Jan 26, 2016

Making Your Workforce Management System Work for the Front Lines

Workforce management (WFM) technology is nothing new to the retail industry; businesses have spent years optimizing their back-office systems to support everyday operations. Now, it’s time for retailers to extend the functionality of these systems to the sales floor.

The problem is, most WFM platforms on the market today aren’t designed to accommodate hourly associates to the same extent they do store managers, regional supervisors and the head office. Retailers need to look for new solutions that bridge the gap between supporting administrative and sales metrics, and boosting front line associate engagement.

Here are a few ways employers should consider augmenting their WFM solutions for the sales floor:

  1. Make Workforce Management Systems AccessibleIn the nearly decade-long span since the iPhone was introduced, tech pundits have held that mobile devices are the future. Mobile devices have reached a tremendous level of saturation: according to Pew Research Center, 64 percent of all American adults, and 85 percent of Millennials, now own a smartphone. With mobile so embedded in the mainstream, it’s time more retailers wield this technology to improve their in-store operations and better understand the dynamics of their front line associates.Historically, retailers have been forced to cope with fragmented communication channels between associates, relying on an amalgam of informal conversations with supervisors, bulletin boards and memos to convey important information. Some of these existing forms of communication will likely never completely disappear, but today it’s critical and possible for businesses to consolidate their workforce collaboration – from distributing schedules to explaining new store policies – around smartphones and tablets that directly connect head office to associates.
  2. Provide Greater Schedule AutonomyRetail associates have traditionally held little sway over their schedules. Instead, they’ve had to settle for the inconsistent hours and unpredictable shifts generated by WFM systems attuned solely to store needs. Recently, public and regulatory scrutiny have pushed many retailers to scrap these practices, with Urban Outfitters the latest among many to abandon tactics like on-call scheduling. With more sophisticated and accessible front-facing solutions, retailers can quickly collect employees’ shift preferences and availability in order to create fair schedules. With the right modifications, WFM systems can even empower associates to trade and pick up shifts with minimal to no manager involvement.
  3. Enhance and Gamify Store TrainingAlmost all retailers have some training programs in place, but they are often hampered by resource and time constraints. Organizations should extend their WFM systems to track employee skills and training history on an individual basis, allowing shift leaders and managers to ensure that associates are constantly improving and being recognized for their achievements. By implementing elements of gamification – like badges for exceptional achievements or skill mastery – retailers can breed an environment of healthy competition to keep staff motivated, and add a social aspect to the learning process. Associates’ professional development shouldn’t live in a vacuum; extending retailers’ current WFM systems with new cloud-based employee engagement technology can go a long way in ensuring this doesn’t happen.

Extending traditional WFM systems’ value beyond the back-office brings obvious benefits to retail associates, but also delivers significant advantages to employers as well.

In an industry where organizations face constant pressure not only from established and emerging competitors but also shareholders and regulators, retailers must do whatever they can to nurture and retain hourly personnel. Making these platforms more accessible to front line employees can help them feel more connected to the organization, more motivated to provide superior service, and more likely to stay.

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