Envisioning the Future of Hourly Work

August 10, 2020

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The landscape of hourly work is changing fast, chat with us to see how Branch is helping companies keep up.
Future of Hourly Work

Envisioning the Future of Hourly Work

The future is here—and it demands we take better care of hourly workers.

Intro: People, Not Just Profits

The world looks a lot different than it did a year or even six months ago. While it can be hard to find ways to carry on with optimism, we know that positive change can stem from challenging times. Your business can be on the frontlines of helping to create a better future for hourly workers. 

Whether your doors are just now re-opening, or you’ve been up and running throughout the pandemic, you might be wrestling with some of these questions: 

  • How can I keep my employees and customers safe? 
  • How can I keep operating amid new regulations?
  • How can I foster inclusion and promote social responsibility?

And the biggest question on everyone’s mind: What will the future of work look like?

We don’t claim to have all the answers. But Branch was founded on the belief that the old way of doing things (traditional banking, high-risk payday loans, and the two-week paycycle) can and should be improved upon in order to help working Americans. And we think that same drive to do better and bring about real change can be applied to how businesses relaunch and plan for the future. 

As we’ve listened to business owners, hourly workers, and consumers these past few months, there’s one thing we know for sure: Adapting to the new normal will require both protecting your employees’ wellbeing and protecting your bottom line. Because aside from being the right thing to do, consumers are paying more attention than ever. How you treat your employees—and what you can do for them beyond just giving them their wages—will factor more heavily into consumer purchasing decisions going forward. 

It’s time to find new strategies now that ensure your business model is sustainable for both your profits and your people.

Showing your employees you value them, for instance, needs to go beyond deeming them “essential.” It’s true that frontline workers are more essential than ever, but the people who work for you want to be shown that they are valued, not just issued a platitude or title. They want to lead healthier, happier, more financially stable lives—and you can help. 

This is a chance for businesses to re-imagine who they are, how they operate and what they offer their employees to improve their lives.

This guide will explore ways to create a physically safe work environment, empower your employees financially, and pivot your business strategy to thrive amidst these current changes and improve the lives of the people who power your business. Read on to see what you can do to ensure your business paves the way for a brighter future.

Chapter 1: Keeping Employees and Customers Safe

COVID-19 has disrupted business as usual for all of us—and in some cases, forced companies to close their doors for good. It’s also changed employee attitudes about what constitutes a safe working environment.

According to a COVID-19 survey we ran earlier this year, over half of employees (53%) were hesitant or declined to apply to new jobs because of fear of exposure to COVID-19. It’s up to you to ensure the safety of both your customers and employees in entirely new ways than ever before. 

As more businesses open their doors, making sure you can foster a COVID-safe work environment is crucial for three reasons:

  • It keeps your customers and employees safer
  • It improves retention rates of current employees
  • It helps attract potential new employees 

As our data suggests, new job applicants will be influenced by whether or not you can foster a COVID-safe work environment. 

It can feel like an immense responsibility, but creating that environment boils down to staying adaptable and going the distance to communicate what safeguards are in place. 

Here are a few strategies to keep in mind:

Offer paid sick time—and make shift swapping easier

Did you know the U.S. is only one of two advanced economies without guaranteed paid sick time for all workers? In fact, 25% of all U.S. workers don’t have a single paid sick day. This is unacceptable in the midst of a global pandemic where one of the simplest ways to stop the spread is to stay home when you’re sick.

It’s up to you to set the tone at your organization that keeping people healthy is your top priority. Your employees need to know they can take time off if they’re sick—because you simply can’t keep workers or customers safe without this baseline.

Make it a priority to offer paid sick time. In addition, find ways your employees can pick up or swap shifts more easily with each other, without the need for managerial approval. Many companies don’t let employees see open shifts or who is working on which date. But using tools (Branch has one called Shift Book) that let your employees trade shifts is a simple way to make sure shifts are covered and people can take time off when needed.

Stay up to date on the latest guidelines

Different industries will have to follow different physical distancing rules depending on state regulations. Both now and for the future, it pays to think strategically about how your business is laid out, how physically far apart people can be, and how you can protect your workers. 

