Every company has their busy times and their slow times.
Employees often think about downtime as a chance to relax, and chat with peers. But for organizations in retail or finance, this can be very frustrating for managers who want to maximize productivity.
Even asking employees to do other tasks that are not their primary role can be met with resistance.
Here are six ways to maximize employee productivity during slow periods.
1. Communicate the downtime policy
It's crucial to communicate downtime "protocol" when employees are going through new hire orientation. Reinforce the policy during every slow period.
The Container Store is known for exceptional employee engagement. They believe that hiring 1 great person is equivalent in productivity to hiring 3 good people, so they are happy to offer good pay and development opportunities. In return, staff are expected to work hard and this is communicated clearly throughout the hiring process.
2. Create a downtime to-do list
Create a running to-do list of items that need to be done, but not urgently.
Make sure that any preparation to fulfill these tasks is accomplished beforehand so the task can be started as soon as foot traffic slows. Communicate the importance of these tasks during the new hire orientation. By setting the tone as soon as an employee starts, it's more likely they will take the to-do list seriously.
A great way to build awareness of downtime tasks is to offer incentives and rewards for employees who complete a certain number of tasks. This encourages employees to maximize their time, and also creates another way to recognize exceptional employees.
For more guidance about how to address non-urgent and important tasks, we recommend Stephen Covey’s book, "7 Habits of Highly Successful People."
3. Smooth out foot traffic
Every establishment must track foot traffic, and consistently analyze traffic patterns. From there, you can identify gaps and brainstorm how to attract additional customers.
Appointment scheduling is one option, but other ways to attract traffic during non-peak times could include special events, how-to seminars, giveaways, and free samples.
Tools that analyze foot traffic are now widely available, and can highlight trends in how your staff and physical resources are used. Godiva, the luxury chocolate store, invested in in-store tracking to measure footfall at particular times. They used this data to plan staff schedules, and decide when they should host special events.
Yorkshire Building Society streamlined their use of mortgage advisors based on information from JRNI. They used the information gathered to reduce admin time by 50% (!!) and now they use free time to provide better customer service.
4. Offer appointment scheduling
Being able to offer appointments during quiet times is one way to smooth the peaks and valleys of foot traffic.
Another benefit of appointment scheduling is that it helps employees better prepare for upcoming customers. In retail, this means that staff can pull the appropriate clothes for a personal stylist appointment. In banking, employees can prepare the correct mortgage applications and have them ready in advance.
5. Offer employees the option to leave early
Sometimes an entire day can be slow.
If this is the case, offer employees the opportunity to leave early for the day. For hourly employees, the time off may be worth more than the paycheck. For salaried employees, unexpected time off is a great surprise.
6. Offer training
Cross-training employees during slower periods is a great way to improve your team's skill set and capabilities.
By using downtime to develop staff skills and abilities, employers are building a stronger workforce while also making employees feel valued.
The Container Store is consistently rated as a top 100 employer due to their investment in staff development. In comparison to the average 8 hours of training that most stores provide, they offer all new employees 200 hours of training in their first year of employment. This means they have a best-in-class workforce where staff feel valued and are likely more productive.
These recommendations are easy to implement for any location and can pay huge dividends. Slow periods are the perfect opportunity to regroup, reward, and train.
New technologies can help by allowing you to predict traffic flow and better understand customer preferences. The correct technology, and these recommendations, will help you ensure downtime is productive.