How do unimaginable amounts of snow impact business outcomes?

The better question might be: How do they not? I sit hear writing as it snows outside, but it barely makes the local weather report today as we’re only getting an inch or two. Now local meteorologists say things like ‘we might get a blizzard this weekend’ or ‘there’s only 10 inches of snow coming Tuesday’. Working in the Boston area, I remember many winters past when 10 inches was a lot. This winter, I’ve experienced a foot or more the last 3 Mondays – not a great way to begin the work week.

My backyard: Yes - that is a fence.
My backyard:  Yes – that is a fence.

You’ve seen it on the national news. At this point, people are officially getting depressed. Feeling trapped – like they are “going crazy.” I choose to find the comical side of all of this. It’s not like we can change it. Let’s make the best of it. Laugh about the ridiculousness of it all. Enjoy the view. Share stories about the first time you saw a woman get out of her car to help push a stranger’s car out of a drift as he was getting onto a highway. I sat mesmerized thinking it would never work, but it did.

 

So what are a few of the ways bad weather impacts employers?

Unplanned Absences

Simply put, less work is getting done, especially if those absent are unable to work from home. There may not be enough staff available to meet business demand. The staff members that come in are probably more stressed as they are trying to pick up the slack. Production levels go down. Customer service and revenue can suffer. Labor budgets can quickly bust as contract workers are called in and full-timers go into overtime. SHRM and the Workforce Institute have found ways to help mitigate this impact.

Employee Housing Costs

For many businesses that operate around the clock, such as hospitals and hotels, working from home isn’t an option on a snowy day. The businesses typically put up employees in hotel rooms before and during a big storm to ensure they have enough staff on site to operate. Some local hospitals house employees at the hospital itself and cover meals. These expenses add up and influence the bottom-line.

Transportation

This is the first time I can remember Massachusetts’s mass transit system, the MBTA, being shut down for over an entire day. Employees without a car can’t even get to work if they want to, especially if they can’t afford a cab ride.

Image via MBTA

Over 1900 flights were canceled during the last storm. Think of all the canceled sales meetings and customer visits canceled due to Boston area employees unable to get to their destination. When the next big storm happens, because I know it will, I’ll focus more on the employee experience during this ridiculous weather pattern.

 

 

 

If you’re lucky enough to live in a warm climate, please enjoy. I promise – we’re not resentful – much. After all, we Bostonians have the autumn leaves, Fenway Park, and of course the Patriots. Those make up for it all.

Image via Patriot’s Facebook Page

 

 

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Staffing for early Independence – Avoiding Arthur causes labor management crisis

Unpredictable weather has always been a factor in the northeast US. More often than not, the winter months are when New England especially is susceptible to weather-related interruptions of plans, traffic, school and work cancellations, etc. So when an early July hurricane unexpectedly comes barreling up the east coast, it’s a big deal. When it is scheduled to arrive on July 4th in Boston, you get a July 3 & 4, 2009 Boston July Forth Fireworks Spectacular Images by Jay Connordifferent type of fireworks…

Yesterday the city of Boston decided not to postpone its annual Independence Day celebration, which includes the outdoor concert by the Boston Pops Orchestra and massive fireworks display. Instead, the city decided yesterday, July 2nd to move the festivities up to today, July 3rd. What a nightmare for scheduling all of the labor needed to support the change.

  • Public works, city workers and vendors setting up for the tens of thousands of visitors for the fireworks lose an entire day of work, likely requiring overtime and additional staff
  • The police and transportation workers that are needed not only to support and provide security for the event but the logistics of managing the traffic. Most businesses are open in the city today (whereas many are closed on the 4th). Many roads are planned to be closed at noon today, likely causing nightmare traffic scenarios
  • The retail, dining and hospitality businesses who must also make drastic last minute schedule changes for the tourists and visitors coming in today, vs. tomorrow.schedule1

Automated scheduling can be a huge time savings here. On the fly schedule adjustments, identifying employee availability & potential restrictions, managing pending overtime costs efficiently with projected hours features are all benefits of a workforce management system with advanced labor scheduling. Even sending an “all hands on deck” text message to employees that can help fill shifts via a mobile phone is now a reality with these systems.

