How Workforce Management Systems have become essential in this time of crisis

Neville Henderson is the Senior Working Time Consultant to Crown Workforce Management and has worked extensively with clients, both private and public sector, for many years. In this article he discusses some of the challenges that need to be addressed before returning to the workplace and how a good workforce management system could help Organisations in doing so safely.

As we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are in uncharted territory. We look to the authorities to provide guidance on returning to work. There may still be many questions that need answering from employees at all levels within an organisation: What will the new normal look like? Will my workplace be safe? How do we ensure that we are following best practices? These will no doubt increase as we transition from “work from home if you can” to “go to work if you can”. It is important that organisations are conversant with the government guidance on how return to work safely and ensure sites are COVID-19 secure. Staff will be very reluctant to return if they don’t feel safe, not adhering to the guidelines and advice could not only have serious repercussions for your people but could also constitute a breach of health and safety law. 

What do you need to do?

The guidelines are specific for each industry but focus on risk, hygiene, social distancing, testing and contact tracing. There are a number of strategies that can be enacted to conform with these directions.

In order to reduce the number of contacts between people:

  • Stagger peoples’ start and finish times to prevent logjams at entrances and hygiene facilities thus helping with efforts to ensure social distancing
  • Expand work opening hours to allow for fewer presences on site, allowing off peak travel on public transport, enabling better social distancing whilst at work or use any facilities
  • Ensure minimal interactions between different teams or groups, for example modifying shift patterns to ensure handovers and interactions are with the same staff and likewise ensuring that the same clients/customers are dealt with by the same cohort of staff.
  • Schedule enough time for sanitising and any additional enhanced health and safety processes

The creation of these “bubbles” of employees can create a minefield of complexity in terms of aptitudes and expertise. In simple terms it is important to spread these skills to ensure the resilience of the delivery. If all fire wardens or first aiders are in the same bubble then clearly a positive test within the group could lead to serious consequences.

Times of work and changing shift patterns can be very emotive so not only is it important to clearly understand demand levels, their skill requirements and interdependencies, but also to engage and work with your employees. This is best done with early involvement and openness to ensure trust is maintained in these difficult and often disquieting times. Potential demand change and possible local lockdowns may have to be factored in.

For some employees this crisis may have meant that they are now working more from home. A recent PwC survey suggested that 78% of chief executives expected an enduring shift towards working remotely. It is essential that organisations are able to understand and manage this more flexible approach to work as this could well become more permanent moving forward.

Alongside the management of those who are working, we must not forget any employees who are self-isolating or are quarantining due to recent travels, irrespective of your pay policy it will be important to understand your peoples renewed availability for work in real time.

As we have all seen over the past few months often traditional ways of working have had to change, adapt and become more agile very quickly. Some industries have been hit more than others but undoubtedly there is no area of business that has not been affected. With economic activity stalling in some areas and being completely transformed in others – management, leadership, influence and productivity are still important factors in providing good service and delivery.

How do you achieve this?

A good Workforce Management system can help you ensure compliance, optimise your workforce and take care of your customers and employees.

Staff scheduling solutions will help keep your operations running smoothly, allowing you to react quickly to challenges as they arise, giving you increased visibility into your workforce. Understanding skills presence within the new groupings ensures the resilience of the new shift patterns preventing breaking any preordained requirements, such as health and safety officers or key holders presence at start and end of the business day. In addition, you also enhance your employees’ experience by demonstrating fairness and transparency when scheduling staff whilst simultaneously taking a more informed and responsive approach to addressing staff requests and concerns. This in turn may help productivity, performance and retention. In such an exceptional time, as always, it is essential that we do all we can to reduce the risk of work-related stress and maximise employee wellbeing.

Mobile applications and the use of software automation for specified events such as an absence, especially those which may indicate possible COVID-19 symptoms, allow organisations to have a real time view of what’s happening, without resorting to business analysts, to allow them to quickly and decisively manage any situation. If contact tracing becomes an even bigger necessity it will be greatly aided by understanding who was at work, when, where and who with so that you can swiftly safeguard your organisation.

Going forward the organisations in both the Public and Private sector face new challenges. Each individual workplace will certainly look and operate much differently than they did just a few months ago, the imposition of new processes, innovations, policies, and health & safety measures, many of which will be unfamiliar and evolving at an unprecedented pace.

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