What is Workforce Management software?

Dec 22, 2022

What is the definition of a Workforce Management software?

We would define Workforce Management (WFM) software as a tool designed to ensure your staff are in the right place at the right time so that you can deliver the maximum return on your investment in staff. WFM software is often specialised for different industrial sectors such as call centres or retail. Some WFM systems are focused around different working patterns, such as mobile workers or agency workers. It can be cloud-based or on-premise.

In this article, we try to answer your questions so that you can have a great understanding of what is Workforce Management software and what functions it performs. For more information, watch our podcast episode, where we discuss what workforce management software is.

Who in an organisation uses Workforce Management software and what are they looking to achieve?

In our experience, there are several groups in an organisation that use WFM (and implementations are much more successful if all are involved). Different departments are often looking for different outcomes from a WFM solution, and your chosen system will have to make sure that each of these groups gets the experience they want to ensure you get the maximum benefit from any system.

what is workforce management software

Here are some of the desired outcomes we see from different groups when at the start of a workforce management implementation:

  • Employees: Your team wants clear and accurate communication about when they are working, they want to be able to communicate to you when they are available and when they aren’t. They want fair and compliant shifts, and they want accurate payment for the hours they work. Your team will want to have their leave accurately calculated and be able to book it and make sure they aren’t required to work that day. They also want flexibility around swapping shifts, and they want to make sure they get paid when they cover for someone else or do extra hours.
  • Operations: The Ops department or the equivalent in your organisation is a key user, they want happy, motivated staff and they want to allocate their resources as efficiently as possible. They are the department that cares most about having the right people in the right place at the right time. The Operations department wants good communication with staff and efficient processes to manage changes to working patterns.
  • HR: The Human Resource department will be keen to see that staff work shifts that comply with labour regulations like the Working Time Directive and always get the right amount of rest between shifts. HR are also keen to ensure that staff wishes and preferences are taken into consideration and that a flexible approach is taken to employee scheduling. They will also want to see staff taking the correct amount of time off and get paid correctly for it.
  • Payroll: A 100% accurate gross payroll file and zero payroll queries are the objectives of the payroll department. They want to make just a few clicks and export the gross salary for every employee directly into the Payroll software so it can deduct taxes and produce payslips.
  • Finance: The FD or CFO is looking to account for costs across various departments and locations and be able to produce an accurate P&L based on actual hours worked in days, not months. The CFO also wants a pre-approval process for salary costs so that expenditure in excess of the budget is known about before it is incurred and approved at the right level. The CFO also wants an easy-to-access audit trail for what is often their biggest single cost.
  • IT: The technology team will be keen to ensure data security and maximum automation of processes. They will be keen to understand how the data is managed and what processes are in place to keep the business running if something goes wrong.
data warehouse

What tools should I look for in a workforce management solution?

In this table, we have listed the key functions you can expect to find in workforce management software alongside a short description of what each does. You can probably match the features with the desired outcomes of the different groups within your organisation.