4th-of-july-in-boston-4So while Arthur may bring some rain tomorrow, Boston will celebrate our independence as usual. The Pops will play at the esplanade and the fireworks will light up the sky over the Charles River, thanks to the many workers scheduled to work extra hard to make it happen.

Happy 4th of July!

What’s Your Mobile Strategy?

Guest blog post by Kristen Wylie, Product Marketing Manager at Kronos

Recently Kronos celebrated a corporate milestone: achieving $1 billion in revenue. CEO Aron Ain hosted a town hall employee meeting that reviewed, among other things, our product direction. Aron covered social collaboration, gamification and other recent and future product enhancements that will help us achieve the next billion dollars in revenue.

FitbitWhat’s driving our product vision? Our internal development efforts focus on product innovation, but we often explore the latest technology developments around us, and then adapt that technology for our own industry. Aron pointed to the FitBit (a wearable fitness device) on his wrist and explained that he and other Kronos executives were personally evaluating wearable devices to better understand their practical uses. He shared his belief that wearable devices hold great promise for workforce management utilization in the future.

By leveraging the latest technology, including consumer technology, we can more efficiently help our customers evolve the way their workforce interacts and connects with their organizations. According to Aaron, this forward-looking approach enables us to offer customers new capabilities before they even know they want it or need it!

A great example of this approach is our mobile apps. As HR industry analyst Josh Bersin noted in a Forbes contributed article a few months ago:

“It’s amazing how mobile computing snuck up on us. In the six years since the first iPhone was introduced the computing landscape radically changed. There are now four times as many mobile devices as PCs in the world, and more mobile phones than people in the US. … Why is this disruptive? Because HR buyers want software their employees will use. Mobile is becoming a critical buying criteria.”

tabletscreenMobile didn’t “sneak up” on Kronos because we were already aware of the market trend. Whether enterprises will actively roll out a mobile app or are preparing to meet the inevitable demand from employees for a mobile solution, Kronos is ready with a proven solution today. The Kronos Workforce Ready mobile application provides managers and employees with immediate, instant avenues to their workforce management solution, wherever they may be. This app, available for iPhone or Android devices, is a natural for companies whose people are frequently on the move, want to address common tasks quickly and easily on their mobile device of choice, and need to maintain productivity and functionality across the entire workforce management spectrum – from time and labor management to human resources, and payroll.

mobile graphAccording to the 2013 SMB Mobile Solutions study, a review of mobile usage by organizations with 50-1,000 employees from analysts at the SMB Group, 84% of small and mid-sized organizations already use mobile collaboration apps such as email, calendars and contacts. Many are also starting to use mobile apps for business-specific functions. In fact, 68% indicate that mobile solutions are “critical” to their organizations.

Mobile workforce solutions enable remote workers (sales, field service workers, home health aides, etc.) to enter timekeeping information and view schedule changes from anywhere, at any time via mobile devices. Employees working onsite but away from their desks at an office, factory, store or hospital can use mobile apps to process overtime requests, make time-off requests, adjust staffing, and perform other tasks in real time. Likewise, managers can manage scheduling and payroll when it’s most convenient.

What is your mobile strategy? In a recent webinar with Kronos covering the top technology game changers for workforce management, the SMB Group provided the following guidance for organizations as they prepare a mobile workforce management strategy:

  • Assess your current mobile readiness
  • Determine highest value mobile use cases for your business
  • Identify the types of employees and managers that need to use mobile apps
  • Select mobile apps that integrate seamlessly with your workforce management solution
  • Use partners as needed for mobile guidance, implementation, management and support

Unlocking the Big Value of Big Data

Guest blog contribution by Kristen Wylie, Product Marketing Manager, Kronos. Inc.

