What is Workforce Optimization and Why Should I Do it?

Ever heard the saying, “work smarter, not harder”? It’s not just another corporate buzz-phrase—business technology and workplace strategies are making it more feasible than before for organizations of every size to cut down on costs while increasing employee productivity and customer satisfaction.

Turns out, it is possible to have your (business) cake and eat it too. How? Two words: Workforce optimization.

The real meaning of “workforce optimization”

As your business grows, scalability becomes an even bigger challenge, and often the first instinct can be to add more—more customers equals more employees, right? Not necessarily. From the perspective of workforce optimization, more can actually mean less: less time spent on the wrong tasks and less overhead.

Workforce optimization (WFO) is defined as “a business strategy focused on balancing customer satisfaction, service levels, workforce scheduling, operational costs and other key performance metrics in order for a business to get the maximum benefit out of the employees working for them at any given time.”

In other words, workforce optimization is an overall approach combined with the necessary applications and tools to put it into practice. It’s a concept to help you become more efficient and effective as your business grows, and keep all aspects of your business working together in harmony. At its core, it’s understanding how your employees work and how to best leverage their skills to reach greater organizational goals.

Workforce optimization is information. While it is working smarter, it’s also working better and faster, with the right resources in the right place at the right time, and the right supporting technology providing the right data. It’s connecting all the dots between the information and the people who need it most.

The information provided by workforce optimization covers everything from predicting staffing needs and employee scheduling to matching the appropriate skills with appropriate tasks. It relies heavily on both your human resources and technology resources by linking every part of your organization together, automating processes that were previously manual to eliminate errors, and streamlining decision-making.

Why you should try workforce optimization

As we mentioned previously, workforce optimization is based on information and getting that information to the right people. So the greatest advantage of workforce optimization? Insight into every aspect of your business. This change alone can lead to year-over-year improvement in staff productivity.

Your employees need to be able to make the best decisions possible, and they can only do that with the best information at their disposal. Workforce optimization can predict demand and make sure the best employees for the job are scheduled and ready to tackle it, resulting in even greater customer satisfaction. It pulls information together quickly, then gets it in the hands of the appropriate people to put it into action.

Consider this example: you’re operating at peak hours, but customers are complaining because their needs aren’t being met fast enough. The end product isn’t what they asked for, but none of your employees in between know that. You have too many or too few employees—and not the right employees—available, and you’re not sure who excels at certain tasks or where their skills should best be used.

It’s a free-for-all, and you can only work with the limited information you yourself have put together. Your team ends up exhausted and working overtime, and yet you still can’t keep up with the demand. In the end, you wind up with higher costs and unhappy customers.

Now consider the same scenario, but this time, things go a little differently. You start the night with your go-to employees on the clock when you need them. You have a forecast in hand for peak hours and highest potential sales, know how many employees you need to support demand, know who your top performers are, what their tasks should be, and have staffed your schedule accordingly, all without even spending extra time to do so.

Employees know when to show up and communicate easily. If the end product doesn’t match the original customer ask, they’re able to access that information and act. You don’t have too many employees on the floor or too few, and your customers are satisfied.

Your business is in the Goldilocks zone: just right.

How to make workforce optimization work for you

In each step of the examples above, workforce optimization played a crucial role in the team’s overall success. Here are a few top ways the same workforce optimization can make an impact on your business today:

1. Customer-first perspective

Remember, workforce optimization isn’t just one thing. It’s multiple factors working together in action to support a greater outcome: more satisfied customers and more productive employees. By taking a customer-first approach and looking at your overall business operations, you can start to identify where the breakdowns happen and where your customer isn’t top of mind.

Examine customer experience in from the customer’s perspective and dissect their feedback. Is what’s working for you not working for them at any point? Any old habits or ways of doing things “just because” that aren’t efficiency-based or could be handled differently? Take the opportunity to do a customer experience audit and find out. Then take your first step towards workforce optimization and get that data to the people on your team who need it most.

2. Time management and attendance tracking

Getting the full picture of employee attendance and overall time management is one of the most important factors to implementing workforce optimization at your business. With attendance software, you’ll cut down on time and errors from manually clocking in and out. You’ll also be able to get a sense of employee engagement (who’s always clocking out early and getting into work late) and be able to crack down or eliminate any potential buddy punching. And by looking at overtime, you’ll have insight into which shifts are understaffed and where any gaps in your coverage are.

3. Scheduling

Like attendance, scheduling software can reduce overlap and close the gaps. It saves time spent on manually putting together schedules and accounting for employees’ availability, and allows anytime access to schedules should you need to make a change. By combining all the information you need in one place—employee availability, time off, skills, attendance data, and performance—you can ensure the most qualified people for the job are present when you need them most, instead of scheduling just by who happens to be available. Some scheduling software can even automatically assign open shifts for you to review and publish to make the scheduling process as easy as possible.

4. Performance and task tracking

Task tracking tools like Basecamp, Trello, and Salesforce can help you assign tasks and gauge employee productivity at a glance. Are your workers moving through their jobs for the day? Does one employee struggle to complete their tasks or hit their quotas more so than others? This may be your first sign that not every employee is in a role best suited to their individual skill sets, or that your processes aren’t as efficient as they could be. Luckily, there’s a whole world of workforce optimization software and analytics to help you examine your current processes and see which ones make the grade.

Workforce optimization doesn’t happen overnight. It takes place gradually, and each new system and re-prioritization moves you one step closer to achieving happier customers and happier employees who are engaged and able to do their best work each day. Because after all, workforce optimization isn’t just a strategy. It’s a “relational process through which organizations continually improve and get a return on their biggest asset—their workforce.”

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