According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Producer Price Index (PPI) or the increase in prices, goods and services that producers experienced for their input costs, saw a substantial rise, according to its latest report issued on Dec. 14.
For November 2021, the PPI grew by 0.8 percent. For the past year ending in November 2021, it rose by 9.6 percent on an annualized basis. According to the BLS, this is the hottest PPI reading since this metric originated in November 2010. With costs not appearing to abate anytime soon, how can businesses combat rising costs?
Figure out Financial Priorities
Harvard Business Review (HBR) details steps that companies can take to evaluate and make adjustments to mitigate the rising cost of inflation. The first decision is to determine “high-resolution spending visibility,” which means a fully transparent documentation of how much money is spent, in what way it’s spent and how effective such spending is in the organization.
When it comes to effectively deploying capital, HBR recommends reducing expenses and/or investing capital to grow and maintain a businesses’ market edge. If there’s a unique customer experience that would suffer, that might not be the right area to cut. However, HBR cites an energy business that conducted an audit of its operations and determined a savings of $10 million was possible if it temporarily suspended 80 business operation expenses.
Analyze Past Spending for Future Efficiency
After a business understands spending patterns and how they impact profitability, this can be analyzed to see how to work around inflation. HBR gives the example of how “external groups” beyond the decision makers on new build projects cost certain companies more than $400 million and six months of time. By using “cross-functional collaboration,” costs that could be cut or work that could be done differently gave the company a way to realize greater efficiency.
Reduce Choices for Consumers
As the competition among employers to find and retain workers is tough, including the pressure to raise wages, simplifying what a company offers can help reduce costs.
Mondelez International, a global producer of comestibles, reduced the number of products it offered to customers by 25 percent when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Similarly, hotels began reducing the need for housekeeping by asking guests, especially during the pandemic, if they needed their rooms freshened up during stays.
Selectively Digitize Tasks
When it comes to businesses fighting for their survival, one silver lining of the pandemic is automation. Many companies discovered the benefits of automation, including higher profits, gains in output, etc.
HBR explains that processes on data for products, such as weight, size, images, etc., can be automated, freeing up human workers for higher level tasks, such as analysis and projections. Citing the example of David’s Bridal, through its Zoey messaging concierge service during the beginning of 2020, appointment and communication center expenses fell by 30 percent. This helped shift human workers to devote more time to in-person assistance.
While there’s no magic recipe to combat inflation, by analyzing a company’s books and keeping up with trends, there are many ways to affect cost savings.
According to the job site Indeed, COVID-19 has taken a toll on workers even more in 2021, compared to 2020. The survey conducted by Indeed found that 52 percent of those surveyed felt “burned out” in 2021. Sixty-seven percent of those asked said that feeling burned out has become more pronounced as COVID-19 has progressed. It’s more noticeable among remote workers (38 percent), compared to 28 percent of employees working in person.
Gallup reported in October 2020 that between 2016 and 2019, worker burnout was already on the radar. Once COVID-19 hit workers in 2020, those working remotely 100 percent of the time are reporting even higher levels than those who work outside the home.
Pre-COVID-19, when employees worked remotely either 100 percent of the time or via a hybrid approach, they had lower levels of burnout compared to those who worked at their place of employment full-time.
When it comes to remote-only employees who “experience burnout at work always or very often,” levels have gone from 18 percent pre-pandemic to 29 percent during the coronavirus pandemic.
This phenomenon is blamed on not being able to choose to work remotely or at the workplace – the choice is not there with COVID-19. As of September 2020, 4 in 10 full-time employees worked exclusively from home, compared to 4 percent pre-COVID.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “job burnout is a special type of work-related stress.” Internal factors, according to the Mayo Clinic and Gallup, include uneven treatment by management, excessive work assigned to an individual, a toxic workplace and ambiguous or unclear assignment instructions.
Outside factors such as their personal life, their natural disposition, mood disorders, etc. may add to it. When a worker is fatigued, physically or intellectually, this also grips the worker with a feeling of lower productivity and a loss of who they are professionally.
For those who can’t manage job-related stressors, burnout often leads to negative results. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this includes feeling dubious about one’s future at the company, experiencing an inability to sleep, an inability to concentrate, feeling tired and having little motivation to complete one’s work.
If there’s a completely new way of working, unpredictability of being exposed to COVID-19, having to juggle work and personal obligations throughout the workday and the inability to have the right tools to get work tasks completed, burnout will likely ensue.
There are many recommendations to regain control and keep work-related stress in check. This includes creating a schedule for both regular sleep and time to fulfill work tasks, if feasible. Taking strategic breaks and finding constructive non-work interests can lessen the stress of work as part of a balanced schedule.
