Workforce Management Scheduling Strategies
It’s no secret that scheduling is a vital component of successful workforce management, but that doesn’t mean businesses have managed to get it right. In fact, many still struggle with ineffective scheduling practices that negatively impact individual employees and the business as a whole.
There are several factors that contribute to poor scheduling, like outdated, manual tools, a lack of workforce visibility, and disconnected systems. And while an organization may be able to get by with an inadequate scheduling process in the short-term, it’s nearly impossible to successfully manage and scale your workforce without a strong approach to scheduling.
By leveraging better scheduling strategies (backed by powerful tools) businesses can optimize workforce management to boost employee engagement and retention, achieve operational efficiency, enhance their quality of service, and—ultimately— improve their bottom line.
What is Workforce Management Scheduling?
Before we dive into the nitty gritty, it’s important to gain an understanding of scheduling as part of workforce management. Workforce management (WFM) refers to the processes and tools an organization uses to support and empower their employees to complete their work.
Scheduling is a vital piece of the workforce management puzzle, especially for the 80% of global organizations that rely on mobile workers to deliver their products and services in the field. For these companies, mobile workforce management (MWM) is a significant component of their broader WFM strategy, and should be optimized to better support and empower employees, eliminate inefficiencies, and improve communication and collaboration.
Without proper scheduling, organizations can’t maximize their workers’ time, ensure proper resource utilization, or meet the rising customer expectations; so it’s essential to leverage the right strategy for success.
Workforce Management Scheduling Challenges
The workforce is changing, and so too must the ways in which organizations approach their scheduling processes. But for most businesses, it’s not as simple as receiving an appointment request and sending a worker to do their jobs. There are several common scheduling challenges they face, including:
- Poor labor forecasting – Without the right data and visibility into their workforce, businesses struggle to accurately predict future customer demand versus staffing needs. Manual tools and disconnected systems don’t allow them to generate the trustworthy historical data required to understand resource gaps and financial trends—then staff accordingly. Overtime, over-scheduling results in overspending on labor costs (without garnering enough corresponding revenue), and under-scheduling causes delays, frustrations, and premature burnout that negatively impact the employee and customer experience.
- Lack of flexibility – Delivering services to customers is not a rigid, unchanging process; but unfortunately, the tools that many teams use aren’t flexible enough to handle change. Workers fall ill, customers cancel at the last minute, and employee preferences shift over time. Outdated, manual scheduling tools (e.g. spreadsheets, online calendars, emails, or even whiteboards) aren’t dynamic enough to keep up. So when an unexpected change in the schedule occurs—like an employee calling in sick—it throws a significant wrench in the entire operation. Staff schedulers waste time scrambling to find a qualified replacement or must cancel the appointment altogether, which diminishes worker productivity and customer satisfaction.
- Poorly integrated software – Many businesses invest in a variety of tools with the intention of better supporting their workforce. But if their systems don’t talk to one another, these tools become a hindrance to worker productivity and satisfaction, and make it even more difficult to obtain the data needed for informed business decisions. Plus, if employees are using disconnected software to access and modify their schedules and complete their daily work, they’re likely wasting valuable time digging for the information they need to serve customers. And in the back office, schedulers struggle to create fully-optimized, effective schedules without integrated software that offers real-time transparency into the workforce. Since poor employee experience with inadequate, disparate software can contribute to staff churn, it’s a notable issue with serious (and costly) consequences.
- Manual data entry – Unfortunately, manual data entry within the scheduling process is still a harsh reality for many teams. Staff schedulers face mental fatigue associated with handling manual scheduling entries and revisions, balancing trade-offs between resources, and attempting to understand availability. The business suffers, too, since manual data entry is error-prone, time consuming, and creates scheduling bottlenecks that slow down the entire operation. This ultimately impacts employee satisfaction, performance, and revenue in the form of last-minute stress, fewer clients served, customer churn, and unnecessary idle time.
Benefits of Effective Workforce Management Scheduling
The obstacles surrounding effective workforce management scheduling are hefty; but investing the time and resources to get it right is well worth it. Organizations with a strong scheduling component within their broader WFM strategies reap a variety of appealing benefits:
Lower turnover rates
Companies with high levels of employee engagement have 18% less turnover than those with low engagement. A key part of keeping remote workers engaged is ensuring that their time and skills are used effectively. Effective workforce management scheduling maximizes employees time and empowers them to put their experience and skills to good use. With the right scheduling process and tools, mobile workers are properly matched with customers (based on qualifications, skill sets, experience, and more), so they always feel connected to and fulfilled by their work. Plus, they can strike a healthy work-life balance with a flexible scheduling system that takes their preferences and needs into account. The result is a happier, more autonomous workforce that feels well-supported by their employer—and is therefore more likely to remain loyal.
