The concept of workforce agility is not new. Multiple reports and studies underline the need for and benefits of a more agile workforce. Almost 30% of the retail workforce works part-time (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) with one in four citing retail as their first job. According to Aon’s COVID-19 Pulse Survey #5 (August 2020), nine out of 10 retailers believe that agility is critical to their futures. McKinsey’s latest research about agility shows that its advantages include a 90% quicker time to market, 30% higher productivity in frontline sales staff, and 130% increased time spent on value-adding activities such as innovation, customer interaction, and problem-solving. However, this requires sustained investments at scale, and competing priorities have always forced retailers to look at customer-focused initiatives rather than at associates.
We see technology as a crucial ingredient for agility in the workforce. Some key areas technology can help with include:
- Personalized touch: Associates are viewed as distinct groups with uniform needs and concerns. However, multiple studies have indicated that associates are as diverse as customers and that their needs for intervention are different. A personalized approach is needed when creating interventions to not only increase efficiency but also in regard to retention. For example, a cashier who takes a long time scanning versus one who takes a long time in bagging each affects checkout times, but their training needs and coaching opportunities are different.
- Seamless everyday experience: In our research, we found that associates are looking for simple, intelligent and intuitive experiences that allow them to access information, seamless transactions, and collaboration when needed. While mobile devices (handhelds) and associate applications are good foundational technologies seeing increased adoption, it’s also important to build the right experiences across the ecosystem. Associates require needs-driven engagement instead of technology-driven interactions. Today, associates must deal with multiple applications and tools to perform even simple tasks like swapping shifts, putting in requests, or looking up order statuses.
- Accelerated onboarding and training: Training and onboarding of new associates is a key area of focus given churn in frontline retail workers in both stores and supply chains. Many new recruits are also new to the industry, with current learning management systems leaving much to the imaginations of these eager new recruits. Technology aids driven by AR/ VR and curated content and gamification can increase effectiveness and cut down on training times. In addition, a help mechanism that is assisted by conversational bots and on-demand modules can also help with training on the floor and reduce dependency on other associates
- Self-service paradigms: Today, associates must go through helpdesks to report issues and receive services for even simple tasks such as resetting their passwords. Enabling self-service will empower associates, enable much quicker turnaround times, offer greater agility, and reduce the number of unproductive hours. reduce costs, and enable them to have much quicker turnarounds, injecting much-needed agThe “Uberization” of opportunities: Incentivize associates to earn more by surfacing relevant opportunities and provide the training needed to attain those opportunities. If an associate desires an opportunity requiring a skill set, avenues should be available to recommend appropriate training and make him//her eligible. This would also help build more transparency and predictability in employees’ lives while benefiting the organization through cross-skilling of labor, increased capacity, and greater productivity.
- Communication and awareness: In the digital age, alignment with organizational priorities and leadership’s ability to interact with each associate are imperative. However, as the pandemic demonstrated last year, most retailers have limited capacities to reach associates in an interactive way and depend largely on emails and websites.
- Increased visibility and data-driven decisions: Tracking individual productivity down to an associate level and then delivering targeted interventions in near real-time is key when it comes to changing behaviors and driving agility. Delayed feedback based on generalized metrics seldom drives the right change and creates a trust deficit within the organization.
Wipro provides a complete list of “Workforce Agility” accelerators and tools, including best-in-class design, consulting, and implementation capabilities. We provide ready-made tools and frameworks including our “Connected Employee Platform”, “Coalesce” (an AR/VR-driven training solution) and Digital Experience Platform with its integration to conversation engines and AI-driven capabilities. We believe that technology is a great enabler for Workforce Agility that is capable of building a stronger, more efficient, and more resilient retail enterprise — ready to take on new challenges and drive profitable growth.
About the Author
Senior Vice President of Retail, Services, Distribution and Transportation, Wipro
Deviprasad Rambhatla, who goes by Devi, leads Wipro’s Retail, Services, Distribution and Transportation business unit. His responsibilities include strategy, business growth, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and P&L management.
Devi, a diehard Wiproite, is no stranger to the wonderful world of transportation and distribution. Devi’s career started at GE Transportation Systems, where he gained in-depth and personal experience in several US and Canadian railroads. In his role as Global Head of HTTP, Devi spearheaded Wipro’s 25% CAGR growth in this vertical by bringing in segment-wise focus in Travel, Transportation, Hospitality, and Public Sector.
Devi has been spearheading growth through blue ocean strategy, the opening up of white spaces, investing in and co-innovating IP/platforms, and harnessing the might of the new age of Wipro to meet the changing needs of customers. He has expanded Wipro’s repertoire of services from being cost-saving services to ones that significantly help customers bring in newer revenue streams and enhance customer experiences.
Devi holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science and systems engineering. He also attended the Wharton School of Business for his diploma in client engagement.