PERSPECTIVES

Data-Driven Workforce Management for a Work-from-Anywhere World

2021-09-01


After the pandemic, many companies may prefer to maintain a hybrid way of working. Here’s how to enable a largely remote operations workforce to deliver on client requirements and contractual commitments.

Fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, workforce change over the past 15 months has been dizzying. Working from anywhere (WFA) exploded, of course. With lockdowns easing in most regions, hybrid work models (with select staff in offices and the rest based anywhere) are becoming the norm.

In this environment, organizations are challenged to gain real-time insights on staff productivity. Aggregating individual-, team- and department-level productivity data has always been difficult, but the pandemic compounded the issue. Fluctuating business volumes also make it difficult to address variations in workloads and back-office capabilities across teams and sites. Returning to normal operating levels is an uphill task.

So what can organizations do to remain competitive amid the seismic shift to WFA? Focusing on “interconnected behaviors” or “work patterns” of operations staff is a good starting place. New-age digital solutions can help leaders reimagine how operations are delivered.

We believe a holistic, data-led, human-centric approach — one that infuses a process-mining-like focus to understand work patterns — should be used in conjunction with other digital initiatives. Here we offer experience-based advice on a workforce management (WFM) approach with a unique blend of digital and human imperatives: hyper-utilization, gamification, hyper-automation, commercial innovation and change management. For additional detail, see “Operations Workforce Management: A Data-Informed, Digital-First Approach.”

Hyper-utilization: Making every second count

Increasing the productive-hours quotient as a measure of total work hours has traditionally yielded an initial uplift in productivity. In the past, focusing on productive hours would have sufficed for most organizations. However, in a world disrupted by the pandemic and facing top-line pressures, accelerating margin/bottom-line enhancement is now a key goal. This means that as incremental back-office capacity has turned scarce, the shift to productive output has become utterly essential. Many organizations started accelerating the drive to increase the productive-output quotient of their already stretched back-office staff. This was, however, not easy to achieve given the distributed spread.

We believe it is in these environments that organizations can reap significant benefits by combining process mining and WFM across operations flows. Process mining helps generate data on different paths followed by staff to complete a transaction, in order to unearth the optimal path. Analysts can compare the different paths to reduce variations and provide visibility to staff to follow the optimized path.

Gamification: Influencing employee behaviors

With greater visibility on critical work pattern behaviors, benchmarking performance levels across segments enables organizations to design HR interventions — such as customized incentive plans — to help boost back-office efficiency.

While traditional models focused more on “push” strategies, newer behavior-led models focus on the “pull” factor (see the following figure) to facilitate increased engagement and motivation and thus improve productive work output. Introducing gamification helps to positively influence work pattern behaviors, just as it does by generating interest in children during early education endeavors.

Hyper-automation: How WFM accelerates process improvement

Intelligent automation has evolved significantly. With the ease-of-use evolution of robotic process automation (RPA) tools, citizen development models gained prominence and scale. With the growing maturity of digital solutions such as WFM tools, accelerating the automation agenda has become easier. Insights on work pattern behaviors of segmented back-office staff can enable organizations to monitor bot utilization using WFM tools; realize the true potential of employees by obtaining insights on the end-to-end processing value chain; and redesign operations by applying usage and process-level insights provided by WFM tools.

How superior WFM reinforces commercial commitments and innovation

WFM enables third-party operations partners to adhere to contractual commitments. Service providers can leverage WFM data for timesheet management, as the data captured automatically from these tools is proving to be the most credible source. Service providers can also remain compliant with their commercial agreements by improving work patterns such as adherence to the required number of contracted hours, especially in the case of time and materials (T&M) contracts.

Organizations that want to improve WFM in their retained operations are generally wary of the inherent risks of any such project. Service providers may fail to deliver on their contractual commitments or proposed productivity-linked benefits due to a lack of visibility on the client landscape and the missing WFM ingredients. Pricing/commercial innovations therefore become key to delivering the value proposition by incentivizing both the client and service provider to drive improvements in work patterns. Clients can drive changes in work patterns to reduce their costs to achieve the benefits, while service providers can benefit from the nonlinear revenue potential.

What to do now

Back-office operations are being reimagined continuously. The infusion of digital and innovative technology solutions such as RPA, collaboration tools, self-service portals, artificial intelligence (AI) and process-mining tools will be the mainstay of any organization’s business transformation efforts. However, humans will continue to form the core of any organization. To succeed, we believe organizations must drive holistic change that influences work patterns at a granular level. To get there, they must:

  • Create an empowering vision to reinforce the criticality of driving changes across the workforce as part of operations transformation. This must be established by executive leadership at the start of any WFM initiative. The vision must highlight key aspects such as the extent of coverage of WFM (ideally, 100% across staff hierarchies involved in productive output), productive output goals/benchmarks based on organization mandates and the benefits realization possibilities in terms of work/life balance, all enhanced by business-critical key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Establish an organizational structure/steering committee with representatives from legal, privacy, HR, operations, technology and digital transformation to enable every step of the change. A new group such as a WFM center of excellence (CoE) should be established to drive scaled adoption. This ensures a continued focus without conflicting priorities such as delivering on daily production. Ideal reporting lines for the CoE should lean toward the head of operations transformation and head of operations delivery.
  • Design an action plan that covers key aspects of workforce transformation aligned to other organizational initiatives that also influence work patterns significantly, with an overall objective of driving outcomes. The action plan should comprise milestone-driven activities (such as initiation and introduction, staff consent management, training, deployment, testing, data aggregation, insights generation and reporting, and outcome management), key responsibilities, timelines and fallback mechanisms in the event of adverse events.
  • Have clear lines of communication across forums to ensure that the shift in mindsets percolates throughout the business. Key communiques to staff should include mailers that introduce the initiative and its key objectives, features of the WFM tools deployed, and detailed instructions. At the same time, keeping executive leadership updated on progress via digital dashboards is critical to ensure visibility on key factors (such as improved productivity and availability of latent capacity) that will aid in ongoing business-critical decisions.
  • Leverage digital WFM tools for generating insights on key work patterns and analyze data in the context of different employee personas — such as operations team members, supervisors or executive management — and relevant industry drivers. The focus of persona-level insights and management is to educate and spread awareness among all stakeholders concerning such challenges as time management and productive output enhancement — and how WFM tools mitigate those challenges.
  • Ensure objectivity and people-centricity to influence behavioral patterns. Insights from WFM initiatives should not be leveraged for consequence management. Instead, they should provide visibility on which enablers can work for different groups operating together. As such, the focus should always be on step changes to provide avenues for self-improvement leading to enhanced staff engagement.

For more information, visit the Business Process Services section of our website or contact us.