According to Gallup, managers must harmonize maintaining high-performance expectations with employee commitment to the organization and worker welfare.
Gallup credits effective managers and “organizational communication” with keeping full-time remote workers fully engaged by making them feel like an integral part of their company. Through purposeful training and crystal-clear expectations, workers are set up for success.
The CDC recommends how workers can reduce the effects of burnout. Staying diligent with emotional wellbeing treatments and recognizing and getting treatment for new substance abuse issues is recommended. Staying in touch with others can help both sides feel supported mentally and lower stress. Taking a break from constant negative news is also recommended.
Much like businesses, employees are unique. With COVID-19 impacting each of us differently, managers must evaluate their organization’s circumstances and employees to find a balance between employee performance and their ability to maintain wellbeing.
According to a recent U.S. Travel Association forecast, only about one-third of companies are requiring their employees to travel. With business travel still at a low, how can companies develop a travel policy that reduces the risk of COVID-19?
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
When it comes to business travelers, whether employees are traveling domestically or internationally, OSHA recommends employers consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for guidance.
The CDC advises against traveling internationally if someone is not vaccinated, is exposed to, sick with, tests positive and/or is waiting results from COVID-19 exposure. Even for travelers who are fully vaccinated, the CDC reminds us that becoming infected and/or spreading the virus is still possible.
Travelers should similarly follow all guidelines at their point of departure, on the airline, and at their destination (e.g., wear face masks, get tested to show proof of being COVID-19 negative, maintain social distancing) to be compliant with requirements during each point of the journey.
For those returning to the United States, fully vaccinated travelers must have a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of travel. Fully vaccinated individuals are suggested to test three to five days post travel, keep an eye out for symptoms and test and isolate if there are symptoms. Travelers who are not fully vaccinated must have a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of travel. Travelers who are not fully vaccinated are advised to test three to five days after, along with self-quarantining for seven days, post return. Even if the COVID-19 test is negative, self-quarantining for seven days after travel is advised. If the COVID-19 test is positive, travelers should isolate. If you don’t get tested, stay at home and self-quarantine for 10 days post travel. If symptomatic, test and isolate.
When it comes to domestic travel, differences exist between fully vaccinated and partially/non-vaccinated travelers. Along with masking and government mandates for fully vaccinated travelers, upon return they need to keep an eye out for symptoms and isolate if any develop. However, there are no recommendations for testing or self-quarantining for fully vaccinated or those who have recovered from an infection within the past three months.
For unvaccinated travelers, along with following masking, social distancing, hand hygiene practices, and government mandates, testing 24 to 72 hours before departure is recommended. Upon return, travelers are advised to get tested three to five days later and isolate for one week. If non-vaccinated travelers don’t test, a 10-day quarantine is recommended. If a test is done and it’s negative, a one-week isolation period is recommended.
Assessing Financial/Legal Risk
Employers must determine if the work that requires travel is truly essential, and if it is in all jurisdictions, it should be documented. There are a few types of potential financial and/or legal liabilities if employees travel to perform their work duties. If an employee becomes infected, a workers’ compensation claim could be opened. If an employee does not receive an accommodation, either not having to travel or unable to work safely in the office with a worker who may have been exposed to COVID-19, legal issues may develop. Additionally, a whistleblower lawsuit may exist if an employee alleges the company has violated public health requirements. However, if business travel can’t be delayed, there must be guidelines to reduce the risk of travel becoming a way to catch COVID.
Protect Employees Before Travel Begins
Businesses are advised to give their employees adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Depending on how and where the employee is traveling, he or she is required by federal law to wear a mask in and on mass transit (e.g., airplanes, trains). It also may help to provide gloves, hand sanitizer and wipes.
Study Transit and Destination COVID-19 Policies
Whether it’s domestic or international travel, different cities, states and countries have different requirements for those who are vaccinated and those who are not. Depending on where the traveler has a layover, there could be testing, proof of vaccination or masking/social distancing requirements in place at various spots.
Agree to Travel-Related Activities
By highlighting the risks of visiting certain venues that may pose higher risks (e.g., restaurants, gyms), an employer also can mandate employees to wear masks, socially distance, wash hands frequently, etc., regardless of the locale’s requirements.
Plan Ahead for Post-Travel Office Work
Another important component of a travel policy is how the business and its employee(s) will return safely to work and interact with co-workers and clients. For the most extreme cases, there could be a 14-day work-from-home policy to reduce the risk. Businesses can mandate testing for employees as long as they cover testing costs and testing requirements are applied fairly companywide.
