Hybrid working is here to stay but what does that look like for the retail sector? 

We take a look at what this may mean, in particular, for the in-store teams, how it will affect the consumer experience and how it will shape the future of the high street.

A recent BBC survey reported that 60% of workers prefer working from home and while adapting to a new hybrid landscape has been challenging for businesses, it has largely been achievable especially for office based staff.  The retail sector, however, faces greater challenges to meet the new remote working model while maintaining an in-store presence on the high street for its customer base.  

What's happening in the market?

There is every indication that the retail sector is embracing change and being innovative in its approach.  Over the summer Apple announced plans to trial hybrid work among its retail staff and Dixons Carphone also announced its decision to introduce hybrid working in its North Acton, London HQ commenting that “it’s about enabling everyone to perform at their best, regardless of location, in a way that’s productive, effective and supports wellbeing.” 

The ability to work remotely may be a more natural fit for retail technology, but other parts of the retail sector are also adapting their business model to accommodate hybrid working.  Primark has implemented a new hybrid working model for its office based staff which they believe gives them "the best of both remote and in-person work, balancing flexibility with human connection and collaboration".  Asda's new approach "work where it works system" is designed to encourage staff to select the best location to do their job in a day – either from home, head office or an alternative location such as a store or depot.  

What the future holds

There are benefits to adopting a more flexible approach.  Allowing staff to work remotely or in locations and stores closer to home provides opportunities for collaboration with customer-facing staff and connections with the day to day business which is not always possible for head office staff.  With the customer base changing its way of working too this may create opportunities in the High Street.  Central business districts have seen a reduced footfall with hybrid working and if this trend becomes permanent local retail may pick up that customer base.  Similarly, as we see the rise in local work hubs, local high streets can reap the benefits.    

As the retail sector looks to the future and to building new technologies and AI into their business strategies, the shopping experience is set to become more personalised.  Retailers are keen to improve their understanding of their customers to gain a competitive edge and increase customer loyalty.  Those technology platforms may also allow more of the retail workforce to work remotely and provide a more tailored approach to shopping with online customer helpdesks and personal shoppers able to reach their customer base at the click of a button giving a more convenient yet personalised shopping experience to customers not just in retail technology but across the broader retail sector.

Building flexibility and resilience

Flexibility is the key.  Remote working has been shown to improve productivity and well-being but importantly it can promote greater equality and diversity in the workplace, for example, making work more accessible for those with disabilities or those with caring responsibilities, but it is not a case of one size fits all.  With one in three of us eager to return to the workplace, many workers thrive on the face to face interaction with colleagues and retail staff have often chosen customer-facing roles for that reason.  There can still be hybrid working opportunities for those who choose it, such as remote training days or the possibility of the computer based aspects of the role, the paperwork, being done remotely. 

The retail sector faces many challenges in predicting the shopping habits of the future, but a flexible approach to being able to meet in office, in person, online and in store demands will build resilience into the business model.

Helen Almond

Helen Almond

Principal Knowledge Lawyer, Employment & Immigration
Manchester, UK

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