular contact with co-workers when working remotely, to maintain a sense of belonging.

With employees working remotely, it’s also harder to measure morale. Anonymized surveys can help uncover motivation levels, while team building activities can boost morale.

Hybrid retail works in practice

In response to the pandemic, Apple launched its highly publicized “Retail Flex” program, which allowed employees to work from home some weeks and in stores other weeks. More staff are assigned to stores at times when the demand for in-person shopping increases compared to the demand for online shopping.

Retail leaders must not only understand these approaches, but when appropriate, they must also champion them – to create efficiencies and greater job satisfaction.

Primark is another retailer making big changes. Its new hybrid work model has office workers working from desks an average of three days a week. The fast fashion company implemented the policy after extensive internal listening sessions and job type assessments.

Will hybrid working last in the retail sector?

The industry will certainly have to adapt to the new landscape of hybrid working, borrowing ideas from other sectors where necessary. Managers should also remember to listen to the workers themselves when considering new ways of working. After all, they know their jobs better than anyone – and those are precisely the people that hybrid working is designed to help.

We find that many executives are in the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays – or in a store near them. This type of arrangement really gives retailers and individuals the best of both worlds. Employees gain additional flexibility, but also benefit from sufficient time in the office to develop and maintain the necessary relationships with their colleagues.

This balance is the very essence of hybrid work. If a company can achieve this, both parties benefit and, as with any other facet of working life, a successful practice can be enshrined in company policies.