• Alison Folwell

Mind the gap: navigating staff absence and flexible working this summer

Maintaining seamless service over the summer is always a challenge for any business, and never more so than now. On top of the usual pressures of parenting, holidays and unexpected illness, we have the added pressures of self-isolation or quarantine periods too.

While juggling staff leave requirements and unexpected absences will always be challenging, modern technology makes it a lot easier to handle without compromising on customer service.

Here are 10 ways that your business software can help you to plug the gaps and prepare for the unexpected.

1) Customer notes and integrated history means uninterrupted service delivery and great communication

Just because a particular account or sales manager is out of the office, it doesn’t mean the communication must stop. All quotes, notes and transaction history for each customer (and supplier, for that matter) are easily available at the click of a button, so it’s straightforward for anyone to jump and resolve a query. With information integrated across all parts of the business, it makes seamless service possible no matter who is out of the business when the query comes in.

2) Cloud systems enable remote accessibility so the show can go on

While of course there are some jobs that cannot be done remotely, many can. The beauty of a cloud system is that you can log on from your smart device and manage your workload from wherever you are. Self-isolating doesn’t have to mean switching off completely, but you have the added bonus of knowing that when you really do want to step away, whether for health reasons or just for a well-earned break, you can do so with peace of mind, knowing all the information necessary is readily available for others. Modern technology offers fantastic communication and connectivity, so backing that up with easily accessible information can be the missing link.

3) Accurate, integrated, up-to-date information means better service and fewer errors

When information is easy to upload across the entire business, from delivery driver to MD, its accuracy and reliability is much better. That means knowing up to the minute what stock you have where, what’s been delivered and what’s on its way, and the whole back story of how and when everything happened. Having all that information integrated across the business in real time and accessible 24/7 reduces the amount of time spent resolving queries, improves accuracy and promotes efficiency and great service, no matter who may be away at the time.

4) More efficient systems enable you to do more with less

Having more efficient systems means less wasted time and resources, and means fewer people can cope with a greater volume of work without becoming overwhelmed. Being scalable is a great advantage of modern software and means that even when people are away, those left behind shouldn’t have to be overloaded to compensate.

5) Safeguards in the system reduce queries and time negotiating deals

As you can include your own margin protection and credit controls, it’s really easy to empower your people to make decisions in your absence, safe in the knowledge the system will prevent any margin-damaging deals from going through. That means fewer occasions where needing to ask permission will slow the process down and makes your sales team confident in making deals faster but with a strong safety net in place. And of course all the stages of the transaction are recorded on the system so it’s easy to check up next time on what was agreed.

6) Automation provides continuity even when people are away

There are two major advantages of automated processes. One is that they save a huge amount of time manually repeating tasks, and the other is that they provide continuity even when people might be away. So invoices and reminders can still go out as scheduled, even when the person who usually sends them is off. That not only gives confidence to your suppliers and customers that all is under control and helps maintain reputation, it also prevents big gaps in invoicing cycles and maintains cashflow.

7) Perpetual inventory model creates much less disruption

It makes perfect sense: if your stock management model is an ongoing process whereby issues are flagged and checked day-to-day rather than once a month or quarter, chances are, it will be far less disruptive to that process if a key person is away from the business.

The days of weekends spent checking what’s in the yard are on their way to being over and modern technology offers a lot of improvements to ensure continual improvement to stockholding, stock profile and replenishment. It therefore shouldn’t be such an issue if key stock management individuals have to be away – the show can continue and the impact should be minimal.

8) Alerts will flag issues to prevent disaster striking

We all fear that something major is going to happen when we’re away. But when your system is already set up to flag credit issues, delivery delays, stock shortfalls or credit limit issues, there is less reliance on the people in the business to notice what might be about to go wrong. Of course, human insight and expertise is still vital, but it’s reassuring to know that many of the areas where things can go wrong have a safety net of tech to raise the alarm when something is on track to go wrong – even if the usual manager isn’t around.

9) When planning is more accurate, there is less reliance on responsive action

We all know that taking time off work often involves working extra hours up front, and afterwards, to compensate. But if the tools you use are capable of pre-empting demand more accurately, and enable you to plan ahead more accurately, it lets you put the key steps into place before you go to minimise disruption and impact on other people. And of course, if an issue does arise when someone is away, either planned or unexpected, having the right information to hand to rectify it will always make the process simpler.

10) When your business is reliable day to day, there’s more confidence when people are off

The simple fact is, if people are used to your business being able to continue as normal no matter who is off, confidence levels will be high when the unexpected happens. The last 18 months have taught us all many things, but knowing your business has the agility to continue operating even when things are uncertain or people are away is enormously comforting, both to business owners and employees, as well as customers and suppliers.

How are you planning ahead for juggling staff absence this summer? And what can we do to help?

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