Function or module within workforce management softwareWhat does it do? Will we need it?
ForecastingThis is normally a two-stage process. The first step will create a forecast of the actions or processes that have the greatest correlation with staffing levels. Normally in a 15 or 30 minute slot. For instance, the number of coffees sold or a number of customers on-site. Once you know how many coffees you are expected to sell between 9:00 and 9:30 the next step is to provide a prediction of how many baristas you will need to keep customers happy. This second forecast should appear in your workforce management platform for every role and every time slot before you start scheduling. Increasingly these predictions are generated by AI technology.This will depend on how volatile your staffing levels need to be. Some customers don’t vary their staffing levels, imagine a security firm that has 100 locations to provide guards for and each needs one person for 24 hours. Their WFM issue isn’t about creating an accurate forecast. However, the coffee shop by a train station has different requirements based on the time of day and day of the week and if you operate 20 coffee shops you need a different prediction each week for each location.
SchedulingScheduling is the core of a workforce management solution. It allows you to assign shifts and working patterns to employees and should give you real-time reporting on a number of key metrics. These could include; the cost of each shift, whether you are about to create a working time directive breach and if you have enough staff in your schedule or rota. These rotas can be created by an auto scheduling tool, manual drag and drop interface or by using working patterns and other templates to create a rota.You almost certainly need this element. 
Time and Attendance managementOnce you have built a rota and the working week starts, a time and attendance module will help you monitor what actually happened. Staff call in sick, others are late, some are required to work overtime. By recording the actual start and end times that staff worked and matching it against the plan you can ensure that the right person is paid for the right amount of hours for every shift.Not everyone takes this module. Some organisations have a very relaxed approach to hours worked or salaries are not paid hourly and allow the staff to self-regulate. 
Leave managementThis forms two elements. The ability to automatically calculate how much time off someone has accrued and the ability to book that time off. In a modern business where staff may have different roles and different pay rates for each role, the accrual or entitlement calculation can get quite complex. When it comes to booking time off and other absences, some sort of self-service tool and approval process removes the need for paper forms and ensures that the leave is blocked out on the rota so staff aren’t dragged in on their day off.We would always recommend that the same system leave accrual calculations and time off booking. However, some organisations manage absence in a different system. The reason we recommend it stays in workforce management is that a lot of the calculations on leave are based on the actual hours worked by role type and that data is held in the WFM system. When you add in the need to see what leave is already booked before you build a rota it makes sense to manage it in your WFM system.
Rules engineThere often isn’t a single rules engine in a WFM System, but for the purpose of this article it helps us understand what is required. The rules engine contains all of the business logic around your staffing. These could include pay rules, overtime rules, rules for premium payments, lunch break rules, absence rules, compliance rules, the logic around staff preferences and much more besides. If you want to automate the application of these rules, you and your workforce management supplier will need to document them and configure them in your WFM system.For very simple workforce management solutions, this isn’t necessary. If your desired outcomes include 100% payroll files and zero pay queries, then you will need to digitise all of the business rules around staffing and pay in your WFM system.
ComplianceA compliance module will let you know if there are any breaches of compliance rules in a given rota. These rules could be statutory requirements such as the Working Time Directive in the EU and UK or local agreements with Unions and staff. These modules can give an advisory when a new shift is added that breaches an agreement or a hard block to prevent it from ever being scheduled. Compliance modules can’t give you 100% protection, for instance if you ask someone to work late when they only had the minimum gap between shifts scheduled, you will create a breach unless they are asked to start their next shift at a later date. For this reason, a compliance module should generate reports on any breaches.These are often optional modules and some organisations choose not to use them. It depends on how strict the regulatory regime you operate in is around labour regulations, however, we have seen plenty of evidence that complying with rules around rest times improves the retention of staff.
Payroll exportThis module allows the creation of a payroll file that can be exported into payroll software. The WFM system normally generates either a “grossed up” file showing the exact gross salary for every employee or a file with hours worked against a pay code. The Payroll software always calculates the tax and other deductions, and if it is sent the hours worked and the pay codes, the payroll software will also calculate the gross pay. The payroll export file will need to be in a format that can be imported into your chosen payroll software and the WFM rules engine will need all of the pay rules digitised. In our experience, documenting all of the pay rules for large mature organisations can take some time, not least because they often aren’t documented in one place. One final consideration is that the Payroll export module should have the ability to lock or freeze the rota to prevent any changes once the file is produced.For simple solutions, an export of hours worked and pay rate can be run through excel to create your own payroll file. This should still be 100% accurate. More complex solutions will have multiple payroll files and even multiple payroll software integrations, for instance, if you have a multi-country implementation. 
BudgetingBecause the Workforce Management system knows how much each shift costs in real-time, it can keep a running total of the cost of each rota as it is built. It can then compare the cost of the rota against the budget before it is approved. More advanced systems can be used to generate the budget in the first place and also calculate a forecast of spend. If your forecasting tool predicts you need more staff, it should be able to tell you what that rota is going to cost to build. The AI-powered tools now available are starting to merge the budget and forecasting modules into one.You can get by without a budgeting module but it is a powerful tool for managing costs. It also enhances the reporting and analytics that a WFM system can offer.
ReportingThe reporting module allows you to access the data you have collected in your WFM system. A good reporting tool automates data collection and report generation in formats that allow you to quickly analyse your data and make data-driven decisions. A WFM tool should come with many pre-prepared reports that make operating your staffing easier.I suppose you could do without reports but it kind of misses the point of digitising data in the first place.
AnalyticsAnalytics, Data Visualisation or Business Intelligence (BI) tools are often offered as an optional extra in a WFM system.
They offer similar functionality to reporting; however, analytics derive insights from that data and often influence business decisions. 
They often display the data in graphical representations that can be “drilled into” for greater insight. In comparison, reporting is often an export of data in a CSV format.
If you are good with Excel or have an existing Analytics or BI tool you may not want the Analytics module. If you have an existing BI tool you will need some sort of API or data warehouse feed to access the data.
Self service tools/appsAn app or web-based tool that allows employees to interact with the WFM system, see what shifts they are working, book leave and manage their availability and preferences.These come as standard, but some organisations chose not to enable them often because they are using other apps in the business and/or not using their WFM platform for booking leave.
IntegrationsWe have written other articles that cover the type of integrations you might need. The “big two” integrations are to HR and Payroll. But we also see integrations of EPOS, ERP, Finance and other software tools.Transfer of data can be done by export and import, negating the need for integration, or an all-in-one solution can be used, which includes HR and Payroll, meaning no integration is required.
Other appsTraining, Salary Advance, Wellbeing and many other HR related apps can be offered by WFM suppliers, normally as an extra. Many are excellent and add real value to your solutionThese are all optional.

What are the types of workforce management software?

A workforce management system is often very specialist by the type of employer that would buy the software. There are WFM systems that cover the following areas and more:

Call centres
Mobile workforces such as drivers, home care workers
Hourly paid and shift workers in a dedicated venue such as retail, leisure, hospitality, factories, care homes etc
Hospitals and other industry verticals.
Agency workers 
Gig Workers
General applications that cater for a wide range of different working practices
Simple applications that are used for office staff and other “9-5” workers.

There is every chance that some cloud-based SAAS software exists that caters for your staffing model. We have written a blog article which covers the various types of WFM software, and we have attempted to list the main types of workforce management software and some of the specialist companies that work in these areas.

what are the types of workforce management software

What is meant by the “Best of Breed” WFM solution?

Best of Breed or BoB refers to a software solution, often highly specialised and which often performs better compared to a single “all in one” platform. All-in-one platforms are expected to do everything but may not do each function as well as a single solution dedicated to that specific capability. In WFM, a Best of Breed solution might be specialised for just WFM in a call centre environment and require integration into an HR and Payroll solution. An all-in-one solution could include HR, Payroll and WFM, but it may not be built specifically for call centres. 

Best of Breed Workforce Management software can bring many advantages, especially the delivery of better KPIs if used in the area it was built to manage.

Want To See Some Of These Solutions In Action?

Get in touch and see how our WFM solutions can work for your business. 

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