Less burnout among employees
Optimized workforce management scheduling helps organizations provide more advanced notice for real-time scheduling changes, reduces unpredictability, and decreases the chance of unplanned overtime; each of which might otherwise contribute to premature employee burnout. They eliminate the overwhelming, burdensome task of manual scheduling, which alleviates some of the strain on staff schedulers. Instead of struggling to stay on top of ever-changing scheduling details (like worker availability, customer demand, updates, delays, etc.), schedulers have the visibility they need to quickly and easily build and modify schedules. And with the right tools, everything from travel time, route optimization, location tracking, and more is available in a single, centralized place, so both back-office schedulers and mobile workers have everything they need to delight customers without the stress that leads to burnout.
Higher operational efficiency
Scheduling has an enormous impact on operational efficiency, and an effective process can eliminate the obstacles that slow your team down. Automated tools, for instance, remove the bottlenecks caused by time-consuming, manual, repetitive tasks like trying to create a schedule on paper or in Excel. When changes occur, the schedule can be updated and shared in real time, so no one misses a beat. Some solutions offer powerful scheduling and dispatching tools that not only reduce scheduling costs (with the ability to handle multiple jobs simultaneously while also getting the right person to the right job), but also streamline processes for a more productive workforce. Even better if the tool you choose is mobile-first and integrates with your other existing systems, so your data can become your competitive advantage. Leveraging sophisticated workforce management scheduling tools and processes can help you cut back on the time and money spent on data transfers while also providing real-time visibility for smarter decisions that further improve your operation.
Consistent quality of service
As a customer, reliable, convenient scheduling is a key factor in choosing a service provider. But in order to ensure consistently strong customer service, organizations need processes and tools that provide complete transparency into the employee pool, streamline communications between back-office staff, mobile workers, and even customers, and can easily adapt to last-minute changes.
Successful workforce management scheduling can help boost the quality of service by providing the business with a bird’s eye view into individual performance, broader customer demand, and whether or not their team is meeting client expectations. Dynamic, flexible schedules enable them to serve more customers throughout the day, and quickly adapt when inevitable changes occur, so customers aren’t dealing with irritating cancellations or delays.
Some workforce management scheduling technologies even offer automated, real-time updates, so customers are sent accurate arrival times or are notified when a service provider is running late. Workers have everything they need at their fingertips to arrive well-prepared to every customer appointment, which instills confidence and boosts satisfaction for employees and clients alike.
Lower labor costs
For businesses with a mobile or blended workforce, labor costs can be much more volatile than for those with a steady, salaried employee base. One of the easiest ways to reduce labor costs is to decrease or eliminate unnecessary overtime—which is typically the result of not having enough data or visibility into capacity and scheduling. By optimizing workforce management scheduling, managers and schedulers have all the information they need to make smarter scheduling decisions, identify trends, and ensure more jobs are completed throughout the day. With strong processes and tools, an organization can accurately account for travel time between jobs, utilize key staff details (e.g. qualifications, location, experience, etc.) to build an effective schedule, and avoid issues in under-utilization or under-staffing. Plus, effective scheduling benefits workers by reducing unpredictability and burnout from unplanned overtime – which boosts satisfaction and reduces the costs associated with recruiting, hiring, and onboarding to address turnover.
Workforce Management Scheduling Strategies
Regardless of company size, industry, or objectives, there are some scheduling best practices your organization can implement to improve your workforce operation.
Schedule tasks according to skill levels and more
To ensure both efficiency and an excellent customer experience, your organization needs to identify the right person for the job. You might consider some basic factors, like equipment, experience, and proximity to the job to determine the proper fit. But scheduling around those rudimentary details alone likely won’t help you reach your more strategic business goals; such as lower costs, higher customer retention, better employee development, or reduced turnover.
Since your business’s priorities can shift over time (or even from one job to the next), you need a scheduling strategy that helps you schedule tasks that align with those objectives. Make sure your scheduling process takes a wide variety of factors into consideration, such as:
- Required skills and qualifications
- Language preferences
- Gender preferences (especially in healthcare)
- Necessary certifications and licenses
- Current location versus proximity to the job
- Current work in progress
- Employee preferences
Then, optimize the skills and talent of your workforce by matching the right worker to the job based on all of those elements. If, for instance, you have a customer with a history of highly challenging installations, don’t send a green technician to complete the job. Instead, send a specially trained tech with the proper experience, certifications, language capability, and availability. That way, the client will be met with a well-prepared technician who is ready to get the job done right the first time—and the worker won’t be stuck with a complicated job they’re not qualified to complete on their own.
