The Art of Creative Scheduling: 5 Changes That’ll Optimize Your Labor Spend
“So…” said Ty, slurping his coffee. He was sitting in a big leather chair behind a big oak desk. “You wanted to talk in person …about scheduling?”
“Yes, I’d like to change the way we do things at the 35th and Kennedy store,” said Yelena.
“It’s your store,” said Ty, “do as you see fit.” He took the cap off of his pen and scribbled a note, then glanced at his watch.
“Thank you,” said Yelena, “but they’re significant changes, so I came with a plan.”
Ty put down his pen. “What are we talking about here?”
“As a company, I think we have some bad habits…”
Born in Montenegro, Yelena’s parents emigrated to the U.S. before she could even speak. They taught her to challenge the status quo, to question her current state of affairs and, if necessary, to seek change. Because that’s what they did, and their lives turned out better for it.
“And these bad habits are enabled by the fact that we’re not using modern workforce management software,” said Yelena.
It’s true. Yelena’s company, a big box store with dozens of locations along the East Coast, is managing schedules the old-fashioned, manual way:
- Printed Excel spreadsheets hang in the breakrooms.
- Thousands of hourly retail workers have fixed hours.
- Most schedules are systematically duplicated every week.
- Department managers aren’t at all incentivized to cut labor cost.
“There’s so much more we could be doing with the right software,” said Yelena. “We could be optimizing our schedules…”
“What would you change?” asked Ty.
“I think we need to reevaluate the way we approach scheduling in general,” said Yelena. “Ten years ago, a shift manager’s responsibility ended when a schedule was published. But that was a decade ago. Today, a published schedule is the bare minimum output.”
Yelena’s right, of course: the scheduler’s job has changed; the responsibilities have shifted. Scheduling is no longer an administrative task. It requires experience and knowledge; it demands creativity. Now more than ever, the role calls for:
- Exploring new scheduling options and alternatives.
- Evaluating the operational and financial consequences of each schedule.
“Workforce management software is a Porsche built for Monaco,” said Yelena. “Right now, we’re doing laps around the cul-de-sac on a tricycle.”
Ty nodded his head in agreement. “I’m all ears,” he said.
“I propose these 5 changes to start…”
Yelena took out a legal pad with some notes, “and the right WFM tool will easily support these initiatives,” she said.
Ty leaned forward.
1. “Let’s move away from fixed hours.”
Optimized schedules are created based on the numbers: traffic and POS data, to name only a couple.
These and other KPIs dictate precise labor needs, which can help companies move away from expensive, antiquated block scheduling that can’t compete with the accuracy and agility of data-based forecasting.
2. “Let’s allow shift-swapping.”
Giving hourly employees the autonomy and flexibility to swap shifts will breed engagement, productivity, and on-the-job happiness.
These benefits, of course, won’t stay contained within the workforce. They’ll trickle down, reflecting positively on the brand, the store and, ultimately, the customer experience.
3. “Let’s hire flexible part-timers.”
When combined with potent, dynamic scheduling functionality, a flexible part-time workforce will systematically cut down labor costs by enabling employers to schedule only the hours they need.
Even if these hours come at a premium cost, it still beats scheduling a full-time employee to work eight hours when the forecasted demand only calls for a fraction of that time.
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4. “Let’s expand break windows.”
Workforce management software helps companies be more efficient, saving them time, which saves them money. You can keep those savings, or you can reinvest a portion back into the workforce by giving your people more time between shifts.
This action, in turn, increases your stock as an employer of choice. It drives employee engagement and productivity and happiness—the same way flexibility and autonomy do—and few things matter more in the long run.
5. “Let’s incentivize scheduling managers.”
Modern workforce management software runs through millions of schedule combinations in seconds, using KPI data to automatically create a schedule that reflects real-life labor demand. It’s a task that would take one person a lifetime to complete.
That said, the software also depends on human input (e.g., data entry) and judgement (e.g., the impact of the annual music festival on traffic) to be effective. By incentivizing managers to be as much a part of the scheduling process as the algorithm behind it, companies can create an empowered workforce driven by something compelling: the desire to improve.
“Wow,” said Ty. “I never thought about it like that.”
Yelena opened his eyes to the fact that employee engagement, empowerment, happiness, and customer satisfaction—money—is all being scheduled down the pipes, week after week, month after month.
“What’s our next move, Yelena?”
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