There’s been so much overuse and misuse of the term “Big Data” that it can be difficult to understand exactly how Big Data can help solve specific business issues. Many organizations are simply drowning in a sea of unorganized information, unable to leverage its full potential.

When it comes to workforce management, the problem isn’t just collecting the data; the real challenge is making the data easier to access and understand so that you can easily identify and resolve workforce challenges. To generate value –whether that’s decreased overtime, cost savings, a more productive workforce, or simply improved day-to-day operational management — you need to combine data with effective analysis and take action based on information-driven decisions. In other words, you need to bring order to the chaotic data for it to have any value.

It’s not just what you look at, but how you look at it

The Workforce Analytics dashboard provides on-demand visibility for KPIs in critical categories like overtime, absence, scheduling, productivity, staff fatigue and timeliness.
The Workforce Analytics dashboard provides on-demand visibility for KPIs in critical categories like overtime, absence, scheduling, productivity, staff fatigue and timeliness.

After workforce data is gathered, it needs to be viewed in context. The first step is to find a technology solution that has the ability to integrate multiple sources of data and present a consolidated view of relevant information to end users without eliminating the ability to dive down into details when needed. Your Big Data strategy needs to incorporate a workforce management solution that can provide on-demand visibility for KPIs in critical categories like overtime, absence, scheduling, productivity, staff fatigue and timeliness.

It’s important to ensure that front line managers can interact with the data they need to make decisions – even when they’re away from their desks. (See Workforce Tablet Analytics at http://www.kronos.com/labor-analysis/workforce-tablet-analytics.aspx.) Don’t assume that more reports are the simple solution to Big Data challenges. Traditional reports don’t yield necessary insight because they’re created in rigid, purposefully inflexible formats to present standard answers to straightforward, repetitive questions. Traditional reports reflect simple information points without any context. For example, a traditional report can tell you that OT is above expectations, but you can’t tell why. Was it bad scheduling? Increased demand? But a true analytics solution enables you to work with your data. Managers need to be able to drill into the data quickly – without combining multiple fragmented reports. When the data is viewed in context, you have actionable data so you can make the right decisions to keep cost, productivity and service on target.

Remember that data is only useful if it’s presented in such a way that decision makers can take action. An Analytics environment, unlike traditional basic reporting tools, extracts and organizes workforce data in a format that allows labor managers to easily access and work with it in the context of their business issues. Managers who have visibility to real-time status can make adjustments to better control labor costs and improve workforce productivity.

Turn data into insight

Data Visualization_Heat Map
Data visualization tools make it easier to spot trends, understand relationships and identify problem areas.

Data visualization tools, such as those available in Workforce Analytics, enable users to easily create a dashboard and visually explore workforce data using a variety of interactive charts and graphs, helping managers to find meaning in otherwise raw, hard-to-understand data. They can easily spot outliers, patterns and trends. And uncover problem areas at a glance. This kind of visual interaction is much more engaging than traditional grid reports and makes it much easier to diagnose problems, understand root causes, and take action to improve workforce performance. (Watch a demo of data visualization tools in action at http://www.kronos.com/labor-analysis/labor-analysis-software.aspx.) Used effectively, Analytics is more than a simple query and report tool; it’s a decision support system that presents actionable information so that you can continuously improve your business.

Data-driven decisions

Big Data is re-shaping the way decisions are made. Managers have traditionally made “gut-decisions,” or they rely on a trial and error approach rather than use fact-based judgments when managing their workforce. This is mostly because managers today can’t easily see how their decisions impact workforce productivity or labor costs. There is no status to guide decisions. There are no expectations – no performance targets or thresholds. Across departments or from month to month, results are unpredictable and performance is inconsistent.

But this all changes when you have data presented in the context of acceptable thresholds. You’ve now empowered managers to be accountable for workforce performance, and they know what action needs to be taken. Visibility to actionable data leads to evidence-based decision making. Now you can tap into the potential of Big Data to make intelligent decisions that lower labor costs, improve workforce productivity and boost profitability.

