Workforce planning, customer support, performance reviews, improving morale, streamlining HR processes … when you’re working on optimizing the people side of your business, you have numerous moving parts to focus on. This daily complexity begs the question: Which area of operations do you focus on improving first?
The answer? All of them, actually—and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
The trick is to implement a top-down approach to complete workforce management, rather than trying to piecemeal different systems and processes together.
Here’s what you need to know about workforce management (WFM) and how it can help your business.
- What is workforce management?
- Key components of workforce management
- Benefits of workforce management
- The workforce management process
What is workforce management?
Workforce management is a strategic process that optimizes the way in which your business runs. It relies heavily on using digital tools to share data across departments and systems.
Through the implementation of workforce management strategies—such as comparing attendance rates to anticipated order volume when building a schedule—and using dedicated WFM software, businesses can:
- Accurately forecast staffing needs
- Maintain regulatory compliance
- Appropriately allocate resources to meet demand
- Experience improved operational efficiency
- Improve profit margins
- Build strong relationships with workers, vendors, and customers
Key components of workforce management
Workforce management requires a multi-pronged approach that looks at multiple areas of your business simultaneously. You’ll evaluate (and improve) how your company handles things like:
- Time tracking
- Attendance management
- Labor forecasting and workforce planning
- Compliance management
- Performance management
- Cost controls
- Resource allocation
- Payroll and benefits
- Recruiting and hiring
If your company already has a process in place for some of these areas of focus, that’s great! You’ll still want to cast a critical eye on everything, though, to ensure that your workforce management efforts result in a cohesive, streamlined approach to operations.
Benefits of workforce management
After implementing workforce management strategies, you’ll have easier access to rich data and insights about your business. This information can help you better plan schedules, allocate resources, and meet customer demands.
The table below shows what these benefits might look like for a company that’s recently implemented a workforce management strategy.
While your results might look slightly different—it all depends on your company’s structure and needs—you’ll likely see some similar improvements.The trick is to take a strategic and measured approach to WFM.
The steps in this guide will help you make WFM a reality at your company—and you can always get additional help from a workforce management specialist, too.
The workforce management process
To implement a workforce management strategy, you’ll need to take an objective look at your current systems. You’ll also need to be ready to invest in tools and services that support WFM.
1. Audit current processes and systems
The first step in building a successful WFM system is to audit your current workforce tools and processes.
Consider each of the following during your audit:
- How easily can you pull time clock reports and compile data from multiple clock stations?
- Are workers able to easily access their shift schedules and benefits information remotely? Can they get secure and reliable access from a mobile device?
- How are time off requests handled? If they’re processed electronically, can you pull reports of the data and organize it by department or team member?
- Do you have a way to view historical data and trends about customer orders? What about supply chain performance?
- How easy is it for you to compare your time clock, attendance, and payroll reports?
- Can you identify when you need to hire a contingent worker versus a full-time team member?
Ultimately, as your workforce management implementation process progresses, you’ll be able to pull reports about attendance, time clock usage, orders, and supply easily—and your workers will be able to readily access their benefits information or submit requests from any device.
2. Identify areas of improvement
Look over the results of your audit. Do you have some tools that are working well, such as a time clock and order management system?
Are there any tools you don’t like, or that have been costing your company more money than they’re worth?
How about analog processes? Are you still doing some actions on paper, such as processing time off requests or writing up schedules?
Even though a paper-first approach may seem to be working appropriately, migrating all of your processes to a digital system will make it easier to share data throughout your organization.
Ultimately, when building a WFM strategy for the first time, you’ll want to choose a comprehensive workforce management tool that’s structured to make the process easier.
3. Set goals for your WFM initiative
Once you’ve identified the tools and processes that you want to improve and streamline, think about the kinds of outcomes you’d like to achieve through workforce management.
What’s an HR-related focus that’s very important to your company? Would you like to:
- Reduce instances of overstaffing?
- Monitor work hours and overtime?
- Improve resource budgeting?
- More accurately identify hiring needs?
- Reduce absenteeism?
- Manage labor costs more effectively?
- Generate more reliable metrics?
- Build a more agile workforce?
- Successfully manage a distributed team?
If you don’t see the things you most want to achieve on this list, that’s fine—you get to decide what the ideal workforce management outcomes are for your company.
4. Choose workforce management software
Now that you’ve identified the processes or systems that need an upgrade—and what you’d like to achieve with a workforce management solution—you can pick the best software for your business.
Look for a WFM solution that:
- Is easy to use, with a clean interface that performs well on both mobile and desktop devices
- Can be customized to suit your needs (this may include custom report builders, dashboard customizations, or the ability to integrate other tools you use)
- Provides all of the services you need to achieve the workforce management goals you identified in step three
- Has robust data export capabilities
- Includes both company and worker portals for managing time off requests, accessing benefits updates, and tracking time worked
- Allows you to automate certain recurring tasks, freeing up your teams’ time to focus on other activities
- Has the potential to pay for itself over time by enabling you to save more money in operational and labor costs than you spend on the tool
If you have any fixed systems you can’t (or prefer not to) upgrade, such as dedicated time clock hardware, you’ll also want to make sure whatever WFM tool you use is compatible right out of the box.
Doing so will help you make the most of your new system—and reduce potential headaches.
5. Use automation whenever possible
Think back to the areas of improvement you highlighted in step two. Were any of your previous processes very reliant on manual work, such as filing physical papers or pulling Excel reports?
Identify some recurring, time-consuming, or day-to-day tasks to optimize using the automation workflows your new WFM system provides. This could look like:
- Automatically updating scheduling calendars when a time-off request is approved
- Moving new hires into an onboarding status when signed offer letters are filed
- Generating timesheets at the end of each pay period
- Sending workers a series of reminder emails to encourage them to review and enroll in or decline benefits
- Creating links for leaders and workers to schedule performance review meetings at a time that works best for all parties
6. Develop standardized processes
The truth is that workforce management tools can only provide a partial solution to your needs. Resounding WFM success also depends on how you use the tools.
Start by establishing guidelines for executing the following processes:
- When time-off requests should be submitted
- Turnaround on time-off approvals
- Accessing and sharing time clock reports
- Uploading information to benefits portals
- Updating customer order information
- Adding or removing information from workers’ HR files
- How you’ll protect workers’ data within the system
- Assigning levels of user access based on job title and data needs
Create an easily accessible set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) that your team can refer back to at any time if they have questions about how to use the tool and its associated portals.
7. Train the entire workforce on WFM tools and processes
After automation and processes are in place, train your entire team on how to use the tool. You’ll probably need to hold a few different training sessions based on how different groups of people will engage with the software.
Make sure that everyone knows where to find the SOPs you established in step six.
8. Evaluate and adjust as needed
Your first attempt at workforce management may be a little bumpy—and that’s OK. Once your team has had time to get used to the software, get their feedback on any aspects that seem hard to use or poorly integrated.
Assess whether or not the tools and strategies you settled on are actually helping you meet the goals you established in step three. If not, continue revising your process.
Put WFM into action with additional support
During the workforce management implementation process you may realize that you need help honing your strategy—or discover that you need extra help for things like recruiting or human resources, especially during busy periods.
You can find help for all of these business activities and more on Upwork. Whether you need to bring on a benefits specialist during annual enrollment or hire full-time customer service representatives, you can find just the right person with a Talent Marketplace™ job post. Create your Upwork account or log in to get started.
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