Staying up to date on the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is crucial not just from a legal standpoint, but in order to assure customers and employees that you’re creating a safe work environment. Take your cue from the current guidance, and continue to ask yourself these questions going forward: 

Re-opening Checklist:

  • Do workers have access to masks and gloves each shift?
  • Are there instructions or signs indicating to customers how far apart they need to stand?
  • How can you limit touchpoints (i.e. opt for contactless pay) at the point of transaction?
  • Can you increase ventilation and the flow of outside air?
  • Are there transparent shields or barriers to separate employees and customers where social distancing is not possible?
  • Are you able to conduct daily in-person or virtual health checks (i.e. temperature screening) of employees before they enter the worksite?

All of these small measures can add up to keeping your employees safe and your customers assured that you’re doing everything you can to proactively keep people healthy. 


Switch to contactless payments

While we’ve always known handling money isn’t necessarily clean, the pandemic has only heightened that awareness. When everyone is wearing masks and using hand sanitizer, paying for things in cash seems hypocritical. Over the past few months, businesses have seen a surge in digital payments over cash use and some establishments aren’t accepting cash at all. 

Plus, there are some unexpected positives to switching to digital payments. For quick serve restaurants and coffee shops, for example, mobile ordering can speed up the line and help you serve more customers. And according to restaurant analyst Peter Saleh, people who order digitally tend to spend about 20 to 30 percent more than those who don’t. 

Offer online or in-app ordering for customers, and focus on how you pay your employees digitally, too. Do they need to wait for the right amount of change in the till to be tipped out? Are you constantly having to make trips to the bank for change? If you answer yes to those questions, find a solution that allows you to tip out your employees digitally after each shift so they can get paid in a safer, faster way.

Chapter 2: Empowering your employees financially

Looking after the physical wellbeing of your employees is imperative. But the economic disparities that have been exacerbated by COVID-19 are also worth diving into when considering how to improve conditions for your employees, as financial wellness has a legitimate link to physical health. 

In fact, high financial stress can make people twice as likely to report poor overall health. 

A better future for hourly workers will include employers who help them gain better financial stability. Here are a few ways you can empower your employees financially.

Offer meaningful financial wellness benefits

Empowering your employees financially starts with offering them benefits that actually improve their lives. When employers think about financial benefits, they tend to emphasize benefits like 401(k)s or health savings accounts. 

But hourly employees often can’t use these longer-term solutions, because they’re living paycheck to paycheck. They don’t have the funds to address basic expenses and emergencies — let alone set aside savings for longer-term financial wellness.

Add in some of the fees that employees incur with traditional financial services (like late fees, overdraft fees, and minimum balance requirement fees), and you see a major financial wellness gap for hourly workers.

Before people can take advantage of mid- to longer-term benefits, they have to feel secure addressing their short-term needs.

When you’re thinking of implementing a financial wellness benefit at your company, consider these factors:

  1. Ease of Use. Are financial management or paycheck tools easy for your employees to use and access? Are they easy for you to implement? 
  2. Speed. The timing of a paycheck or transaction can make or break a bank account. Allowing employees to have real-time visibility and access to their finances can help them plan ahead better. Plus, you want something that won’t add extra steps to your payroll process. 
  3. Flexibility. There are over 11,000 banks and credit unions, so it’s important to find an option that will either allow employees to seamlessly connect with their existing account, or provide a banking option that’s easy to sign up for. Banking options should be flexible enough to bend to the needs of the employee.
  4. Cost. True financial wellness should eliminate costs for employees and help them get ahead. Many financial wellness benefits claim to be free, but actually include associated subscription or transaction fees that are either passed on to the employer or employee. Find a solution that’s both free for your staff to use and free for you to implement.

As you reevaluate what kind of financial wellness benefits to offer your employees, use the above criteria to ensure what you’re providing will make an impact on their day-to-day lives and help address their short-term financial needs, too. 


Allow for tips—even if you didn’t before

As more businesses open up and alter their operating models, some industries may see the need for tips where there wasn’t a need before. We predict that frontline workers in all industries might start to see an increased need for tips as their services are deemed more essential. 

For example, retail workers may now need to make home deliveries or bring items out to customers’ cars. With curbside or delivery options now extending beyond just restaurants but into other industries as well, consider letting patrons tip your hardworking staff. And make sure you provide them ways to tip that are digital, too, as cash becomes a thing of the past.

