News and Insights


28 Jan

The Future of Workforce Management


Author: Robin Hayman

Cloud computing, mobile technology and big data have combined to create exciting advances in workforce management (WFM) software. Improvements that enable retailers to change the way they hire, schedule and support staff.

WFM has already solved the problem of getting the right people in the right place at the right time and this state is already the expected norm for retailers. But the future of workforce management is about much more than this.

In this article, we share insight from REPL’s renowned WFM expert Chris Love, including:

  • The history of workforce management
  • The future of workforce management
  • The importance of employee happiness
  • How workforce management software delivers a flexible workforce

The History of WFM

Chris was one of the first people to work with workforce management software. During his 15 years at the cutting edge of this technology, he’s seen an evolution in workforce management; one that matches the progression of retail.

Initially, retail was all about saving costs. The stack-it-high-sell-it-cheap model meant money needed to be conserved so it could be translated into cheaper prices for customers. This included controlling payroll costs which is where workforce management originally came in.

As retail developed to encompass omnichannel and ecommerce shopping, retailers needed to focus on pleasing customers. Which meant WFM systems had to adapt too.

Retail Omni Channel Chris says: “With the evolution to omnichannel retail, the customer is very well informed. They know a lot about products and they can buy them online or in store. This transformed the business case for workforce management from cost saving to driving more sales.”

We see a range of features in modern workforce management software that are aimed at saving costs, improving performance, meeting employment law requirements and a range of other activity, including:

  • Scheduling – optimising staffing to ensure the right people with the right skills are in the right roles and locations when they’re needed
  • Forecasting – making effective use of staff to support customers and control costs
  • Performance management – ensuring staff focus on the right activities, be that up-selling or helping customers in order to achieve more sales
  • Reporting – detailed data that provides manager insight to enable better and quicker decision making
  • Time tracking – monitoring employees’ working hours to ensure people are paid correctly and that labour laws aren’t broken
  • Budgeting – controlling costs from staffing and stock to discounts and offers

In the past, much of this work would have been carried out using spreadsheets or other manual processes. The power of intelligent, scalable workforce management software that’s connected to other systems provides managers with unparalleled insights into their workforce. Enabling them to manage their people more effectively and deliver an increasing level of productivity.

But we already knew that. Which begs the question, where is workforce management heading?

Where Next for WFM?

Workforce management software has developed significantly from its early days of saving organisations money to driving more sales. However, retailers – and WFM – are being forced to evolve again due to changing customer demands.

Lady looking in a memory mirrorAs more money is spent online, bricks and mortar stores are being forced to make the most of their real-life advantage by delivering unique experiences in-store.

What does an exceptional in-person retail experience look and feel like? Retail intelligence provider JLL Retail identifies six key components. Second on the list, just behind an intuitive experience that makes transactions easy, is a human experience.

Customers want high-quality interactions with friendly, knowledgeable staff who will help them find what they’re looking for. They also want consistent, reliable service and to be treated fairly regardless of how much they spend.

As with previous shifts in retail’s evolution, WFM needs to support this new outcome, as REPL’s Chris recognises: “In the future, WFM will be much more employee-centric as retailers move to an experiential way of doing business. Think of the Apple store. Their employees are critical to their offering: highly trained, knowledgeable, personable and informed. Without these staff, Apple would not stand out in the market which makes retaining the right staff to deliver this offering critically important.”

Chris predicts that workforce management software will develop to support this change by keeping employees happy. Which, as the research shows, will also deliver happy customers and keep your employees with your organisation.

WFM – Your Employee Happiness Champion

Currently, workforce management systems automate previously manual tasks saving a significant amount of time for managers. For example, workforce management software can automatically create staffing schedules by considering all the relevant parameters like:

  • Which employees are available to work
  • Who has the right skills
  • Whether any labour rules will be broken if an individual works at a particular time

The system produces a schedule and the manager reviews it and makes any required tweaks. A similar approach applies to other previously time-consuming activities, like organising cover for a shift swap or approving holiday requests.

This is all great for organisational efficiency. But it doesn’t particularly help employees to feel more fulfilled. Which is where new WFM systems will differ.

The future of workforce management will be much more focussed on employees’ needs as Chris explains: “By understanding data, like which employees work better in the morning and who works best with who, retailers will be able to incorporate this information to achieve what we call extreme employee personalisation.”

With insights developed from gathering a wide range of employee data, the future of workforce management will mean delivering quality of life for employees.

With flexibility-loving millennials currently representing 35% of the UK workforce, this approach takes into account what’s important to these employees. As Chris points out: “If retailers don’t consider employees and their quality of life, they leave. It then costs a lot of money to recruit, train and get new hires up to speed.”

To put those costs into pounds and pence, retailers spend an average of £20,000 in logistical costs and lost productivity for each new hire. Which makes workforce management software an investment worth considering.

Helping Retailers Engage a Flexible Workforce

While employees report they value flexibility, negative reports about the unethical nature of the gig economy have hit the headlines. Chris believes this has resulted in a tension between business and employee need.

As he notes: “Lots of retailers want to tap into the gig economy as they often need to schedule and unschedule employees at very short notice. My personal view is that there’s a lot of negativity around zero hours. Yet, there are lots of employees who like flexibility as they can’t predict themselves when they will be able to work.”

With more workers wanting to be in control of their own lives, smart employers don’t see this as a challenge but an opportunity. WFM is on hand to help innovative employers identify different types of employee and worker: those who represent the core of the workforce (people who turn up for fixed or rotating shifts) and a supplementary population that’s entirely flexible.

Without advanced workforce management software, managing a truly flexible workforce could be a logistical nightmare. But as WFM enables extreme personalisation, it will provide different opportunities for different employees. Without any additional work for leaders.

The Personal Data Perspective

The more information WFM systems hold, the better employees’ quality of life will become. But how does giving away this level of information sit with staff? Does it risk feeling Big Brother-esque?

Chris believes that the way to prevent personal data requests feeling intrusive is to make it optional and provide positive communications about its use.

He has found that, anecdotally, people are prepared to give data up if it benefits them and says: “So, the message is that the more information you provide, the better the schedule will be for you. If employers can say, ‘by telling us you’re more of a morning person, you’re more likely to get scheduled in the morning’, I suspect employees would be happy to give up this kind of data.”

And the overall benefits for employers?

“There’s a hugely positive argument in terms of employee engagement in showing that you’re considering quality of life. The fact that you, as an employer, has even asked is sometimes an improvement in itself”, says Chris.

It’s this kind of engagement with employees, supported by the latest in extreme personalisation and WFM technology, that will put your business ahead. Not only will you attract and retain employees, but you’ll keep them engaged and help them to perform at their best. Which will deliver the human experiential retail encounters that your customers want.

Find out how our cutting edge workforce management software can support a better consumer experience for your business. Call one of Chris’ experienced team on +44 (0) 808 200 7375.

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