What Workforce Optimization Is – And Why You Need It

In times where everything else may seem like it’s out of control, every business still has a few core processes essential to its survival that can be controlled. Streamlining these processes ultimately enables a company’s people to perform at their best. 

Because at its core, workforce optimization (WFO) is all about one thing: improving employee efficiency. 

While “work smarter, not harder” is easy enough to tell employees, making WFO stick is a much more involved process. Employees, managers, leadership, and stakeholders alike all need to understand and agree that WFO practices will help move the company forward successfully.

What is workforce optimization, exactly?

Workforce optimization is a management practice and strategic imperative that focuses on improving the efficiency, productivity, and performance of a company’s employees. The overall goal is improving organizational success. 

Workforce optimization is firmly rooted in IT and human resource centers. It manages staff performance, which informs the customer experience and a business’s operational efficiency. 

In 2014, DMG Consulting released a report, “Contact Center Workforce Optimization Market Share Report” showing how they streamlined their processes over the 2013 fiscal year. This report reverberated loudly across multiple industries. This also led to companies looking inward using big data and analytics to make informed decisions. 

Because this strategy streamlines automation, legislation compliance, solving business problems, and process automation, call centers saw a big jump in customer satisfaction and long-term retention, which encouraged other industries to adopt the strategy across the board. This change made sense to bring in-house to improve everyday processes, so companies could better meet their customers’ expectations.

WFO itself is not Lean Six Sigma, agile, or any of a variety of other methodologies that make organizations, processes, and people more productive in other industries. However, the overarching goal of WFO practices is aligned with such methodologies. 

Industries like manufacturing, supply chain, and retail also look at their metrics, workforce, and other factors and ask: How can we optimize? 

Across the world, businesses within these industries are implementing smarter strategies to monitor employee activity. Leadership can then use this information to find ways to optimize, so processes run smoother and their people can do more. 

We’ve covered the specific industries, but what about the day-to-day teams? Who benefits from workforce optimization? Check out all of these different applications that change how businesses do work:  

Benefits of Labor and Staffing Optimization

When implemented effectively, workforce optimization empowers HR. WFO has the potential to inform HR and management whether specific teams or individuals are excelling. It can help keep track of peak team performance, along with lulls in results, and can also help forecast the same.

For example, in a post-pandemic world, there have been massive swings in business for grocery stores. Regardless, customers still expect a certain level of service and, if it’s not being met, there can be consequences. If this happens, it’s very likely they will just switch to purchasing what they need from another store with better service or delivery. 

A large part of this can be resolved—or precluded altogether—by implementing workforce optimization techniques properly. In this case, between staffing correctly and improving communication, bosses can deal with the influx in an informed manner as soon as business begins to swing.

On a more granular level, proper implementation of workforce optimization enables managers across the organization to know who top performers are. This ensures that retention efforts can be focused on the people who make a positive impact on the bottom line, and rehabilitative efforts can be focused on other employees who may be struggling with a specific subset of their job responsibilities. 

Shareholders, stakeholders, and general workers alike can see the bigger picture, but this will help augment general labor with any specific tweaks and challenges to the system overall. 

Other benefits include understanding: 

  • Staffing needs
  • Top-performing teams
  • Under-performing teams
  • Areas that are particularly successful
  • Areas that are particularly problematic
  • How to identify and retain top talent
  • How to identify and improve underperforming talent

All of these are major benefits, but these outcomes are a function of the quality of what managers input. 

Best Workforce Optimization Techniques 

All of this begs the question: What can a company do to reach peak optimization? 

As a company, we’ve been there. We’ve seen the ways workforce optimization works toward a team’s overall success in the marketplace. They’re practical and driven by results instead of trial and error. 

1. Scheduling 

Scheduling employees efficiently is essential to the success of any organization. 

There’s plenty of software available that reduces overlap and saves time compared to putting together a schedule every week. If someone needs a day off, they can log it into the system instead of scribbling down a request that will likely get lost. Software like Jobber or OpsGenie are also perfect for tracking attendance, performance data, and other metrics.

When a company gets too busy, having enough people to manage the work effectively becomes a major area of concern. Overtime can be expensive, but the commitment of additional full-time employees could be too much financial weight to bear. 

Given the current climate, that is a concern for many manufacturing, supply chain, warehouse, and retail companies. This is where temp agency and staffing companies like Adia can help. Our technology is designed to streamline processes by its very nature – big companies rely on our technology because it’s adaptable. 

If a manager sees a major uptick, but is unsure if they want to commit the resources required to internally hire contract workers or full-time employees right now, Adia presents a “try before you buy” scenario because we take care of the paperwork and provide vetted workers that are hired as our W-2 employees. 