Integrate your software
If your team stores customer information in a CRM, crafts daily schedules on a spreadsheet, has separate systems for billing and finance, and uses various tools for their HR and personnel needs, it may be time to rethink things. These disconnected systems can turn a simple scheduling request into an overly-complicated, time-consuming process:
- The staff scheduler must shuffle through the customer database to find information around the account, client, job specifications, history, and more.
- Then, they must examine the schedule, which may or may not be an accurate, up-to-date version, to identify an available worker.
- Using that larger pool of potential service providers, the scheduler then digs through the list to find the right person for the job (based on skill set, certifications, location, existing customer relationships, etc.). This generally requires several emails, spreadsheets, phone calls, and calendars.
- Next, the staff scheduler will navigate the worker to the job site
- The mobile worker must complete the assignment (likely without real-time access to all the necessary job details), and capture any job notes or customer information, then transport those details back to HQ.
- Back-office workers will then process the customer information, worker timesheet, and other required forms
- Finally, they’ll send that information to the appropriate internal people, who will then re-enter the data into the relevant systems.
With integrated software, though, the process becomes much more efficient. The staff scheduler automatically sees who’s available and qualified to take the assignment, and sends them to the job site with the push of a button. They can even alert the client when the mobile worker is on the way, and notify them of any delays. The deskless worker can collect all field notes in their centralized, mobile app, and sync all of that data back to the office in real time. This enables a better employee and customer experience, and maximizes the number of customers served throughout the day.
Automate time tracking
When businesses rely on their employees to individually track and manage their working hours, details tend to fall through the cracks. If a mobile worker has to manually fill out their timesheet, return it to the office, and wait for HR and finance to process the information, there are several opportunities for things to go awry.
The process is even worse if different departments don’t share data with one another. Any corrections or changes made to the data by one department may never be communicated with the other, which causes invoicing and payroll errors and delays. At the same time, the back office doesn’t have the visibility it needs to understand the number of jobs completed in real time, nor how many are pending—which can negatively affect pipeline planning.
But by automating time tracking, the business has an unmitigated, real-time view into hours worked, jobs in progress, and availability. Using this detailed information, they can better avoid unnecessary overtime and burnout. Using sophisticated, automated tools, mobile workers can instantly check in and out of jobs. That data is connected to HR and finance, so invoicing and payroll are accurate and timely. This leads to happier customers and employees, who are met with error-free invoices and paychecks every time.
Collect and analyze data and reports
Data-driven companies earn 20-30% more than their peers, yet many organizations still lack the interoperability and analysis required for intelligent business decisions. This extends to scheduling, too, where an efficient process is grounded in both historical and real-time data.
Consider, for example, periods of lower- or higher-than-average customer demand. How does your team account for such changes without running into issues of under-utilization or under-staffing? And how does your business identify and resolve issues related to inadequate scheduling—like a high percentage of late arrivals, a long time-to-schedule, or high travel time—if you don’t have accurate data that shows what’s really happening?
With the right scheduling tool, your company can capture key workforce data (from a variety of integrated sources) that can be analyzed for a deeper understanding of all of your critical business functions. That way, you can make informed decisions that improve the scheduling process and, in turn, enhance service delivery, customer experience, and employee satisfaction.
Communicate with your team members
Effective communication is essential to every business’s success, but is often a challenge for companies with employees who work both in the office and in the field. If they don’t have the proper tools to communicate potential delays, sudden schedule changes, current locations, or the need for an extra helping hand, both job performance and customer satisfaction suffer. Plus, staff schedulers can’t build effective schedules if they’re not aware of issues in the field as they occur.
It’s vital to arm your workers with tools that offer real-time, streamlined communication, regardless of where they are. Mobile-friendly tools help teams to avoid miscommunications, oversights, and mistakes that otherwise diminish the customer experience. With the right technology, schedulers can instantly share last-minute updates or cancellations to both customers and deskless workers. And mobile workers can collaborate with one another while in the field to get the job done right the first time.
Intelligent Scheduling for an Optimized Workforce Operation
Truly successful organizations understand the importance of proper scheduling in relation to their workforce operation and strategize accordingly. But without the right processes and tools, your business likely lacks the visibility, flexibility, and efficiency required to keep up.
Skedulo’s mobile workforce management solution provides deep analytics and insights, streamlines communications, and offers a mobile-first approach. It’s purposefully built to help companies optimize their scheduling and dispatching process for a stronger, more productive workforce.
Learn more about how to choose the right solution for your business, or book a demo today.