Pay people faster

As we alluded to, even before the pandemic, roughly 78% of workers were living paycheck to paycheck. COVID-19 has only exacerbated this instability, and people are struggling to keep up with their monthly bills. You can empower your employees by finding ways to pay them faster so they’re less likely to accrue more debt or overdraft their accounts. Not only will this provide crucial relief during a challenging time, but it will incentivize them to keep working for an organization that has their best interest at heart. 

You have the power right now to change how your employees get paid. It sounds radical—but it’s not. Earned wage access (EWA), which is also referred to as instant or on-demand pay, allows employees to access a portion of their earned wages ahead of time if they need it. This helps your employees:

  • Get out of the cycle of debt
  • Avoid high-interest payday loans
  • Start to build short-term financial stability, which can set them on the path to longer-term financial stability. 

There are providers who can help you offer EWA at no cost to both you and your employees.  

In addition to offering EWA, there are also ways to make sure your employees get tips or mileage reimbursements immediately after each shift, instead of having them wait until their scheduled payday. This also eliminates the need for cash, which is both safer during a global pandemic, and more theft-resistant.


Chapter 3: Pivoting your business strategy

The creativity of businesses during this quickly-evolving time has been unparalleled. We’ve seen restaurants go from in-person dining to curbside takeout only in a matter of weeks. We’ve watched grocery stores enact social distancing rules, erect partitions, gather protective supplies to offer workers, and more. 

So what does the future hold? It can feel like things are changing in new ways every day, which is why it’s up to all of us to stay adaptable. But at the end of the day, focusing on innovative solutions, having a contingency plan, and prioritizing social responsibility are surefire ways to build a better business model.

Get creative with virtual offerings

As we look to the future, industries that hadn’t previously offered virtual classes or offerings may consider doing so, even as businesses reopen. Because consumers will have different comfort levels and circumstances dictating how much in-person business they’re willing to conduct, it pays to think of what you can offer digitally to your customers. 

For example, if your salon is re-opening, but will be functioning at a lower capacity, you might consider adding hair tutorials or other knowledge classes behind a paywall for clients to access virtually. Retail stores might find ways to personalize the shopping experience online, too. (Companies like Stitch Fix have been using this model already with tremendous success.) Think outside of the box, and look for ways you can provide additional virtual services for your customers.

Have a contingency plan in place

The pandemic has shown us that our world can change at a moment’s notice. It’s clear that having a contingency plan is necessary. Even if your business is re-opening, it’s wise to continue to make a play for strategies that were helpful when more stringent restrictions were in place in case we need to revert to them. Here are some suggestions:

  • Streamline your curbside pickup strategy
  • Make sure you have a solid ecommerce site up and running
  • Shore up your social media presence
  • Be prepared to have someone ready to answer customer questions or order queries digitally, so customer service is never interrupted

Prioritize social responsibility

Being socially responsible has always been the right thing to do, but it’s no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have. In a report from 2017, 86% of consumers cited that they expected companies to act on social issues. With increasing globalization and tensions mounting on key societal issues, we expect that number to be the same if not higher in the years to come. 

Think about it this way: purchasing power is an incredible privilege. And your consumers are voting with their dollars every time they spend money somewhere. Not standing up for what’s right has become riskier than not taking a stand at all.

Donating to charitable causes, making sure your company has inclusive hiring language and non-discriminatory practices in play, and staying involved in your community are all ways to make sure your company is more socially responsible.

Here are a few more ways to step up:

  • Listen to your employees and ask them what causes they care about. Consider ways to get involved in the community that donate to these causes or address these concerns.
  • Review HR materials to make sure you have inclusive language and workplace practices in place. Ensure all hiring practices are non-discriminatory. 
  • Create a mission statement with actionable items of ways your company can fight discrimination of all kinds.
  • Review your environmental sustainability practices and find ways to conserve more energy.
  • Communicate to your customers the different actions you’re taking on key issues via social media, newsletters, and other messaging. 

Though this is not an exhaustive list, the simple truth is this: corporate social responsibility starts from the inside out. It starts with what you offer your employees and how you treat them. It starts with listening to their concerns and the causes that matter to them, and actively working to address them. It starts with helping improve their quality of life both financially and physically. When you start there, both your employees and consumers will take note—because the world is watching.

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