ACA Readiness – Can your existing systems get you started?

According to today’s Bloomberg article on the March US Job report: “Some companies are struggling to make do with fewer workers…  Employers boosted hours to meet demand. The average work week for all employees increased to 34.6 hours.” Per the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as of January 1, 2014 these workers are all considered ‘Full-time equivalent employees’ and will be eligible for healthcare coverage.

By now the ACA has likely caused concern amongst your HR and Finance teams. At best, you have been proactive and spent time and resources learning about the new regulations and preparing for the imminent changes. Or, like many organizations, you may still feel completely in the dark and unsure of how to begin taking steps in the right direction. One thing to realize is that complying with ACA involves more than providing affordable healthcare coverage, and will have an impact beyond just your HR department.

Fortunately, for those companies that have automated time and attendance, HR, payroll or scheduling solutions in place, there are things you can do today to begin your compliance efforts in preparation for January 1, 2014.

Look-back period…

Do your current systems give you the necessary visibility to determine which employees are full-time or part time? One of the first things you must determine is which employees are eligible for coverage using the “look-back” period (a 3-12 month timeframe to determine which part-time employees should be reclassified as full-time). Organizations must then provide coverage for those eligible employees.

Monitoring Workforce Schedules

Can you proactively manage labor hours to influence benefits eligibility and control costs? See current hours and projected schedules to arm managers with the information they need to control hours, and enable them to make scheduling changes easily.

Strategies for addressing ACA will vary from company to company. For employees that are over 30 hours per week and currently not covered by your current plan do you a) Make them FT and add them to existing plan; b) offer them an alternative, lower cost plan; c) adjust scheduling practices to find an the right mix of full-time and part-time workers based on your labor budgets; d) pay the penalties as they are incurred?

Regardless of your strategy, your workforce management system can be a major asset to your ACA compliance and labor cost control efforts.

How the labor waste stole profits

‘Tis the season of giving. And nothing pleases a company more than receiving gifts of gold in the form of wasted payroll being identified that can go directly to the bottom line. Or, when operations managers can show higher profit margins through accurate job costing. With bonuses and earnings results on the line, opportunities to reduce labor waste and improve cost allocations become the gift that keeps on giving all fiscal year! For many companies, these hot gifts of 2012 are the result of detailed labor activity tracking being added to their workforce management strategy.

Presents for payroll & operations – labor cost details

What is an activity? While most organizations use scheduling systems to put staff onto shifts and time & attendance systems to convert worked hours to payroll, many lack visibility into what each employee actually does on the job. In other words, what is the data between the punch-in and the punch-out?

tws9-600-reindeerAn activity is a work order, grants, task, project, job number or part number that is assigned to labor and has a measurable output. The results of a completed activity can include measurements of quantity, scrap, waste, or quality. Even greater detail can be tied to a labor activity, such as equipment used, location or campaign. Measuring “productive time” provides the foundation for labor expense tied to a job. Tracking activities within the workday tells how much direct time (and expense) is spent on work orders, by labor and equipment. You can tell how productive your workforce is, and if that productive output costs more than you expected – and if it’s impacting profit margin. However, what is often lost is the wasted pay for non-productive paid time.

There are some types of activities that cannot be tied to measurable output. And, whether it’s planned or unplanned, these indirect charges and labor variance (often lumped into “overhead”) can have a dramatic and costly impact on profits. Activity such as meetings, set-up time, training, downtime, clean-up, maintenance, and administration/paperwork can skew labor standards and forecasts, potentially impacting job bids, quotes or service quality. Organizations must ask – how is this time and labor cost allocated? Is it tracked at all?