All a business owner or manager has to do is use the platform. 

2. Time management and attendance tracking

Time is the most valuable asset there is. It’s critical to know what’s going on, and there are plenty of options that enable managers to do so. 

There’s attendance software that tracks time in and out down to the second. Capterra has a detailed list of time management software they’ve reviewed, so companies can experiment and see what works best for their needs. 

However, before experimenting, it’s worth asking a few questions and being very clear about what you expect from the software. A couple of these questions are straightforward:

  • Are employees coming in early or late?
  • Are there measures in place to prevent false clock-ins and clock-outs?
  • Is there a way to make sure employees aren’t clocking their friends in when they’re not actually at work yet?

On a broader scale, time management software allows businesses to look at scheduling numbers overall. This enables companies to make sure they’re covered for peak business hours and not overstaffed on slow days. This information, in turn, can help empower managers to make better staffing decisions.

3. Performance and Task Tracking

Once you know your employees are coming into their shifts on time, it becomes worth it to start optimizing how they’re using their time. 

There are a ton of task tracking tools out there. Salesforce, Trello, Asana, even Evernote are all considered task trackers. If you think about it, Slack could be regarded as one, too. 

In their own way, each of these tools allows employees to create a list of what they’re working on and show their progress. If someone is list-driven, like checking off items at the grocery store, task tracking software is perfect for their personality. 

Task tracking tools are a low stress way to gauge someone’s bandwidth. It cuts to the bone of productivity. They provide insight into where an employee cruises through their work or takes longer than anticipated, and they help ensure the day-to-day gets handled. 

Task trackers can show if someone is struggling at their job, or if a particular skill set shines. They also help prioritize work in an exacting order and are much, much easier to manage than an old school Excel spreadsheet. 

4. Improve Employee-Manager Communication ASAP

Managers and employees communicate for a variety of reasons. Some examples include: a reminder to bring a piece of equipment to the job, an HR update on policy, an opportunity for overtime, etc. 

Communication that pertains to improving the success of the job, a worker’s understanding of the team or company direction, or additional opportunities, adds value to the employee-manager relationship. Repeatedly tracking down the status of a project that could be updated consistently elsewhere does not.

There are tangible benefits to starting with workforce optimization practices such as implementing tools (such as Trello and Asana) that help measure and improve employee performance and productivity. Good WFO tools break down employees’ work activities, but they should also show strengths and weaknesses that can be prioritized. This should enable everyone, from managers to HR, to measure outputs and successfully increase them in a way that has long standing effects. 

The best part? Managers and employees know exactly where a project stands and can focus on moving it forward rather than wasting time tracking down the status of individual contributions.

Workforce optimization is multiple factors working together. Let technology take care of the hassle, so workers and managers can actually work instead of spending time and guessing on administrative work like scheduling, time-cards, and project updates.

5. Cost Effective Operations

More in line with Lean Six Sigma, there is also value in making operations more cost-effective. Cutting costs doesn’t mean going cheap, but rather learning where spending is wasteful or doesn’t align with company goals. 

The data should enable the organization to reallocate resources to streamlining processes that will help achieve goals like customer satisfaction and retention, leading to increased revenue.

Dissect feedback, look at the data, and think about what’s working. It’s equally important to look at what’s not working as well as it used to. It’s time to lose old habits that worked because of the status quo. 

Take the time to do an audit of processes and take the first steps towards workforce optimization. Workforce optimization practices force companies to be honest while looking inward at how they’re really getting work done. 

If there is a clear through line of peak demand where workers aren’t meeting all of their numbers, that should inform business owners and leaders to make adjustments. This is also true for employee and customer feedback. If customers are repeating the same feedback repeatedly, chances are, it’s time to look at those comments seriously. 

Adia Provides On-Demand Staffing to Optimize Your Workforce

This isn’t an overnight thing – successful workforce optimization takes time to implement. Systems and processes need to be worked out, and as with any go-live, there will be kinks.

This plan isn’t built for right now, it’s for the long term. Ultimately, you’re working your way closer to a sleeker workforce that will save the company a lot of money down the road. Look at things from the customer’s point of view: if it’s front facing, no matter what the job or product is, it should work smoothly. 

We’re ready to work with your team. Adia has helped a variety of companies like Kroger and Amazon staff and schedule workers to meet fluctuating demand. We’ve got a pool of vetted and experienced workers available and ready to get to work. Workforce optimization looks for weaknesses in scheduling, hours spent doing jobs, and smarter ways to save money. Working with Adia is a perfect way to fine-tune processes that will foster long term savings down the road. 

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