How to establish a good foundation for workforce scheduling

workforce scheduling

Table of Contents

Scheduling crews of people with the right skill across multiple sites to meet contractual obligations is complicated. Workforce scheduling mistakes can also be expensive. If someone cannot report for their shift, you must have a standby person available. Sometimes you will have to rely on double shifts (overtime). Without reasonable control of the roster, workforce efficiency drops, frustration mounts and costs to the business accumulate. Ultimately the business profitability is affected, and this can even result in losses.

Planning rosters while constantly reacting to a crisis can result in people working more than the maximum hours allowed under the law. Compliance becomes an issue. To prevent this, you must resort to holding spare capacity and have several people at a suitable grade on standby. Even though they are not at site, their costs also need to be covered, also impacting profitability.

Business owners that provide services to clients in the security, cleaning, and facilities industries, as well as labour brokers, have many other challenges to contend with beyond scheduling. For these organisations the core rostering and scheduling process should always be well managed. Your roster software must work reliably, ensuring that the right people are deployed to the right customer site at every shift.

Starting out with a spreadsheet

Most business owners starting out will plan their shifts using a simple spreadsheet. Spreadsheet planning is a manual process that relies heavily on the individual planner’s skills.

A simple spreadsheet planning system will have the following features:

  1. A list of your employees, their pay grade, qualification, skill level, and primary contact information.
  2. A list of the customer sites where your company provides services. These records will contain important information about the location, the service contract, hourly or weekly rates, and contact information.
  3. A daily or weekly schedule that matches the available personnel with shifts at each site. Each individual needs to be allocated to a series of shifts while ensuring the service level is met, and no one works excessive hours. The rolling schedule also needs to cater to people on standby, absent on holiday, on sick leave or for other reasons.

The manual spreadsheet approach can work when you are just getting started. EasyRoster has provided a simple template that will help get you going in this regard. You can make simple modifications to customise the spreadsheet for your business.

However, as your business grows there are several challenges with manually using a spreadsheet in this way:

  1. A basic spreadsheet may help you plan a roster but will not be effective in ensuring overall labour efficiency.
  2. Historical information over extended periods can take much work to retrieve, owing to the nature of spreadsheets.
  3. Changes in information on one sheet do not necessarily update all the other sheets.
  4. Permission to access and change parts of shared spreadsheets can take time to manage. Usually, too many people have access to files, opening the door to errors or even fraud.
  5. Managers may need help accessing information and must rely on the planner to generate useful insights.
  6. Setting up business and compliance logic that prevents double booking and excess overtime can be difficult.
  7. Reports are hard to develop and maintain, and spreadsheets can hide significant trends in the data.

Developing your own roster database

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A more robust alternative to using a spreadsheet is to develop a database. If your company has the skills, a simple database can be put together that replicates the information in the spreadsheet roster. The advantages of this approach are:

  1. A proper shared database can be securely accessible outside the planning office.
  2. Reports are relatively easy to develop, and managers can quickly detect trends and patterns.
  3. A well-structured database will ensure that changes in any one record are immediately updated in all related records. (For example, when updating an employee’s contact details).
  4. An audit trail can be set up that control all changes and updates, making it easy to get a complete historical record.

The disadvantages of an in-house database solution are:

  1. It is easy to underestimate the complexity of such a system and the time needed to develop one.
  2. A service company will not have the skills and must outsource this development to an external company. This usually turns out to be an expensive option.
  3. Like spreadsheets, a database can become hard to maintain over time as it grows in complexity.
  4. Integrating an in-house database to external systems payroll and time & attendance is possible, but over time these interfaces can become difficult to maintain as versions are upgraded.
  5. In-house resources may need help to support multiple users as the business grows in size and complexity.
  6. Customised database maintenance can be expensive compared to commercial off-the-shelf software.
  7. Over time, the total cost of ownership of an in-house developed database system will very likely exceed the cost of a commercial product.

Commercial off-the-shelf software

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The third option is to invest in a commercial workforce management solution that specialises in the rostering and scheduling. The advantages of such a solution are:

  1. The software will be ready to use out of the box, with little time and effort needed to get started.
  2. A commercial solution will allow you to go beyond creating a basic roster to optimising labour efficiency.
  3. A properly designed commercial solution will be more easily integrated into your payroll and time & attendance systems.
  4. The software vendor will constantly invest in enhancements, and new features as new requirements emerge, and innovative technologies become mainstream.
  5. The software vendor will usually provide support services that can quickly scale with your business.
  6. A software vendor with a long-established track record will have a great deal of experience in workforce scheduling. You can tap into this expertise quickly and easily without reinventing the wheel yourself.

Deciding on the best approach for your business

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Deciding on the best approach for your business is a worthwhile investment in time. If you understand your requirements, you might want to identify possible solutions in the market before embarking on developing your own solution. Working with your preferred vendor can further refine these requirements to include the vendor’s experience to your advantage.

In conclusion, investing in workforce scheduling software can be a journey that might start with a simple spreadsheet, a custom database, or a commercial software solution. It is possible to skip the first two steps and go straight to commercial off-the-shelf software. If you follow this approach, you should always work closely with a preferred vendor to refine the requirements and plan strategically. Ultimately the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of a commercial solution is likely to be lower than anything you build in-house.

For more information

EasyRoster is an easy-to-use workforce management system used by service organisations to optimise the scheduling and tracking of people across multiple locations. A unique, fast, and robust optimisation engine, proven for more than two decades years, sets EasyRoster apart. EasyRoster is suitable for single branch companies, as well as large enterprises with branch offices across many countries. EasyRoster optimises and automates shift scheduling, attendance tracking and related workforce management. The system is simple, intuitive, and easy to use. Using EasyRoster will result in improved customer service, enhanced control of the workforce, and ultimately a more profitable business.

For more information on Adapt IT’s workforce management solutions, or to arrange a demo, please contact Adapt IT

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