Coronavirus has had an unprecedented impact on the US economy, causing countless businesses to close and leading to more than 10 million unemployment claims in less than three weeks. Many of the major manufacturing giants are closed right now, to protect their workers and help stem the spread of the disease. 

But our new front line of essential workers are still out there, working every day to keep the country running so the rest of us can stay home. Essential manufacturers in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries continue to operate. Amazon is actively hiring upwards of 100,000 additional workers to meet the demand of tens of millions who are under stay at home orders around the country. Retail and grocery chains are hiring for almost every position. 

While many businesses have been forced to close, others are dealing with a challenge unlike anything they’ve seen before – extreme absenteeism and rotation for which they are no prepared. The need for rapid hiring, onboarding and training of new employees, processes to respond to a confirmed COVID-19 case from a worker, and more are reshaping how these companies do business. And it goes beyond simply filling an empty shift. As major supermarket chains grapple with the impact of employee deaths from coronavirus and the likely impact it will have on their ability to hire and retain workers, it’s vital that companies have a plan to protect workers as much as possible. 

Let’s look at some of these challenges and how they are addressing them. 

The Need for More People to Stay Home

The most pressing challenge for these organizations is the fact that they have no way to prepare for potential illness. If someone on the floor gets sick, they will be home from work for up to a month. Everyone they were in contact with may need to stay home as well for upwards of 2-3 weeks. The entire work area needs to be sanitized. For most organizations, this has meant shutting down the entire facility for several days to clean. 

But even after cleaning, employees who are exposed are likely to be quarantined for 2-3 weeks. Those who test positive for the disease will be home for a month. Over time, that kind of absenteeism adds up significantly. Organizations are seeing rates of 10% or higher, making it difficult to maintain normal, safe operations. 

Fast Tracking Training and Cross-Training

To address the high rates of absenteeism combined with increased demand for services, many companies are hiring more employees. With so many restaurant, bar, and non-essential retail workers out of work, the hiring process is being completed rapidly and there is a large pool of currently furloughed or laid-off workers to draw from. 

But those workers may not have the training or experience to immediately step into the role of a front line factory worker or workers in a distribution facility. Amazon says they’ve cut out several steps of their hiring process and Walmart has reduced theirs to just 2-3 days, but those employees still need to be trained. That’s where a digital solution is a must. A combination of e-learning on a mobile device and microlearning that allows organizations to rapidly onboard employees to new responsibilities can help supplement the process. 

Only the most vital and relevant information is delivered, and only when it is needed most. This minimizes the data dump of new knowledge on an employee who may not be able to retain all that information and gets them ready to help much faster. It also helps to cross-train workers so they are ready to shift gears and move into other roles as needed when someone is pulled from the floor for self-quarantine. Microlearning, in particular, has been scientifically proven to drastically improve knowledge retention and enable workers to more quickly rotate between stations as needed.

Ensuring Safety on the Front Line

While it is important to have systems in place that respond to high absenteeism, it is equally important to be proactive in protecting the health and safety of employees to reduce the risk before it arises. 

Digital workflows and checklists can help capture key data about how a job is done and proactively respond if there is a potential issue. Geolocation in a mobile device can be used to identify where workers have been and cordon off potential areas of exposure to minimize risk to others. Instead of closing down an entire facility and sending everyone home because of potential risk, you can more accurately determine who may have been exposed and what that potentially means. 

With mobile applications, you can entourage a bring your own device policy as well. Not only does this ensure workers have constant access to microlearning resources and digital andon cord to request support as needed, but it reduces the amount of touching that occurs of shared surfaces. 

Creating a Plan to Protect Your Employees and Your Business

Your first priority is the health and safety of your employees, and the ability to stay open and support them in this difficult time. To do that, you need to know that you have the people on staff, trained, and ready to step in when absenteeism rates increase. At the same time, you need to know that your facility remains safe and clean so there is no further risk of infection. 

With the right combination of technology and processes you can do just that. Download our eBook, Workplace Safety, Health and Labor Shortage Issues in the Age of Covid-19 and learn about absenteeism and six other immediate front line challenges that companies are currently facing during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Download the eBook