While the world is reopening to commerce, especially instances when business deals necessitate face-to-face meetings with people from different cities and continents, safety with COVID-19 is paramount.
Based upon a recent McKinsey Global Survey, nearly 9 in 10 (87 percent) of management and above level respondents affirmed they are currently, or within the upcoming five years, dealing with the skill gap among their employees. With the vast majority of businesses experiencing or forecasting a skills-gap, how can they close or reduce this challenge?
Due to the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” as the World Economic Forum (WEF) explains, the best scenario it sees is 54 percent of workers requiring “reskilling and upskilling by 2022.” However, the WEF points out that 3 in 10 workers susceptible to occupation disruption due to advancements in applied science obtained additional training in 2018.
It’s important to clarify the differences between re-skilling and up-skilling. Re-skilling is where workers who are displaced by industries becoming obsolete, such as coal miners, are forced to retrain for a new career, such as coding, teaching, etc. Up-skilling, in contrast, involves building and staying current in one’s field – a programmer learning the newest programming language or a marketing manager learning the latest search engine optimization (SEO) techniques.
Carve Out Skill-Improvement Time Blocks
Even for companies that strive to provide their employees with flexible time for a work-life balance, it doesn’t always guarantee companies foster a culture of self-improvement and upskilling. When personal, professional and/or global crises occur, there’s not always time for employees to learn new computer programs or the latest programming language. However, by providing employees with a few hours a week dedicated to professional development, businesses give employees the opportunity to up-skill, leading to more satisfied employees, along with limited strain on the budget.
Arrange Worker-Guided Study Groups
When it comes to learning a new skill, according to Degreed via Harvad Business Review (HBR), workers will go to their peers 55 percent of the time, second only to reaching out to their supervisor for guidance, when looking to up-skill.
Few businesses are known to have developed a system for peer-to-peer learning in the workplace. According to McKinsey, “Learning & Development officers” reported businesses letting their employees put their skills into practice to develop additional skills, along with holding academic-type instruction and “experiential learning” for developing role competency. When it comes to structured peer-to-peer learning, fewer than 50 percent of businesses have anything established. Thirty-three percent of those surveyed responded that there’s no system established to facilitate skills development opportunities between co-workers.
From HBR’s “The Expertise Economy,” one reason that peer-to-peer learning is not the first choice for employee learning is due to a common belief that those who are proficient at a particular skill often exist outside the organization, such as a paid training consultant. This belief also is reinforced due to external educational experiences normally condensed into a single session, compared to smaller and more frequent in-house sessions.
HBR argues that peer-to-peer learning leverages the business’ internal expertise more effectively. If more experienced employees share their expertise with less seasoned co-workers to increase their skills, it can be very productive. In fact, HBR lays out a four-point plan for peer-to-peer learning to maximize employee up-skilling.
By using HBR’s “Learning Loop,” businesses can help employees learn new skills and knowledge through four steps:
- Employees obtain new information.
- After assimilating the new information, they practice implementing the new information.
- After it’s been applied, they obtain feedback on the application.
- The employee then reflects on what has been learned to further assimilate the new information.
While this program must be tailored to every organization, it shows that by taking a personal approach to up-skilling employees and building on their existing knowledge and skill sets, peer-to-peer learning can be one effective approach to helping employers and their employees close the skills gap.
With the internet available for essentially all employees and remote work becoming a part of more businesses’ operations, developing a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy is almost necessary to help employees be more productive and safe while working. Research shows there are many reasons why businesses should develop the right type of BYOD policy.
According to Intel and Dell, 61 percent of Gen Y and 50 percent of workers 30 and older think the electronic devices they use at home are more capable in completing tasks in their everyday life compared to their work devices.
Frost & Sullivan found that connected handheld technology helps employees, making them about one-third more productive and reducing their average workday by 58 minutes.
A BYOD policy simply means that companies permit their workers to use their own smart devices to perform job-related tasks. It can be beneficial for a company, especially a smaller one; but it’s important to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages before implementing one.
One of the most obvious reasons for a business to develop and implement a BYOD policy is due to the proliferation of technology. Along with saving employers money by not having to provide a work device, there is no need to provide costly training on how to use the device. A 2016 Pew Research survey determined that 77 percent of U.S. adults have a smartphone. For those ages 18 to 29, more than 9 in 10 (92 percent) own a smartphone. In 2021, even more adults likely have at least one smartphone.
