What is workforce optimisation?

Workforce optimisation describes processes designed to reduce costs and improve employee efficiency through the strategic application of data.

We live in an era defined by customer expectations. Digital communication technologies have opened up entire new worlds of purchasing opportunities, and online review sites and social media platforms are giving customers a limitless audience to share their experiences with. These and other factors are creating an increasingly competitive market, where subpar customer service is no longer tolerated. At the same time, supply constraints and increasing labour costs are forcing businesses to do more with less, while still attempting to provide a positive experience for their clientele.

As organisations around the world scramble to address these needs, many are focusing on improving the efficiency and productivity of their employees on an individual level. Workforce optimization (WFO) may be the answer.

Workforce optimisation (sometimes also called workforce engagement management or WEM) applies data analytics strategies to optimise employee and operational effectiveness across all levels of an organisation. The overall goal of WFO is nothing less than operational success—maximising the quality of work performed by individual employees, teams and departments so that the business can perform at its highest level without significantly increasing costs.

Although retail, contact centres, financial services and other heavily ‘customer-facing’ businesses are most often associated with workforce optimisation, the reality is that nearly all businesses and roles across every industry may benefit from enhanced employee-data insights.

Ensuring a business is adequately staffed and has a clear picture of time and attendance is essential for a range of industries and departments. Some examples include:

  • Human Resources
  • Technical support
  • Warehousing
  • Customer Service
  • Accounting
  • Call centres
  • Inventory
  • Sales
  • QM (quality management)
  • Logistics

Although businesses will sometimes use workforce management as a synonym for workforce optimisation, the two terms are not exactly the same thing.

Workforce management is a class of software tools designed to manage, track and report on employee staffing, scheduling and planning. This falls under the larger umbrella of workforce optimisation.

Workforce optimisation includes a range of tools and strategies for optimising employee performance. The toolset of an effective workforce optimisation solution will often include workforce management capabilities. Other essential components include compliance recording and quality management, customer interaction analytics and reporting and business intelligence.

By applying data analytics to employee performance, workforce optimisation delivers several clear advantages. These include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:

Improved efficiency

Efficiency in business is about ensuring that an organisation has the correct resources, and that those resources provide optimal returns. Workforce optimisation allows organisations to better understand how many employees they need, where and when those employees are most productive, and what kind of support will help them improve. Deep analytical insights into employee behaviour help ensure that the organisation has the right number of employees at all times.

Enhanced productivity

It’s been said that what you don’t measure, you can’t improve. WFO analytics places employee productivity under a microscope, identifying and closing performance gaps and establishing optimal workloads. And, by introducing automation solutions to repetitive and time-consuming tasks, WFO empowers employees to work smarter, not harder, and achieve more with their valuable time.

Increased savings

Overstaffing can be just as problematic as understaffing. WFO helps businesses find the perfect balance, correctly quantifying need and employee capacity to create scheduling solutions that ensure that there is always the right number of staff available. WFO also helps companies recognise new revenue opportunities—including cross selling and upselling—in real time, so employees can bring in better returns without the organisation needing to increase hiring.

Improved customer service

The level of customer service a business can provide is linked to how well it meets the needs of its staff. WFO gives businesses accurate, effective insights into employee behaviour, informing decision makers on how to better support their workforce. Additionally, workforce optimisation offers a clearer understanding of the customers themselves and root causes of their habits and behaviours, so that organisations can create data-backed strategies for retaining and supporting the people who keep them in business.

Increased employee satisfaction

Engaged, productive employees that know that they are performing at optimal levels are naturally happier. WFO helps staff do more with less and achieve better outcomes.

Workplace optimisation can make a major difference in employee productivity and organisational effectiveness. But to do so, businesses must apply certain techniques, including:

Employee/manager communication

For each to perform their tasks effectively, employees and managers must be able to communicate easily and directly with one another. But when official communication is unstructured and random, it can detract from the employee/manager relationship. WFO tools that tie communication directly to specific tasks help streamline discussions while also moving the work forward.

Successfully implemented, communication techniques in WFO allow everyone involved to see at a glance the status of individual projects, who is contributing, and what next steps are needed, while also being able to review any discussion surrounding the task. This not only improves employee performance, but also makes it easier to measure output. Perhaps best of all, it ensures that employees and managers are on the same page regarding project updates.

Task tracking

Employees are not machines; they have times of increased productivity and reduced productivity, and may be more effective at tackling certain assignments than others. Task tracking capabilities in WFO help organisations better understand productivity on an individual-employee level. Managers can identify the circumstances in which an employee is most productive, and then make changes to help promote those circumstances. And, if someone is struggling to complete their tasks, managers have the information they need to identify and create solutions for these issues before they become major problems.

Task tracking can be just as useful for employees. Task tracking prioritises projects, duties and jobs, and offers a complete view of what needs to be done and when. This approach ensures that no responsibilities fall through the cracks.

