Workforce Management Software Improves Employee Engagement

Changing employee expectations is one of the hottest workplace topics and touches on many aspects of the employee/employer relationship. Companies are beginning to rethink how they treat their employees, which is creating complications for many organizations in the short term but will likely drive positive (and overdue) changes that will be beneficial in the long run.

Many workplace issues are under consideration. Employers are trying to figure out if they should require their employees to come back to work in the office and, if so, whether it should be on a full-time or hybrid basis. Companies are re-evaluating their salary structures as they struggle to hire people for traditionally low-level jobs, including: contact center/customer service representatives, bank tellers, retail clerks, servers, hospitality workers, flight attendants, healthcare aides, and more. Leaders are reconsidering the importance of informal (water cooler) meetings and whether these in-the-office experiences are positive or negative. Executives are rethinking their real-estate budgets and how to configure their offices. At the same time, chief operating officers are trying to figure out how to improve productivity through intelligent technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA), to decrease their companies dependence on what appears to be a fickle human workforce.

One of the consequences of this period of employee empowerment and company upheaval is the need for tools to help organizations manage an increasingly complex workforce of humans and bots. This is where workforce management (WFM) software comes in. At its most basic, WFM solutions forecast the workload and use this information to project the number of resources (human or automated) required to complete the work within a predefined response time (or service level) for every five-, 10-, 15-, 30-, or 60-minute increment of the day, and possibly night.

Workforce management software has been used for decades to optimize the performance and productivity of people-intensive environments like call/contact centers, retail stores, bank branches, and other resource-constrained activities, like hospital operating rooms and field service functions. These WFM solutions have broad potential for organizations, as they are designed to optimize the allocation of resources in a manner that ensures the work or activity can be handled by trained resources with the appropriate skills on a timely basis. Workforce management solutions can and should be used to help companies manage their increasingly complex (and scarce) human workforce as well as the new army of intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) and RPA software robots entering the market. It is likely that an emerging generation of WFM solutions, to which DMG refers as new-gen WFM, will enable companies to manage today's workforce while supporting a much-needed transformation of outdated human resource policies.

How New-Gen WFM Works

The primary goal of the new-gen WFM concept is to help companies find a cost-effective balance between employer scheduling requirements and employee needs. Companies need to staff functions with appropriately skilled resources (human or robotic) to ensure they deliver the expected service and experience within the committed time frame (service level) while keeping costs as low as possible. Employees want the flexibility to set and modify their schedules, lunches and breaks. And agents do not want to be required to accept overtime or early leave at the discretion of their managers.

New-gen WFM solutions are designed to "Uberize" the world of forecasting and scheduling by inviting employees to select and bid for the work they want to perform, specifically the hours they want to work and the pay they want to receive for each hour worked. The figure below shows the five primary phases in the new-gen WFM process flow. They are as follows:

  1. Collect transaction volume--The starting point is to collect previous transaction volume as a precedent for future forecasts, as is the case with any WFM solution. For phone calls, WFM vendors prefer to collect two to three years of call volume to identify trends. However, if this is not possible, vendors request 13 months of detailed call volume. And when this information is not available, most of the vendors require three months of data. Collecting volume for the many digital channels is tricky, as there is little established precedent, and the arrival patterns change frequently. Each of the current WFM vendors has its own technique for collecting the digital transaction volume it needs to forecast departments' future needs.
  2. Forecast staffing requirements--The collected transaction volume, along with the handle time and service level for each channel and possibly each type of transaction, are analyzed to determine the number of agents (or resources) required for each work time slot. This is a complicated phase as it requires the use of many types of algorithms (mathematical models) and simulation techniques to properly address the needs of each channel. Additionally, WFM solutions need to solve and figure out staffing requirements for transactions that start in one channel and pivot to another, which is increasingly common. The forecasting phase also needs to take into account staff shrinkage percentages and, in an ideal world, the WFM system should be able to calculate and provide this information.
  3. Employees select and bid for work--This is where new-gen WFM fully differentiates itself from the current generation of WFM solutions. Once the required work hours are known, companies should make them available for qualified agents to fill. Agents should select the hours or work increments (five, 10, 15, 30, or 45 minutes) they prefer on any given day, knowing how much they will be paid for that period of time. Hard-to-fill work increments pay a higher rate than those that are easier to staff; the WFM system will need to increase the pay for less desirable hours until enough agents find the reward (salary) compelling enough to select it. This approach eliminates the practice of assigning fixed shifts, lunch breaks, and regular breaks, which has been a long-standing problem with the current set of WFM offerings, as it has generated a great deal of employee dissatisfaction. However, for this selection process to work effectively, each contact center needs to have a relatively large base of workers who are trained with the necessary skills. Companies will find it helpful to use part-timers in additional to full-timers, for which many employees are asking these days. In addition, contact centers might also be able to use employees from other departments, which is a game-changing approach to staffing that can be beneficial for both the company and its employees.
  4. Employees change/swap work increments--Agents/employees can change or swap their schedules using automated tools that do not require the input or approval of a manager or WFM administrator. (The system can be configured to require a manager to review schedule changes, but DMG does not recommend this approach as it will slow down the approval process and negatively impact the operating environment.) For this to work, the intraday management module of the WFM solution takes control of the schedule once the business day begins; it becomes the control center for the WFM application. This module is on and actively monitoring the environment in real time and takes note of changes in volume, resources, and needs. The intraday management module also receives constant feedback from the scheduling module, reflecting changes automatically made by the system throughout the day.
  5. Dynamically adjust needs/schedules--As the day proceeds, the intraday management module proactively identifies unplanned variances and uses automation to address them. In some cases, it could identify a slow-volume period and offer agents an opportunity to come in late, leave early, move a break or training class, etc. In other situations, the intraday management module could project higher volume and proactively reach out to agents with the right skills to offer voluntary overtime (if they are already working) or invite others to come in early. The system automatically increases the rate being paid until it attracts the needed resources.

Source: DMG Consulting, July 2021

The world is changing, and companies that want to attract high-quality employees need to adapt. Employees expect to be treated fairly by their employers, including when it comes to their work schedules. The WFM market has awoken from a 40-year deep sleep, and vendors are working aggressively to deliver solutions designed for the times. Existing WFM vendors are enhancing their solutions, and many new players have entered the market, greatly expanding the competitive landscape.

Companies need effective tools to help manage their workforces— contact center agents, customer service representatives, back-office staff, retail and branch employees, and more. DMG recommends that all companies draft a corporate staffing strategy dedicated to fairness in the workplace and that applies to all functions and departments. Once this is done, find a new-gen WFM solution that provides the tools to effectively manage the workforce.

Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting, is an expert on contact centers, analytics, and back-office technology. She has 30 years of experience helping organizations build contact centers and back-office operating environments and assisting vendors to deliver competitive solutions. She can be reached at