Reconciliation, WIP Visibility, Validation,

The addition of automated labor activity tracking to your workforce management strategy enables organizations to reconcile every minute of every shift, and allocate all labor costs appropriately and accurately – direct and indirect, planned and unplanned, regular and OT. Real-time visibility into current activities and WIP, including labor, equipment and output, allows organizations to make data driven adjustments based on status and progress towards delivery times, output or utilization rates. And provide accurate, confident commitments to external stakeholders and customers. Activity tracking can also provide labor with real time validation on expected output, task duration or sequence of events, ensuring quality and timeliness.

Electronic data capture tracks labor activity

Workforce efficiency and labor cost control start with data collection:  You need information about the work, who’s doing the work, and the outcome of that effort.  Of course, collection of this information can’t be cumbersome- inefficient data-capture defeats the purpose of improving productivity.  Leading labor management providers offer a variety of data collection options as part of a workforce management solution. Timekeeping terminals that can capture activity information with a simple badge swipe, barcode read, RFID, or even a fingerprint ID. More advanced organizations are leveraging mobile technology – on-board computers, handheld scanners, smartphones and tablets, to provide even greater data capture flexibility.

Increase profits, reduce labor waste, and reconcile expenses

Successful organizations not only plan in advance, they execute in the moment with agility to react to real-time situations. Using accurate labor forecasts and budgeting based on detailed labor activity to plan ahead, but then leverage their workforce as needed based on changing conditions (increase in patients, higher store traffic, a slow manufacturing line, employee absence, power outages, etc.) Today’s workforce management systems provide new levels of visibility into the activity status, resources and staff on hand to identify areas that need to be addressed – allowing managers to optimize their workforce and drive higher profitability.

How do you Manage in the Moment?

No matter what industry you are in, the status quo in the workplace has changed. As organizations are running leaner, looking to maximize productivity and efficiency with their existing (or reduced) workforce, the demands on labor have sky rocketed. The combination of routine incidents like unplanned employee absences, combined with the real-time influences of online change orders, social media marketing campaigns, and even unusual weather have caused chaotic management challenges for labor managers.

How do you (or your managers) react to changing conditions in the workplace? How can you redirect labor resources instantly, when and where you need it, and still keep schedules, paycodes and labor levels accurate and up to date? How can manufacturing line managers track work-in-progress in real time, and make adjustments in mid shift to ensure maximum operational efficiency and completion of orders on time and at a high quality?

With virtually every workplace subjected to dynamic work conditions and unpredictable labor impact, the ability to manage in the moment is more important than ever; which is one reason why the iPad has infiltrated the workplace.

“Employee demand for iPad in the corporate environment remains strong, and CIOs continue to embrace iPad in an unprecedented rate. In just over a year since its debut, 75% of the Fortune 500 are testing or deploying iPad within their enterprises.” – Peter Oppenheimer; CFO, Apple April 2011

The iPad has evolved from a mobile device used to simply surf the Web, watch movies, and read ebooks into a professional, productivity-driving device used around the globe across many industries. Business managers who depend on enterprise software to do their jobs are now untethered from the confines of the back office with access to operational information wherever they are in the workplace. Businesses in turn have also realized that managers are much more productive when they can leave their office and work directly with employees and customers.

With a client-based, desktop computer application, managers are often faced with the challenge of addressing operational situations while being removed from the action – and often the reactionary changes can’t be made to the workforce management system until it’s too late to impact operations. To be most effective, managers need the ability to make informed decisions and take action on issues in real-time where and when the activity happens. Make adjustments to schedules on the fly when employees go home sick. Adjust staffing to cover visibly busy departments – or check to see if any other departments are overstaffed and can spare some coverage. View reports and drill down into information in the moment, to see how overtime is directly affecting your operations. Tablet-based analytics apps deliver on-demand visibility and insight into your workforce’s impact on business-critical metrics and trends like labor costs, sales per labor hour, overtime costs and more, allowing retail district or regional managers to make fact-based decisions from any location at any time.

Expect this trend to explode in 2013, as more and more enterprise software vendors extend their connectivity and visibility through the use of tablet applications.