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Keeping staffing flexible post-pandemic

Keeping staffing flexible post-pandemic

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The pandemic has forced many companies to take a new approach to working systems and given their employees more flexibility. Scott Erwin, CEO and Founder of HireHand, explains the benefits of keeping staffing flexible post-pandemic and the future of workforce management software.

The pandemic has been tough, tough for parents, tough for workers and tougher still for the front line key workers who have seen the country through this unprecedented time. But have there been any glimmers of positivity in between juggling work, childcare, shifts and our own battles with our mental health?

One positive outcome from the COVID-19 crisis has been a significant, perhaps overdue shift around working life. The pandemic threw our usual practices into disarray. It has made us more dependent on technology and has accelerated Digital Transformation, highlighting working systems that were really rather archaic and inefficient.

Not least, COVID-19 has opened a world of flexibility, allowing workforces from almost every sector greater opportunities to fit their jobs around their personal lives. It has been transformative for many, enabling those with other responsibilities such as childcare or ageing relatives, much needed relief from working set hours week in, week out.

What have the effects of all the disruption had on productivity? Surprisingly (for some), there seems to be little evidence suggesting that workers have been less productive since having the opportunity to work more flexibly. Quite the opposite. Flexible working and giving the employee the option to choose working patterns actually reduces the likelihood of staff burnout, cultivates a loyal, engaged workforce, boosts employee retention and morale. Job positivity is good for business, for productivity, as well as for profit.

Still – thanks to the success of the Coronavirus vaccine roll-out in the UK supporting the easing of lockdown restrictions – plenty of companies are looking at a return to ‘normality’ post-June 21 or possibly earlier. Yet this idea that our working lives could (and should) continue being more flexible is one that many will be keen to hold on to.

Who benefits?

Before we think about getting back to ‘normality’, let’s take what we’ve learnt from the disruption of the pandemic and build on it. So, what can we do to ensure the advantages of more flexible working can continue post-pandemic?
From an employment perspective, full flexibility and autonomy over working patterns, hours and pay, including being paid weekly for better cash flow, are all attractive benefits. For many, such as single parents, offering these benefits makes paid employment a viable prospect when otherwise government support would have been the only option.
Parents are certainly not the only demographic to benefit from flexible work. The labour force is changing, we now work until we are older more than ever before. And living longer than before, which means that more of us than ever are shouldering the responsibility of caring for elderly parents and relatives.

Plus, unprecedented numbers are working more than one job or running a small business as a side hustle, and simply don’t want to commit to a regular working pattern. These people have a lot to offer. The adaption of skills and inclusivity that creates an active, prosperous economy.

Build your own bank of staff

Agency workers are notoriously expensive and ineffective as new staff on site need to be trained and made aware of company policies. What people powered businesses, that depend on having enough staff members on the ground to get the work done, should be doing is looking to create an internal workforce or bank of staff. This internal workforce is available at short notice to fill shifts depending on workload and offers the best of both worlds as it keeps cost levels down and provides the business with a seamless backup, should they need it. For the workers it offers them the flexibility and ownership of their working hours that is so key for job retention.

Take the NHS for example, which must meet specific staffing levels 24 hours a day for each department and has traditionally relied on agency workers to ensure sufficient staffing numbers. But infilling shifts with agency workers is expensive. They found a solution in working alongside agencies and introducing a capped fee to ensure the costs are managed, while also driving the money saved back into building a bank of staff for each healthcare location to dip into. This allows the NHS to save money while also allowing the bank staff the same flexibilities as if they were working for an agency.

Dominic Raymont, National Workforce Deployment Lead, has led the NHS’s temporary staffing programme which has reduced agency cost by £1.2 billion (a third) in three years. Dominic recently joined me on my podcast, Shifts Happen, and explained how the NHS has used this model to reduce money and increase engagement.

He said: “Agencies are really good at providing short-term staff into specialist roles and that’s really where we want to be working with the agencies. Where we buy-in lots and lots of staff from agencies, that is an area where some of them could be procured through banks which then gives that volume of staff available to the trusts and makes them less reliant on agency staff.”

The NHS has adopted this notion of using a bank of staff on its own payroll for the vaccine roll-out in the UK, where volunteers and staff members, including cleaners, security and other ancillary roles, needed to be co-ordinated and mobilised across various locations, all while considering the fluctuating supplies of the various vaccines themselves. This has proved challenging for many NHS locations, yet with intelligent shift matching software, some Primary Care Networks have found technology has saved days of management time allocating shifts.

The future of workforce management software

For organisations and their people to reap the rewards of flexible working, it’s important to note that filling shifts is more than a tick box exercise. Historically workforce management systems – especially in shift-based industries – are essentially repositories of people and information about their working lives. Encompassing separate modules, like HR admin, time and attendance and absence management, these systems are great at collecting information, doing some clever analysis and presenting it to administrators.

These insights may make sense in a static staffing world in which the same people are doing the same shifts week-in week-out. But we now live in a dynamic staffing world in which shift patterns are changing weekly, if not daily, and the people filling them are also in flux. In this environment, the point should be not to provide charts but to actually fill shifts with maximum speed and efficiency. And this need is set to grow, given the increasing business and staff appetite for a more dynamic way of working.

Dynamic staffing

Shift management systems must be fit for purpose within a dynamic staffing environment. The future of workforce management software is with shift filling at its core – just as Amazon revolutionised supply chain in the early 2000s. Amazon renamed its warehouses fulfilment centres. Why? The purpose of these centres was not to store stock but to fill customer orders with maximum speed and efficiency. Their supply chain algorithms became the company’s secret weapon, the driving force behind and in response to increased customer appetite for the next-day/same-day delivery that has grown exponentially, particularly during the pandemic.

The future is likely to see many more staff and businesses embrace flexible working solutions. It can be the difference between building an engaged and motivated team or having to consistently outsource or recruit to cover staffing needs. The ability to efficiently mobilise staff as and when workload fluctuates has the win-win opportunities of reducing costs for business and improving work/life balance for staff. Just as no-one today imagines a warehouse without fulfilment at its core, in future no-one will imagine a workforce system without dynamic shift filling at its core.

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