How Strategic Is Employee Scheduling?

Before I started the agency (way back near the turn of the century), one of my early marketing positions was with a time-and-attendance and employee scheduling company. I had moved from Austin to Boston to take the job. My wife and I had never lived outside of Texas, and being newly married with no children we decided to take a chance on New England. It was one of the best decisions we ever made. Jennifer worked downtown and I commuted from Boston’s South End out to Framingham every day to punch the clock (pun intended).

I loved working for SmartTime (eventually acquired by Kronos). Wrapped up in all the newness of living in New England was the excitement of exploring a new job in a new industry. My previous work had been in very dense, technical software categories (like data extraction, transformation and loading, and manufacturing automation), so the privilege of working with software that nontechnical people actually used was very refreshing. 

Back then, people were not as focused on the user experience as we are today. The notion of “usability” was about as far as we went in the direction of user experience. We weren’t trying to make it enjoyable; we were just trying to make it work so that we could deliver on the value proposition. And what was that value proposition? Like most software at the time, it was really process automation. Back then, most companies were using paper or spreadsheets to create and manage employee schedules. Our industry simply wanted to automate it. And we did! Was there value in that? You betcha! Was it strategic value? Not really. But scheduling software saved companies a whole lot of time and money, and that was enough for the time being.

As I was reflecting fondly on my time in Boston and my stint at SmartTime, I was struck once again by how little attention is paid by industry power brokers to solutions for the hourly workforce. Despite the fact that nearly 60% of the U.S. workforce is hourly (U.S. Department of Labor) there is a strong industry bias toward solutions for the “professional” workforce. At conferences, in the industry media, in analyst reports, at private equity groups and venture capital firms, the hot topic seems to always derive from the quest to capture the love of the fickle “high potential” white-collar employee. How can we attract them? How can we develop them? How can we retain them? How can we engage them? How can we create an amazing experience for them? 

These are worthy goals, no doubt.

But too little consideration is given to these same goals for the hourly workforce. One need merely visit the websites of the top 100 or so software companies in the work software segment to get the picture. Literally. The marketing folks aren’t loading their sites full of photos of “working people.” These websites are filled with videos and photos of people in suits chewing on their glasses, people in suits looking out windows, or people in suits tapping out messages on their smartphones as they walk down busy international streets. And occasionally someone doing yoga or hiking.

Meanwhile, the employee scheduling segment has come alive with strategic value over the last several years. Scheduling isn’t just about process automation anymore. In fact, employee scheduling can lay claim to many of the same value propositions forwarded by higher-concept solutions like social recognition, well-being, engagement, and talent management. For example, features like shift swapping can drive higher levels of productivity and employee engagement. Employee communication features can drive greater organizational alignment and goal attainment. And content-rich worker profiles unlock a world of strategic possibilities not only when it comes to intelligent scheduling but also in more aspirational realms such as diversity and inclusion.

Here are a few reasons why industry insiders ought to be paying closer attention to employee scheduling:

Reason No. 1: Few solutions get as many eyeballs as employee scheduling. And eyeballs translate into revenue. Workers curate their schedules obsessively. For all the vendor talk of users “living in our solution,” employee scheduling is one of the few solutions that people actually do live in. As a point of departure for other solutions (e.g., employee recognition, communications, or well-being), there are few rivals to employee scheduling.

Reason No. 2: As the workforce evolves into a more dynamic mix of worker types, scheduling resources will become more complex. With extreme growth in the contingent worker segments, solutions for the future of work are more likely to come from the employee scheduling segment than they are the broader human capital management segment. In fact, many scheduling solutions already have sophisticated solutions for addressing heterogeneous workforces. And the most important and compelling aspect of the scheduling-centric approach is that it creates a similar experience for all workers in the ecosystem.

Reason No. 3: Diversity and inclusion has already moved from a “could do” to a “should do.” But based on social and demographic trends, D&I will most certainly become a “must do” within the next five years. Most people assume that the diversity component of D&I will be addressed through AI-powered talent acquisition solutions. (I happen to disagree, but that’s another story.) But what about the inclusion part? For 60% of the U.S. workforce (the hourly part that we all ignore), a significant component of inclusion is the availability of desirable shifts and working on diverse teams.

With content-rich worker profiles, employee scheduling can drive diversity and inclusion on the front lines in a way no other solution category can. There is a lot of fear around this topic right now, but eventually that fear will give way to the need for effective, pragmatic solutions. 

Reason No. 4: All of the big issues of the day like customer experience (CX), business agility, and innovation basically come down to having the right people in the right roles at the right time. It may be hard to believe, but it’s not uncommon in large companies to accidentally schedule a worker for a role that they don’t have the right qualifications for (I know, right?). Scheduling is where the workforce management rubber meets the business performance road. Not only does effective scheduling ensure that the right people are in the right role no matter what changes are thrown at the plan, but deep integrations with employee goals and feedback software (performance management), learning, and other solutions help fulfill the promise of continuous improvement from the ground up.

Reason No. 5: Show me a single large company without an hourly workforce. Now show me a single large company that doesn’t treat the hourly workforce differently from the salaried workers. This dynamic may never change completely, but broad acceptance of “employee experience” as a beneficial business focus and the need to integrate the experience of different types of workers will drive more integration between hourly and professional solutions. And employee scheduling will be right there in the middle of it all.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve taken a look at the employee scheduling category, I encourage you to spend some time there. Employee scheduling has definitely achieved strategic status and I predict we will see scheduling integrated in a much wider range of work software in the near future.

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