During the pandemic we discussed and pooled many ideas from our strategy round tables in the Leadership Forum, and in our free COVID webinars. Many members believe that flexibility is the key that unlocks the ‘next normal’, as we saw in earlier articles. Some believe standard shift patterns will be far less common, but what will replace them?
Micro choices and time management
For homeworkers, the pattern of a working day has totally different drivers. There’s no commute, we need physical breaks, we could take time out for hanging the washing, popping to the shop, or seeing family during the working day. Some have already looked at split shifts or overtime arrangements, but what is a reasonable trade-off for such benefits? And what matters most for our people themselves? If we leave aside childcare or home-schooling, there are many things we want to do that are totally compatible with a working day. Those in support teams already have full advantage, but is it really impossible to extend these benefits to those in more operational roles?
In fact, by looking at where time is spent, you may find many opportunities for flexible working at a micro level (by interval). This will require a different mindset in how we plan shrinkage. You could blend multi-channel or support work, as well as development activity, especially if learning is modular and coaching virtual. Homeworkers may be more open to different start/stop times and split shifts, as well as valuing a bigger mix of activities across the day. Some flexibility may be possible for those who are office-based. You could start to plan separately for the elements of a person’s day. For instance, an 8-hour shift could become six hours on the phones (in home or office), then two hours of digital channel work or on-demand learning at home (later in the day).
Problems inherent in the traditional approach
This way of working is difficult to implement within a traditional approach, where shifts are allocated to people to be fair, sharing less-desirable shifts equally. this traditional scheduling can be very time-consuming and often creates unpopular outcomes for colleagues or leaves gaps in schedule coverage.
It’s not uncommon for a scheduling team to spend more time handling the outcome of schedules, explaining, making changes, dealing with time off requests, than in creating the patterns in the first place. This is the wrong way round, so why do we continue to work this way? An alternative, more associated with the gig economy, is to let people select (pull) their own work from available options. This could be at a micro-scheduling level (blocks of hours, not whole shifts). With more homeworking this is becoming more viable, but our workforce management (WFM) systems are sometimes a key limitation. Be clear that this is not at all the same as ‘shift bidding’, still common in the US, where longservice employees can often choose the best rotations. You see this function in many WFM systems, but it is not always easy to adapt to pull scheduling, and usually doesn’t work at the micro level.
Pull scheduling: not just for gig workers
We have pulled together some great learning from our 2020 Leadership Forum on this topic. Firstly, consider how you set the order in which people’s selections are prioritised (preferences) and whether this should reward good performance or be random, for example. Then identify core time or shifts that everyone must undertake, so you avoid gaps. You may offer shorter shifts or split shifts to those working from home (where travel is not a consideration). You can go on to ask people to identify availability for extra or top up hours, so that the scheduling algorithm can optimise in a more flexible way.
Adapting your tools and processes is always a key step, to avoid lengthy manual workarounds. Do discuss these needs with suppliers, to replace any work arounds and be sure you’ve fully explored your WFM capability. “Typically WFM functionality is only 35% utilised”, as one member told us. Re-write work policies with HR and Unions. “This year has been about implementing changes we thought improbable, so now is the time to fully explore alternatives that have previously been out of reach” as another said.
People First: wellbeing and mental health
Now could be a good time for change, because many of us have been changing opening hours, channel mix, cross-skilling, or overflow arrangements anyway. It should go without saying that colleague engagement is fundamental to this. Get real understanding and buy-in or people will get lost in ambiguity or expectations that create discontent. There are always delicate issues to address: concerns over gaps being left for unpopular shifts, how to make selection fair for all staff, the need for different systems/tools and the focus on colleague and not necessarily customer ROI. Get in touch with us if you would like to talk about this further.
Furthermore, a far stronger focus has evolved, post-COVID, on wellbeing and mental health. It’s important that we maintain and further develop this ethos, which could be a key differentiator in the employment market. A one size suits all solution will not work. “It just leads to ‘flexible working requests’ and individual agreements that all require management during schedule creation”, a member of round tables pointed out.
Trialling colleague personas
Creating broad categories that group colleagues together will lead you towards the creation of shift patterns that offer each group a healthy, tailored worklife balance and avoid scenarios where one pattern has to suit all or you create unique patterns for individuals. Colleague personas proved a key step at Tesco Bank, in creating new shifts for hybrid working. These personas need to consider changes to colleague’s work location as well as their life choices, customer demand and service levels.
There should be a limited number of categories (5-8 usually, dependent on the diversity of your workforce) and these categories need to represent a person’s lifestyle choices as well as their preferred way of working. You need clear separation between categories (eg names, key features) to avoid everyone being attracted to them all. Setting personas that relate to differing jobs will enable you to achieve this: leader, expert, finisher. Do not create a persona simply for all front-line staff. You can use personal traits as well as situations to split them, for example: parent, socialiser, ambitious or pragmatic.
This article was first published in the 2021 Best Practice Guide - Unlocking Opportunities: You are the Key
To download a full digital copy of the Best Practice Guide, click here
Author: Phil Anderson & Keith Stapleton from Select Planning
Date Published: 27/04/2021