7 Trends Impacting Workforce Management

by | Oct 31, 2014

I’m often asked to speak to companies on the key trends in workforce management (WFM).  As a workforce management geek, I love to do these presentations.  It is fun to connect the dots with audiences to show how things that are happening inside and outside of our industry now will impact their people, their systems and, ultimately, their organizations in the next few years. My trends presentations come in two flavors.

The first flavor focuses on economic and compliance conditions affecting the workforce.  I get to talk compelling business issues like personal productivity, minimum wage, the Affordable Care Act, and employee engagement. Not necessarily TED Talk material, but for those that live with this stuff every day, these presentations are compelling.

The second flavor is a little different.  It’s not about the business environment but rather the technology.  The audience wants to hear about where the WFM vendors are investing.  They want to know what they can expect in their next upgrade or if they buy that next WFM system.  To answer that question, I point to seven trends that are effecting WFM vendors and their systems:

1.  User Interfaces.  In the last few years, WFM vendors have made great strides in usability by providing rich, responsive user interfaces.  Gone are the HTML forms of the mid-2000s with their clunky drag-and-drop.  Gone are even the plug-in driven UIs of just a few years ago.  Today, the HTML5-based user interfaces being delivered by most vendors provide a consumer-grade user experience reducing training time, improving adoption and increasing user productivity. 

2. Mobile. Do you know that smart phone you’ve got in your pocket, clipped to your belt or in your purse?  Well, your hourly employees have them, too, and they want to use them to check their schedule, request time-off and swap shifts with co-workers.  Mobile WFM gives them that capability.  Putting mobile WFM in the palm of your employees’ hands, gives them more control of their work-life balance, leading to better engagement and a happier workforce.

What’s interesting about these first two trends are that they are not new.  Rich UIs and mobile WFM have been available for the last several years, but employers have been slow to adopt these features (See Five Hard-Dollar Benefits of a New UI for Your WFM System and Putting Your Employees’ Schedules in the Palm of their Hands for more information on each topic).  Now, as employers upgrade existing or buy new WFM systems, they are poised to take advantage of these powerful productivity tools.  And that leads us into our third trend.

3. Cloud. Upgrades have historically been difficult with WFM.  Enter cloud computing.  With cloud computing the vendor is responsible for maintaining technology while users worry about using the system.  In a cloud environment, upgrades become easy.  Cloud computing is not new.  Most WFM vendors have offered the option for years, and any WFM vendor launched in the last few years likely offers a cloud-only solution.  While cloud computing has become the predominant delivery vehicle in other software segments, WFM adoption has lagged.  It first took off with the small and mid-sized businesses, and today, more and more enterprise customers are opting for a cloud-based rather than on-premise solution.  Expect adoption to continue to accelerate as systems are replaced and upgraded over the next several years.

As I said above, the first three trends are a bit of old news.  They are trends because adoption is finally starting to take off with the user community, and as we shift to the remaining trends, we start to look forward into the future.  Some of them are available today.  Others are still just words on a roadmap presentation.  How near or far they are from your reality depends upon your WFM vendor. All will evolve in the next several years as vendors invest in these four trends. 

4. Analytics. WFM systems collect and create a vast amount of data.  Some of this data is used for production reports but much of the value of the data remains hidden.  Users have a hard time making sense of it all.  To solve that problem, WFM vendors have invested in analytics.  Analytics allow users to explore WFM data and communicate their findings to others in the organization, often in the form of dashboards.  Most vendors are approaching analytics as a platform: give users some built-in content but focus on providing the ability to mine their own data and create their own dashboards.  The problem is that, today, many users don’t know what they want and cannot imagine what they could get from analytics.  This creates a “content gulf” between the capability the vendors are delivering and the value that customers want.  Until the gulf is bridged, analytics adoption will be slower than either the vendors or the users would like.

5. Social and Gamification. On the surface, these two trends just sound trendy, right?  “Social” is short for “social collaboration” which allows end users to share information and interact to achieve a common goal.  Gamification is the concept of adding elements of game play to non-game systems.  So, what do either have to do with WFM?  One word: adoption.  Both social and gamification encourage adoption.  Social helps by providing users with help through interaction with peers.  Imagine supervisors collaborating virtually to discuss shared staffing and scheduling challenges.  Gamification helps by playing upon people’s natural competitiveness by challenging users to “level-up” their WFM skills.  Both features are still in its early days.  Expect a lot of movement in both areas in the near future.

6. Real-time. Let’s think about the timing of key WFM processes. Schedules are written days if not weeks before the shifts are actually worked. Time punches represent when people touch a time clock. As much as we like to think of WFM as a real-time system, it is not.  What happens between the time punches?  How should the schedule change if demand suddenly surges or drops?  Today, supervisors are left to fend for themselves.  In a world where profits are measured in fractions of a percent, WFM systems need to become real-time to help supervisors translate changes in demand and available staff into actionable insights and quick decisions.

7. Wearables.  Last year, my friend and colleague at the Workforce Institute Joyce Maroney asked what I thought about the future of wearables in the workplace.  I laughed like I did in the late 1990s when I said, “Who needs a camera in a phone?”  I was wrong in the ‘90s and I was wrong last year (sorry, Joyce).  How we interact with WFM is evolving.  It’s kind of like a WFM version of rock-paper-scissors: mobile beats browser, wearables beats mobile…of course, this leads to the inevitable question, what beats wearables?  But, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Wearables are quickly evolving into something more than fitness trackers.  Future generations of these devices will provide us with a convenient and inconspicuous way to handle WFM transactions both in and out of the workplace.

Those are the seven trends at a high-level (I can only cover so much in a blog post!).  If you’re interested in diving into the details and learn what’s behind these trends, I’d be happy to present the entire 60-90 minute presentation to your team.  You can email me at bclements@axsiumgroup.com or you can complete the Contact Us form in Axsium Group’s website.

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