Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
How hard has it been to find or keep skilled workers lately? If you’re like most professionals I talk with, it’s next to impossible. Even if we weren’t contending with a global health crisis, there never seems to be enough people available to get the job done. Now that you need twice as many people to keep up with the workload, all you’re worried about is getting it done with half the workforce you had before, right?
In working with small businesses over the years, I’ve seen this challenge take a real toll on their operational efficiency and, subsequently, their financial state. In many cases, output declines or error rates rise. Sometimes both happen at once. Either way, unhappy customers raise their hands demanding compensation, often in the form of refunds, credits, or replacement items, which all add up and impact the bottom line. For example, here’s a worrying stat I read the other day: over 40 percent of small businesses are paying a lot more for worker wages as a result of labor shortages.
Employees are expected to do more on the job each day given the higher demand for goods and services and the somewhat disjointed fulfillment model that small businesses – and, really, all businesses – are working with right now. A transformed labor market is emerging as the nation tries to recover from a public health crisis. Companies are essentially in a bidding war for the limited number of workers available to start tomorrow. I get it. But I’m not convinced money is the only way to win over skilled, talented workers – or keep them.
Tech can be more powerful than money
People don’t want to work harder than needed, especially when they know there are digital tools that can make their jobs easier. So, I believe technology has the potential to be just as powerful as money, if not more so. My friends, family and professional network are not afraid to tell me when they’re happy at work and when they’re not. Nor are they afraid to do something about it. We’ve entered the “age of change,” as a colleague described it the other day, and many people will now choose less stress over more money.
If one of your workers vents to a friend about how they spent all day manually counting inventory only to find out they missed something, and the friend says, “You should come work with me. I use a device to scan inventory. I get it done so fast and I’ve never miscounted…” what do you think is going to happen? They are probably going to apply with that other company and give you notice shortly thereafter.
As a business leader, you must make a choice. You can invest now in technologies that will make it easier and faster for your team to get through each task so they can ultimately get through more tasks. Or you can settle with the tools and processes you have now and take the hit on productivity and output. Just know you might have to pay more to attract and keep workers, and you could deal with more turnover as other companies up the ante with technology and other perks. If you’re leaning toward investing in technology to help improve the worker experience, I think you’re making the right call. Technology helps onboard, retain and attract talent in warehousing, retail and many other sectors. But don’t go shopping just yet.
Yes, upgrading your hardware and software could reap great results for your business. However, there’s a lot more to this decision than meets the eye. I know you may be stressed over labor challenges and want solutions ASAP, but I promise you will be making a much smarter and more informed decision if you pause and take these three steps before going any further.
Understand your current workforce needs
When you are searching for tech to suit your business’s unique needs, it’s important to keep the happiness of your employees at the forefront. That’s what authentically attracts new talent to your company and entices people to stay. In many cases, happiness is derived from productivity. If workers know what they need to do but just don’t have the tools to do it quickly, they will get discouraged and customers will complain because they didn’t have a great experience.
So, stop and assess why they’re experiencing each challenge as they move through tasks. Consider what you genuinely wish could be better or easier for you, your employees and everyone else involved. Then think about how technology may be able to solve each problem.
If you equip a first-day employee with a mobile device that helps them get through a full inventory count comfortably and without making a single mistake, they are going to leave work feeling empowered. They’ll share their positive experience with friends, family and (if you’re lucky) social media. Word will spread about how great it is to work for your company. And suddenly you have a loyal employee and potential brand advocate along with several eager, talented candidates responding to your job listings. It won’t require you or your staff to obtain a computer engineering degree to pull off this business feat – just a modern mobile computer.
Try to understand your future business needs
Getting your business to thrive starts with determining what you truly need to get operations running smoother. If the front-line tech currently paired with back-end systems isn’t making inventory counts a breeze, enhancing connectivity between employees, or giving them time back to help customers you probably haven’t found your tech soulmate yet.
There are new business challenges associated with the on-demand economy, from delivery driver shortages disrupting the expected supply chain flow to unpredictable shifts in consumer demand. These are realities your business should be able to battle. Even situations that seem small can ultimately cause you a lot of grief if you aren’t well prepared or supported. If orders double overnight or half the team calls in sick, who on your team can take more on? And what will they need to get everything done without falling behind and making mistakes? Though you may not be able to foresee every tricky dilemma, you can forecast your technology capabilities.
Look at your business from your customers’ point of view
Employees aren’t the only ones who will feel the pain when things aren’t running smoothly. Customers suffer too. If you’re a coffee shop owner who is out of your most popular blends and you don’t have a way to alert customers before they come in, you’ll be dealing with a lot of frustrated people. The same is true of retailers and warehouse operators. Online orders are convenient until things don’t arrive on time.
So, consider which technology tools can help you anticipate and avert issues you know will upset customers and, by nature, your employees. Give your team a way to immediately alert customers when you don’t think you’ll be able to get them what they want – or when they want it. And think about what technology your team will need to offer and execute alternative solutions on the spot. Will they need to load credit onto the customer’s digital loyalty card or reroute an order from the manufacturer so it ships directly to the customer versus through your distribution center?
Enjoy coming to work
Even though the U.S. unemployment rate is recovering, there are still a lot of great candidates out there looking for companies to win them over. Figure out how you can be the employer that helps staff both pay the bills and genuinely enjoy coming to work. And think about how you can be that business that customers love to frequent.
Once you understand what your workers and customers need and want, go shopping. Sit down with a technology solution provider to discuss what it will take to be that company everyone will be attracted to. Together, you will be able to create the right solution – pairing the right mobile computer with the right software – to make workers’ jobs easier and help them perform their best, even in tough times when the pressure is intense. In turn, your team will be able to make customers’ lives a little better each day.