Businesses with large numbers of hourly employees need more than just a manager’s experience and intuition to create optimal schedules. It takes sophisticated technology and data to ensure that staffing levels meet customer demands and stay within budget. In an effort to achieve such goals, many employers who have shift-based hourly workers use workforce management (WFM) scheduling solutions. These tools automate processes, eliminate guesswork and discover untapped efficiencies that even the most detail-oriented managers would struggle to find on their own.

What is WFM (workforce management) scheduling?

WFM scheduling is a way of determining how many employees are required for a particular job at any given time. The larger and more diverse the workforce, the more laborious and difficult this process becomes. There are, however, many solutions today that use machine learning to ease the burden of complex analysis and trigger actions on behalf of managers.

What are the benefits of using a WFM solution for scheduling?

WFM scheduling solutions can help control labor costs and increase efficiency by ensuring that the right people are working at the right times. Employers may also find that this technology helps them:

  • Create flexible schedules
    Managers typically have the flexibility to assign shifts by department, job or location. They may even be able to publish a full schedule for a specific date range or narrow it to a single employee’s schedule or an individual shift.
  • Manage scheduling changes with ease
    Collaborative features allow for the creation of schedules that meet both the needs of the business and its employees. Managers can communicate newly available shifts to employees, who in turn, can request to drop shifts, swap them or ask a coworker to cover them. Some timekeeping solutions also allow employees to provide their availability in advance.
  • Optimize labor resources
    WFM scheduling software can use sales data, delivery schedules and occupancy stats to project staffing needs. With the aid of these labor forecasts, employers may be able to create schedules that minimize understaffing and overstaffing.
  • Maximize workforce productivity
    Managers generally can use WFM scheduling to account for individual employee performance, such as how long it takes to perform certain tasks and which individuals deliver the best sales or service per hour. This employee-specific approach also may allow supervisors to fill open positions based on skills, certifications and experience.
  • Address complex scheduling needs
    Absent reliable data, it can be challenging for large retailers with thousands of locations to create schedules that stay within budget. However, those that are able to eliminate just a few hours of inefficiency per week using WFM analytics and labor forecasts may experience considerable savings.
  • Support regulatory compliance
    Some employee scheduling solutions can enforce rules within the system to help comply with regulations. Employers, for example, can set minimum hours between shifts or maximum hours per day or week.

What can WFM scheduling software do?

WFM scheduling software can simplify staffing while improving employee and supervisor performance and satisfaction. Using these powerful filtering, assignment and editing tools, employers may also be able to accomplish the following:

  • Optimize shifts
    Best-fit schedules can be created using any number of criteria – forecasted demand, employee skills and certifications, availability, preferences and seniority, and more.
  • Simulate possible scenarios
    Simulations allow managers to see how changes to a schedule or new shift patterns might affect productivity and labor costs.
  • Monitor staffing levels
    WFM scheduling software may provide real-time visibility into actual vs. scheduled hours, earned hours, overtime and other analytics that can help employers limit understaffing and overstaffing.
  • Handle unplanned absences
    Scheduling apps let supervisors respond to unplanned absences quickly, communicate open shifts with employees and confirm the updates. Workers can also swap shifts amongst themselves if their availability suddenly changes.
  • Empower employees
    Self-service options enable employees to view paid time-off balances, submit PTO requests and accept or decline shift assignments using the web or a mobile device.

What are some issues WFM scheduling can solve?

WFM scheduling applications with machine learning can account for multiple factors – coverage needs, employee skill sets, vacation schedules, etc. – and use algorithms to model scenarios or trigger specific actions. In this way, it may help employers identify certain compliance issues and assist with solving the following problems:

  • Overstaffing
  • Understaffing
  • Unexpected absences
  • Overbudget labor costs
  • Unproductive employees
  • Poor customer service

What features should employers look for in workforce management scheduling software?

There are many types of WFM scheduling solutions on the market today, ranging from basic online staffing applications to advanced, system-assisted scheduling tools. When evaluating features, employers generally look for software that can:

  • Create schedules by location or job quickly
  • Forecast labor requirements to prevent over or understaffing
  • Find the best person for a shift based on need, skills, proficiencies, preferences and availability
  • Share schedules and manage shift changes via mobile applications
  • Provide up-to-the-minute data on hours worked, actual vs. scheduled hours, earned hours and overtime to help managers stay on budget

Besides checking the boxes on the most important WFM scheduling functions, business owners may also want to consider:

  • Employee self-service options
  • Integrations with other HR applications
  • Data security and cloud storage
  • Scalable upgrades
  • Managed implementations

Frequently asked questions about WFM scheduling

What is scheduling in WFM?

Scheduling applications in workforce management determine staffing needs by analyzing various data sets, such as employee availability, proficiency levels, attendance policies and more. Based on the results, the software recommends best-fit assignments to ensure that managers have the right people, in the right place, at the right times.

What is the WFM process?

Designed to increase productivity and help reduce operational costs, the workforce management process generally consists of these basic steps:

  1. Forecast staffing needs to ensure adequate coverage
  2. Create schedules based on employee availability, skills, etc.
  3. Track employee attendance in real time
  4. Manage absenteeism and document PTO balances
  5. Analyze data to spot trends and correct issues

What is the role of WFM?

Emerging modern technologies have transformed workforce management into a nerve center for businesses. From assisting with strategic scheduling and planning to facilitating efficient communication between individuals and managers, WFM can increase collaboration and improve the overall employee experience for every generation.

This guide is intended to be used as a starting point in analyzing an employer’s workforce management obligations and is not a comprehensive resource of requirements. It offers practical information concerning the subject matter and is provided with the understanding that ADP is not rendering legal or tax advice or other professional services.

ADP Editorial Team

ADP Editorial Team The ADP editorial team is comprised of human resource professionals with extensive experience solving complex HR challenges for businesses of all sizes.