by Rotageek on 27 August 2021
Should retailers be automating employee scheduling? What are the benefits? And how does this change in a post-Covid-19 landscape?
These were some of the questions covered in our recent series on the ReThink Productivity Podcast. Our Chief Product Officer, David Payne, joined Simon Hedaux to discuss all things workforce management in retail and how automated scheduling is a key influencer on productivity improvement.
The pattern of trade and shopping habits have drastically changed over the last 18 months, causing disruption to every area of retail operations. Many of which are likely here to stay, from increased staff absenteeism to an array of factors creating unpredictable customer demand.
Yet automated technology is helping retailers to overcome these challenges by analysing historic data to accurately forecast for both employees and consumers.
Over three episodes, we looked at how retailers are moving towards scheduling automation at a time where the industry is changing more than ever before - as well as insights into how our cloud-based solution benefits some of the world’s leading brands.
Kicking off the series, we introduced the concept of automated scheduling and why retailers are moving towards a digital solution as a part of their pandemic recovery strategy.
We routinely see 30-40% of scheduled hours in the wrong places, often manifested by stores not having enough people at peak times, or during peak tasks at peak times,” David explains. “On the other end of the scale, there are people twiddling their thumbs during quieter hours. Only so many tasks can be moved around or done when they’re needed with customers walking into the store at any moment and needing service, assistance, restocking etc.
And this is where the opportunity lies to eliminate human inefficiency. By building a jigsaw of shifts that fits when you need the most people, no matter how volatile your demand is throughout the day.
Automated scheduling provides much higher levels of granularity, planning to 15-minute increments rather than on the round hour. This is also applied to a weekly pattern, seasonalities and ad-hoc events such as discount days… or a national lockdown. The technology’s forecasting engine is able to layer a store’s typical weekly demand with the distance to Christmas, the distance to payday when staff are most likely to take annual leave or even the weather.
This is exactly the sort of problem that computers are really good at. So why not harness that? It’s an opportunity to be more efficient and reduce leakage. It’s a hard job and humans are just not very good at it.
So why are retailers moving towards scheduling automation now? David shares that this trend is due to more technologies enabling on-demand access to the latest version of the schedule and therefore reducing version control issues.
The infrastructure for people to have mobile apps, including for work, in their pocket is there for pretty much every store team member. And we can use the cloud to keep people up to date with the latest versions and other things such as self-service, transparent transactions, swapping their shifts etc. really easily.
This has been imperative during Covid-19 where almost every element of retail operations has turned to automation.
One of the reasons we're seeing more people getting more excited about digital and automated scheduling now is it's the next up problem after an awful lot of technology has been deployed in inventory and supply chain and in e-commerce and warehousing.
Scheduling automation has been powerful in forecasting against changes to the customer profile, from the decrease of commuters to the rise of online shoppers. But it also accommodates in-store changes including the creation of new roles, the store flow, additional communication and staff training.
The number one problem we see at Rotageek is a huge proportion of time spent on creating staff schedules. Pre-digital scheduling, managers created rotas on paper or in Excel every week.
It's not a task that they particularly enjoy or see as critical to their role or the skills that they were hired for or what they love doing. And it takes up a lot of their time, quite often time outside of their normal working or paid hours. Through efficient automation of that process, you give managers that time back.
But aside from this, scheduling automation has a multitude of benefits. In our second episode, David shares the most common improvements, firstly for retail staff:
By offering better visibility and autonomy for employees to self-roster, ultimately improves overall staff happiness, wellbeing and engagement; three factors that are closely linked to productivity and retention.
It should be a win-win for employees, for the business and for customers.
When it comes to the customer journey, there are invaluable benefits that result in a measurable, long-term return on investment:
Of course, any store can always improve their staffing at peak time. By using a tool which unlocks 5-10% efficiency in the way that the hours are used means you can plow that back into 10 or 20% more hours at those peak times, improving the level of service that your customers will see.
In the final episode, David and Simon provide real-life examples of our current projects at Rotageek, sharing how we work side by side with our clients to implement their automated scheduling solution.
We work very closely with a customer implementation team to think about how's the change is going to be communicated, who needs to be trained on what and ultimately how's it going to work. We do a lot of change management planning” explains David, sharing how the Rotageek team plug into multiple areas of the business including HR and payroll to ensure the technology becomes part of the client’s infrastructure and the right data is used for future forecasting.
When it comes to deployment, we begin with a ‘conference room pilot’; a sample given to a small set of managers to test the technology before it is rolled out to frontline employees. “This teaches us about the adoption as well. We learn a bit more about what they’re used to, how easy it is for managers to learn and how might it best be communicated”.
Sharing a case study of a Rotageek customer, David revealed insights into how their tailored solution has already reduced inaccurate staff scheduling by 23%.
Previously the client has a rigid scheduling process with fixed patterns causing 40% inaccuracy. They knew they wanted to change, but weren’t sure how. Through a more granular and conscious view of their demand, our technology immediately improved their inaccuracy score to 13%. It then became clear the remaining misalignment was due to confusion around peak times.
“The average store’s peak of demand was 3PM. So managers assumed that their peak was around this time, accommodating for a long and flat peak running from 12 - 5PM. But when we looked at the historic data for when the store was actually busy, we saw the peak was waning by 1.30PM. It’s not uncommon for managers to model a flatter peak of trade and our model was able to pick that up and think differently for each day of the week and each week of the year in each store.”