One of the big challenges for tasting rooms poised to reopen in June will be staffing up. This is always a challenge but again, welcome to additional challenges in the wake of COVID-19. Consider some of what’s going on out there:
Situation 1: Tight budgets combined with metering-in visitors through reservations and other methods, it is likely that many tasting rooms will be open for targeted times throughout a week rather than full hours, 7 days a week. This trend was already happening pre COVID-19 but now tasting rooms will be less likely to be able to put together full 8-hour shifts every day of the week. Many small tasting rooms will no longer be looking for full-time workers but for a handful of part time workers to overlap in times during the day when they are scheduling more visitors. It will be harder to commit to workers for full time hours when there is so much uncertainty surrounding what the tourist season will look like. How many people will come to our tasting room? What happens if there is another increase in virus cases? How can we keep our costs down while offering the best experience possible? These are some of the questions going through small business owners’ minds right now.
Situation 2: The tourism industry, and in particular tasting rooms rely heavily on both the older, semi-retired labour force and also younger workers looking for full time seasonal work in the summer. Many businesses I have spoken with are worried to put some of their part time older workforce on the front lines—as they should be. And many older workers are not willing to risk getting sick for a $16 an hour job that pays for a yearly vacation they may not even be able to take. Some of the people seeking full time seasonal work in March have already left the area when they weren’t hired on at the start of COVID and others are not willing to leave any assistance they are currently getting from the government for part time hours—which also makes sense.
So, we are left with tasting rooms that may lean more heavily toward part time, pulsed in workers and a work force that may be looking for full time, guaranteed work. Knowing that some of these dynamics are out there prior to opening is important before you start staffing up.
Option 1: Part time becomes full time. Do all you can to turn that part time job into a full time one. Workers will have to be even more flexible with what they are asked to do because if an employer only needs a .66 time worker and is piecing together other tasks to make that person a full time offer, some of those other tasks will not be what you were primarily hired to do. Welcome to the new normal. A certain amount of work needs to get done and there is only so much money out there. This means that to turn a part time job into a full time one requires an innovative approach that looks at all the tasks and divides them out to the right people with the right schedules. If you are able to stretch a bit and turn a part time job into a full time one you are heading in the right direction—you are still trying to up your game and even grow in the face of uncertainty and that is a very good direction to be heading.
Option 2: Employee Sharing. If you really cannot afford a full-time worker but are finding a hard time locating a qualified part time one, I suggest you call another business—maybe not even one in the same industry that you are in—and see if they are having the same difficulty putting together a full time position. Maybe it’s a conversation you have with your favourite coffee shop owner or that restaurant owner you know is also struggling. Sharing workers is one way to get around financial limitations. The usual job sharing is two employees sharing one position with one employer, but this is two employers sharing two jobs with one employee. Usually the onus is put on the employee to piece together part time schedules to make ends meet but if the worker shortage is as severe as it seems, it behooves businesses to look at other options to secure the right employee.
If both employers need the worker at the same time (for example, weekend days) then structure it so that one business gets the employee for Saturday and the other for Sunday. Then put together the rest of the full-time schedule that works for both businesses and the employee. This option is more difficult because it requires coordination with another business, but it is also more innovative and may have very positive lasting effects into the future. Tighter partnerships between businesses, be they in the same or different industries, help form connections that you just can’t buy any other way. I would argue employers will be getting a more interesting employee if they go this route and the worker may like the variety too. In order for this to work there has to be good communication all around, but it may be a great solution if you can’t put together that full time position.
Option 3: Change your hours to fit full time schedules. No one says you have to be opened the way you used to be opened last year. I believe there will be a lot of good will out there when businesses reopen. With hope, consumers will understand the severe pressures and strains that owners have been under and will be more flexible with things like days and hours open. Visitors are going to have to get used to planning their days a bit more than they used to. Appointments will be heavily utilized. That is not to say that you can’t just show up at a winery. Chances are if they have capacity, they will probably take you in, but you should not expect an experience if you haven’t planned it out beforehand. All businesses need to meter in occupancy—from drive in theatres to casino slot machines to zip lining to art galleries to restaurants. Don’t expect artisan beverage producers to be any different. Consumers should know that this isn’t business as usual. Don’t hold yourself and your business hostage to traditional hours just for continuity’s sake.
There is one last thing to keep in mind before going into this re-opening phase. The staff who have been working throughout COVID-19 times, putting in extra hours in the face of uncertainty, often working from home isolated from their support, feeling stress sent their way by owners who are also visibly strained, these workers will likely face burn out sooner than the usual end-of-season October. Giving these employees a week off in the middle of July might be the recharge they need to get through the rest of the season. If you go too thin on staffing upon reopen you may find that there is not enough capacity for year-round employees to continue at the same high pace they’ve been working. Just a thought.