Scheduling

Successfully managing an hourly workforce is dependent on a company’s ability to schedule employee shifts effectively and efficiently. Having more employees on the clock than needed leads to overstaffing and overtime expenses, while having too few can mean unhappy customers and burnt-out staff. WFO solutions include scheduling software to help reduce employee overlap, track time-off requests and automate various aspects of scheduling.

Scheduling should go beyond management and make the employees themselves active contributors. Employee scheduling portals make it easy for staff to set their availability, request holiday time and check up on their hours and assignments.

Time management and tracking

There are only so many work hours in a day, which is why it’s imperative that organisations track their employees’ hours down to the second. If employees are arriving early, falsifying timesheets, leaving late, or otherwise not adhering to the schedule, it can create an imbalance between cost and revenue. Making time management and tracking a part of workforce optimisation uncovers vital details about employee attendance.

Taking a step back, time management solutions also provide key decision makers with big-picture views on scheduling. Identifying trends and considering important insights, managers can apply WFO to match the right staffing assignments to any day on the calendar.

Workforce optimisation has the potential to revolutionise the way an organisation defines success, but only if it is applied correctly. When creating a WFO strategy, consider the following best practices:

Get everyone involved

Workforce optimisation is not only for customer-facing employees and managers; it has the capacity to affect everyone in the organisation. As such, WFO solutions should involve everyone. If anyone is left out of the discussion, they might end up confused or resistant when it comes time to implement the WFO strategy, reducing its effectiveness in the process.

Graphic outlining the benefits of workforce optimisation.

Set realistic goals and metrics

Improved tracking and reporting can sometimes get managers overly excited about hitting goals. But no team is 100%, especially when it comes to adhering to schedules or hitting deadlines. Instead, allow for some breathing room, and focus on the measurable metrics that relate directly to established business objectives.

Don’t schedule too far in advance

The right scheduling software makes it easy to set employee schedules many months in advance. But things like employee availability and customer volume tend to fluctuate, and premade schedules may not remain up to date for long. Limit scheduling to a week or two in advance—this will give employees enough time to make changes to their availability and allow managers to compensate for changing circumstances without the need to constantly reschedule.

Be flexible where possible

Employees crave the flexibility to work when they choose. And although some businesses have stricter hours of operation than others, it’s advisable to allow for flexible scheduling wherever possible. If employees understand that their managers are willing to meet them halfway in terms of scheduling flexibility, they’ll be more engaged and productive when they’re on the clock.

Integrate with other business tools

Workforce optimisation applies data analytics and tracking to help optimise how employees approach their responsibilities. By integrating WFO with other internal systems and tools, organisations can further streamline their approach, and gain additional data insights into how their staff is performing.

Regularly review and reassess

Goals shouldn’t be static; they should evolve and change along with the needs of the business. By regularly reviewing their approach to workforce optimisation, identifying any areas that might need to be revised, and updating strategies to take these factors into account, companies ensure that their WFO solution remains relevant and effective.

Businesses that invest in digital WFO solutions have multiple deployment options to consider. Each of these options brings with it certain advantages and disadvantages, and the right choice depends heavily on the needs of the organisation in question.

On-site

On-premises WFO solutions have been available in one form or another for decades. In this deployment model, companies field their own hardware, and the WFO software operates on a closed system. The company maintains full control over the infrastructure and can secure their data any way they like. The downside is that any maintenance or equipment costs are the responsibility of the organisation.

Cloud-based

Cloud-based WFO deployment is the most widely embraced option. In this deployment model, WFO tools are maintained offsite by third-party providers. The Organisation accesses these tools over secure internet connections, allowing for optimal accessibility. At the same time, the cloud provider takes full responsibility for maintaining, updating and repairing the software.

Hybrid

Hybrid-deployment options take a middle-ground approach to WFO, retaining and managing a portion of the infrastructure on-site while much of the software remains accessible over the internet. This may be a better option for businesses that have stricter data-security requirements, but still want additional vendor support.

With so much riding on service teams and their ability to provide exceptional customer service and support, modern businesses are recognising workforce optimisation as a major priority. ServiceNow, the industry leader in IT management solutions, provides the tools and resources managers, leads and employees need to improve efficiency and increase team satisfaction.

Available as part of the ServiceNow ITSM tool, Workforce Optimization brings all relevant WFO capabilities together under one roof. This includes:

  • Team scheduling
  • Performance Reporting
  • Omni-channel Optimisation Monitoring
  • Coaching and Skills Management
  • Skills-based routing
  • Bi-directional coaching
  • Queue Management
  • Learning Management Integrations
  • Demand Forecasting
  • Skills overview

Create detailed schedules based on accurate, real-time data. Integrate with other tools on your network. Monitor and gain vital insights into team and employee performance. Generate detailed reports based on historical metrics to identify areas of improvement. Apply complex algorithms to accurately predict staffing needs. Filter and view agent skills to optimise training tasks. And through it all, gain the resources you need to effectively manage your team’s performance. ServiceNow makes it possible.

ServiceNow empowers your business to take efficiency, productivity, availability and transparency further than ever before. Learn more about Workforce Optimization, and help your teams become the best versions of their professional selves.

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