Potential Drawbacks/Legal Considerations
According to a 2017 Pew Research Center report, there’s a significant portion of smartphone users with less-than-ideal security habits. For example, 28 percent of respondents don’t secure their phone with a screen lock or similar features. Forty percent said they update their apps or phone’s operating system only when it’s convenient for them. Less common, but equally alarming: Between 10 percent and 14 percent of respondents never update their phone’s operating system or apps.
Without a proper system setup there are more security risks, including reduced or compromised company privacy and a lack of basic digital literacy among employees. Mobile Device Management software can help monitor, secure, and partition personal and business files in a dedicated area, providing more confidence when permitting employees to BYOD.
Other considerations for a BYOD policy might include prohibiting employees from downloading unauthorized apps; performing local back-ups of company data; disallowing syncing to other personal devices; not allowing modifications to hardware/software beyond routine installations; and not using unsecured internet networks.
Depending on how employees are classified by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for overtime compensation, businesses may be liable for overtime wages if non-exempt employees perform their duties outside the office. If non-exempt employees perform duties beyond “40 hours of work in a work week,” as the U.S. Department of Labor outlines, businesses could be liable for additional wages paid if they use their device for work-related tasks.
While each company has its own needs and unique workforce, crafting a BYOD policy that increases productivity while maintaining security and privacy can give businesses a competitive edge.
Record shares of Americans now own smartphones, have home broadband
Many smartphone owners don’t take steps to secure their devices
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, consumer spending has seen some interesting trends over the first half of 2021. May was flat, April was at 0.9 percent, March was 5.0 percent, and February was at 1.0 percent. With varied consumer spending statistics as the nation comes out of the pandemic, it’s important for businesses to get demand forecasting as accurate as possible.
According to The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, demand forecasting is “a method for predicting future demand for a product.” It’s a calculated method to plan for inventory and helps prepare the supply chain for the future.
Demand forecasting helps businesses forecast their future sales, which is based primarily on historical data. However, relying exclusively on historical data is not generally recommended.
Historical data provides an incomplete picture because it does not factor in economic trends, seasonal ordering, or consumer behaviors. Multiple analyses are also recommended because young companies don’t have enough of their own data to perform such analyses.
It’s recommended to run through more than one method to forecast sales. It’s important to ensure that data is as accurate as possible and to consider factors beyond inventory. Such factors include how external players – shippers, material suppliers, etc. – will work with the company’s internal functioning.
It’s important to be mindful of the time frame of the different analyses. Short-term refers to the next quarter to four quarters (3 to 12 months) and helps businesses adapt to changes in consumer demand and market variations. Real-time sales data is used to manage just enough inventory. Long-term refers to at least 12 to 24 months, but sometimes 36-48 months, and is used for things related to the long-term business vision. Examples include creating a more reliable supply chain, capital expenditures, advertising campaigns, etc.
Similarly, demand forecasts run by a business can be done regarding intrinsic or extrinsic factors. External forecasts evaluate how the broader economy and systemic changes in commerce shifts future demand. Recommended indicators include exploring how many retail consumers spend, what they are interested in, and whether the economy is expanding or contracting. Internal demand forecasts look at the organization’s employee makeup and where and how the business can divert resources to help deal with additional capacity, if necessary.
Passive demand forecasting relies exclusively on historical data and is usually geared toward established companies with generally reliable sales histories.
Active demand forecasting is geared more toward startup businesses looking to scale and diversify their portfolio. It can be variable because it factors in changing trends of the fluid economy and how companies, especially startups, plan to accelerate growth. However, active demand forecasting also may be useful in order for businesses to work around fluid inventory and logistic network overview. Startup businesses are better geared for real-time demand planning, mainly due to a lack of historical data.
With the quantitative approach focusing on crunching data, oftentimes with complex “big data” processes, the qualitative method takes a more balanced approach with some data, but also cognitive-based analyses, including some of the following tactics:
- The salesforce approach gleans data from the sales staff to predict demand. Those doing sales are in direct contact with the company’s customer base; therefore, they can get info on customer needs and behavior and even report back on what the competition is doing.
- Market research looks at present market trends and sees where businesses can meet newly created consumer demand. Startups benefit because they have little or no historical data.
- The Delphi Method works by hiring an outside group of experts and asking them a series of relevant questions. From there, each expert creates a demand forecast based on their market knowledge. Then, the individual forecasts are shared among the experts anonymously. From there, experts are asked again to come up with a forecast; this is repeated until there is far greater consensus among all the experts.
While demand forecasting is individual to each company and each industry, the more businesses that understand the approach to demand forecasting, the more able they’ll be to react to any type of consumer trend.