Return to Work: Working strategies for getting back

Vaccinations are up. COVID numbers are down. Things finally seem like they’re getting back to normal. However, as retailers and offices across the nation begin to open up, data shows that companies have been experiencing difficulties finding enough people to staff all their open positions. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May of 2021 there were 6.6 million people not in the labor force who are currently looking for a job—an increase of 1.6 million (over 25%) from the last pre-pandemic month of February 2020. These individuals were not counted as in the labor force because they were either not looking for work during the last four weeks, or unable to take a job.

For SPAR customers who are eager to reopen their retail locations at full strength, this employment issue has become a real challenge. Because unlike millions of office jobs, remote work in the retail space is simply not an option—you need your retail employees on the floor, helping customers.

At SPAR, we understand the difficulties you’ve been facing in the effort to staff up with full and part-time workers. That’s why we want to share some return to work strategies companies and retail thought leaders are using to encourage their employees to get back. From ways to talk to your employees about returning, to rethinking traditional roles and more, we’ll take thoughtful, data-driven look at getting back to work.

Return to Work Strategy 1: Communicate your commitment to a healthy workplace

The jobs numbers and difficulty getting workers back is sending employers a clear message: your staff needs to feel safe and protected when returning to work after COVID. In an interview with Fast Company, Tami Simon, a corporate consulting thought leader and Senior Vice President at Segal discussed the return to work issue, “Above all else, employees need to feel safe: physically, mentally, and financially. Employers should transparently describe how they plan to make their workplace a safe place.” Possible ways to make that happen include:
• Symptom checks
• Physical distancing of workspaces
• Staggered scheduling (if possible)
• Enhanced cleaning
• Personal protective equipment requirements

One idea that’s probably not going to work is requiring proof of vaccination for employees. In a recent Gartner survey, only 8% of poll respondents said they were planning to require proof of vaccination as part of their return to work strategy. 36% of respondents said they were planning on asking employees to self-report vaccination status. Based on those numbers, it’s clear that vaccine requirements will not be effective. What will? Robust and consistent communication.

By communicating your commitment to putting employee health front and center, you show your team that their health and wellness matters. Make sure you spell out your policies to your internal staff via a robust, multichannel communication strategy. Emails, manager meetings, video conferencing, phone, and text are all critical touchpoints to reach your team members.

Return to Work Strategy 2: Retrain and Retain

Pandemic or not, Buy-Online, Pick-Up in Store (BOPIS) has resonated with consumers. The numbers bear that out: US shoppers spent $72.46 billion via BOPIS last year, a 106.9% growth rate over 2019. Clearly those numbers rose with COVID, but going forward, it’s a trend that doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.
For retailers, that means you may find less demand for cashiers. If that’s the case, consider moving some of your top-performing, friendly cashiers to sales roles. Retraining your most effective retail employees and moving them to new roles has the potential to boost morale throughout your team. Work variety is a powerful motivator, so don’t be afraid to rethink the pre-pandemic roles, to fit a post-pandemic world.

Return to Work Strategy 3: Accentuate the social

Over the past 16 months, millions of Americans have been feeling increasingly isolated and alone. For many, work was the one place they could reliably connect and communicate with others—a vitally important human need, that should not be overlooked. As global HR Analyst Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte puts it, “We now know that remote work is good for many things, but not everything…employees like the face-to-face contact. They like the personal relationships.”

How can you leverage that to increase turnout and boost recruitment? Lean in to social aspects of work. Have more parties, get-togethers, or even just opportunities to get to know one-another better. Once people relearn to spend time together, they’ll look forward to coming back and spending more time at work.

What Are Your Return to Work Strategies?

What does the hiring situation look like in your area? Have you experienced any difficulties communicating with your staff? Are you considering shifting resources away from cashiers and onto the sales floor? What strategies have been working for you? Let us know…we want to hear from you.

SPAR is an international provider of merchandising services in 10 countries, including the U.S. With 50+ years in the industry, we are an industry leader that deploys skilled reps on behalf of some of the biggest names in retail and consumer products. If returning to work is a desire, and you are seeking a flexible, remote/field environment—SPAR can help. Visit for details.