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On route to optimisation: Transforming shift working for field-based employees

Employers of field-based engineers and service managers are blessed with a wide range of technology and software tools to optimise nearly every aspect of delivery.

However, as a specialist in shift working environments, we’re aware that when it comes to optimising working time, there's a significant gap in the capabilities of existing workforce management systems. 

The planning, management and monitoring of shift patterns is fundamental to achieving efficient and effective field service operations.

The absence of such systems has led to many organisations operating 'standard' hours (e.g. 9am-5pm) which makes it increasingly challenging to meet customer demand. 

This article explores how creating flexible, optimised shift patterns for your mobile workforce can deliver significant and sustainable benefits.

Lowering costs

Many field service functions operate fixed day patterns which deliver the same amount of labour resource no matter what demand fluctuations the organisation experiences.

Busier periods become under-resourced, which typically leads to a reliance of expensive overtime or contractors to generate the required capacity.

Worse still, during quieter periods this results in underutilised field operatives generating low levels of productivity within their contracted hours. 

To tackle this, employers should look at implementing systems such as Demand-Led Rostering. This approach ensures shift patterns track the variations in demand that an organisation experiences over time. Adopting this model enables solutions such as:

  • Shifts to reflect variations of demand both within the day and across the week
  • 'High, mid and low' patterns to deal with seasonal volatility 
  • A suite of patterns to meet preference of groups of employees 
  • Flex-up/flex-down shifts that can deal with hour-by-hour and day-by-day fluctuations.
  • Standby days with mechanisms to ensure appropriate and fair notice for designated employees.

We’ve implemented countless Demand-Led Rostering systems for employers of field service operatives and engineers.

In our experience they are typically capable of delivering labour cost savings of around 15% and can boost efficiency and utilisation levels by 8%. You can read more about the benefits of Demand-Led Rostering here.

Enhancing service quality

Poorly managed shift working often generates resourcing gaps that lead to missed performance targets or over-stretched field-based workers creating service quality issues. 

It’s important that employers have the capability to schedule resources in real time, adapting shift patterns and rotas in response to customer demand and workforce supply variables. 

 

Trying to manage highly responsive shift working can be complex and frustrating if using spreadsheets or HR, T&A and ERP systems with non-specialist shift work functionality. 

The latest version of our cloud-based software WORKSuite® provides the tools needed to assess rosters and pinpoint potential capacity gaps, clashes and inconsistencies that could lead to service issues.

It then enables managers to re-schedule resources in real-time, identifying the best source of cover and assigning field-based workers with the right skills to do the job.

Increasing responsiveness

Employers have to constantly adapt to external factors that impact workforce strategy, planning and management. 

 

Operating inflexible working patterns restricts an organisations ability to adapt its field-based workforce in line with changing dynamics. 

 

Our customer Siemens Healthineers needed to transition its 270 field and home-based Customer Service employees to a 7-day operating window in order to respond to trends in the wider healthcare market. 

 

To support this significant working time change, the business required a single system to accurately allocate and manage personnel, increase administrative efficiencies and support more flexibility within the workforce. 

Siemens Healthineers adopted our WORKSuite® software as it's designed to handle the complexities of managing multiple shift patterns across 7 days for large, dispersed groups of shift-working field operatives.

The real-time visibility and tracking it provides over all worked and un-worked hours also supports decision making and drives other key areas of resource planning and business intelligence.

Our myTime® self-service module gives employees better visibility over when they will be working, may be working, or definitely won’t be working, to help support their work-life balance.


You can read Siemens Healthineers’ full customer story here.

“Accurate planning, management and reporting of working time is essential in a complex business environment such as ours. The system is now embedded in our operations and delivering significant gains in terms of productivity and customer service.”

Andy Barnett, Head of Customer Service Operations at Siemens Healthineers


Supporting recruitment & retention

Working patterns are becoming increasingly important to the recruitment and retention of skilled field-based employees.

As the labour pool becomes younger and more diverse, it’s clear that offering attractive shift patterns is a major factor in becoming an 'employer of choice' and successfully competing for the best talent.

Attitudes are changing and a new generation of talent is demanding more flexibility, certainty and fairness around the hours they work. 

This means that creating shift patterns which support aspirations around work-life balance is becoming a key differentiator, and competitive advantage, in the tight labour market.

It’s also possible to design shift patterns to suit diverse groups of individuals at various life-stages or with different lifestyles. This can help attract or retain people with changing family commitments or those wanting to work reduced hours as they transition into retirement. 

 

To deliver these benefits, our approach to shift work optimisation focuses on employee collaboration and co-design.  

 

Engaging field-based employees during the shift pattern design phase is crucial to arriving at solutions that are creative and effectively balance personal aspirations, colleagues needs and the whole organisation’s objectives.  

You can find out more about how optimising shift patterns can enhance employer brand and support recruitment and retention in our white paper on the topic.


Maintaining compliance

The human cost, punitive fines and reputational damage caused by Working Time Regulation breaches and fatigue-related illness, accidents and injury should be a major concern for employers of field service mangers and engineers. 

Having limited visibility over how many hours a shift-based field operative has worked, restricts an employer’s ability to identify risk, take mitigating actions and produce an audit trail when required. 

 

This lack of clarity, checks and balances is often exacerbated by fragmented systems for recording and monitoring working time. 

It’s why we put compliance at the heart of our WORKSuite® software. The system provides a central, secure and accurate repository of all working time data.

It also provides the tools needed to monitor and maintain compliance across a wide range of regulations, custom policies and areas of best practice. 

Managers can run real-time checks and provides automated mechanisms to flag risks and block scheduling actions which may lead to compliance breaches.   


So, what now?

Employers of field-based employees have a lot to gain from optimising their approach to shift working.

It’s crucial that organisations have access to the best insight and adopt the correct tools to maximise the benefits and competitive advantage this can deliver.

Explore this website if you’d like to know more about our specialist software and consultancy designed to optimise the planning, management and monitoring of field-based shift workers.

If you’d like to learn more about the fundamentals of resourcing models such as Demand Led-Rostering, book your place at our Workforce Planning Masterclass on 16th May 2019 in Manchester city centre.

It’s an opportunity to learn directly from experts and industry peers who have delivered significant employee well-being, financial, operational and HR gains by transforming their approach to shift working.

Alternatively, you can arrange a free 1-2-1 consultation with one of our experts via our Shift Planning Clinics.

Book a free 1-2-1 consultation at our Shift Planning Clinics

Consult free with experts in working time, shift pattern design & workforce planning & management