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How technology can assist with workforce planning

Workforce planning needs to be flexible and adaptable, read our blog to discover how technology can simplify this critical process for deskless employers.

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As the old saying goes, those who fail to plan, plan to fail. This is especially relevant for business leaders who must not only keep their eye on strategic, long-term horizons and the risks and opportunities associated with that, but also keep day-to-day operations ticking over smoothly. As COVID-19 demonstrated, it was those organisations that could quickly adapt their processes that survived and even thrived – proving that while plans are important, they also need to be adaptable and flexible.

Workforce planning is one of the most critical functions undertaken by HR teams, but it can be likened to fitting multiple jigsaw pieces together. It can be overwhelming without the right tools. Fortunately, technology can help.

What is workforce planning – and why is it important?

At the simplest level, workforce planning is the process an organisation uses to analyse its workforce and determine the steps it must take to prepare for future staffing needs. In a candidate-driven market, it’s a way of future-proofing your organisation and has multiple strategic and operational benefits. For example, workforce planning can:

  • Assist with employee engagement and retention, as staff resources are optimised and there’s less likelihood of employees either not having enough work or – even worse – having too much work, leading to burnout
  • Optimise the composition of the workforce – i.e. the mix of full-time, part-time, casual or contractor
  • Assist with identifying training needs and providing suitable career paths for employees. Bolstering the capability of teams while giving people opportunities to grow their skillset and ensuring they have a future in your organisation makes this a win-win scenario
  • Help HR professionals anticipate and stay ahead of change, while providing structure and certainty to the workforce
  • Provide a framework for making workforce decisions that align with meeting the strategic goals of the organisation – for example, expansion into new geographic markets, or merger & acquisition activity
  • Identify how future staffing and skill needs will be met – that is, via recruiting, development, internal deployment, succession planning, etc.

Workforce planning in deskless workplaces

Effective workforce planning is perhaps even more critical for roster-driven, shift-based (or “deskless”) workplaces such as hospitals or retail stores. Indeed, although it helps at a strategic level in terms of budget and resource allocations, it also helps at a functional, day-to-day level. Ensuring you have the right person/role in the right place at the right time, receiving the right pay, form the building blocks of successful workforce management in deskless workplaces.

Workforce planning enables HR and managers to be proactive with staff rosters or schedules to ensure talent surpluses and shortages are avoided. It’s also important to be able to react, communicate changes and deploy resources – both human and otherwise – in real time. This is vital in care industries, which may have mandated staff-to-patient ratios and other regulations that ensure employees have appropriate and fair breaks between shifts. Other industries may require at least one employee in a designated work shift hold a certain qualification.

A workforce plan and the associated activities of organising rosters, schedules and leave management can help HR build a better understanding of employee qualifications and experience, where and when they prefer to work, preferred non-work days, and so on. Building a “profile” of each individual worker is crucial for understanding how to motivate, develop and retain them in the long-term.

Finally, a workforce plan can help HR identify the most effective channels for sourcing talent. With talent shortages seriously impacting certain industries, having multiple talent pipelines will be important, including leveraging immigration options or taking on less experienced trainees.

What’s typically involved in a workforce planning exercise?

Regardless of industry, the same steps generally apply. These include:

  • Understanding the organisation’s strategic direction and its impact on the workforce
  • Analysing the current and future workforce needs and competencies
  • Analysing the gap between current and future needs
  • Developing strategies to address workforce gaps
  • Implementing strategies to align the workforce with future business needs
  • Evaluating the success of the workforce planning strategies in meeting objectives

For a detailed breakdown of each of those steps, and for more handy hints on how to optimise talent usage in your deskless workplace, download Humanforce’s workforce planning checklist.

What role does technology play in workforce planning?

Technology can help you schedule and manage your resources – including your staff members, rooms, equipment, and more. It can help you optimise the mix of full-time, casual and contract employees. Artificial intelligence can even help with forecasting, identifying employee flight risks and mapping out career paths – and the skills required – for high potential talent.

At an operational level, quality rostering software tools enable your organisation to create compliant rosters – on time and on budget – irrespective of staff location and work hours. They can also help you manage demand ebbs and surges.

Humanforce’s rostering and scheduling solution, for example, takes all your staff requirements, leave, staff availability and qualifications into consideration when building out rosters. This reduces the reliance on agency staff and the likelihood of being caught understaffed due to multiple people being on leave. Our templates allow for the creation of a base roster with a standard pattern of shifts, while Gantt charts make it easier to view who’s working where and when, ensuring shifts are never under- or over-staffed. The end result is seamless, compliant rostering, no matter the industry.

Compliance is another key consideration for effective workforce planning. The ability to manage employee qualifications is critical. For certain sectors such as health care or child care, employers must keep records relating to whether employees hold a range of qualifications to ensure they are eligible to work and that operational requirements are being met. This may include working with children checks, police checks, education qualifications, CPR, first aid and asthma management. Holding qualifications in Humanforce enables not just tracking and reporting but also the ability to send alerts when qualifications expire. Employees can be prevented from being rostered or clocking on for work – ensuring compliance is enforced.

Empowering workers is also crucial to their ongoing engagement. The Humanforce mobile app gives staff the ability to view their rosters well ahead of time and bid for extra shifts, ensuring you’re always covered and reducing reliance on agency staff, but also allowing staff to align their work schedules to their own circumstances. Managers can also use the app to stay in touch with one-on-one and teamwide messaging.

Using metrics and analytics for better workforce planning

A workforce plan is never static; it’s constantly evolving as resources change, company objectives shift, and the make-up and needs of the workforce evolve. In order to adapt and ensure your workforce plan is working effectively, tracking key metrics and analytics is vital.

This initially might seem overwhelming, and indeed, research from Gartner indicates that 58% of organisations say that a lack of relevant metrics to track progress is one of the top barriers to effective strategic planning.

It’s best to select three to five key metrics that matter the most for your organisation. Prioritise those areas that have the most scope for improvement, and then track them over time. Examples might include metrics associated with employee productivity, absenteeism, engagement, and health and wellbeing.

If you use just one metric, ‘scheduling match’ is the ideal metric for shift-based businesses such as restaurants and retailers. It can help you determine whether or not the number of hours worked is in line with the number of hours scheduled, giving you a measurement that relates to overstaffing and understaffing.

How to calculate:


Most technology platforms will have reporting functionality. One of HR technology’s strongest attributes is its ability to track and analyse large amounts of data. When it comes to workforce management, this means you can spot trends, such as late starts or cost overruns, and use these findings to improve your processes. Humanforce’s Workforce Analytics features robust, integrated metrics that allow you to instantly see what’s really happening in your business, in real-time. With inbuilt reports including project costs, tardiness reporting, hours worked to hours rostered ratios, causes of unauthorised timesheets and more, you can make data-driven decisions aligned to your organisational and revenue goals.

Get in touch

If you want to speak to us about how Humanforce can improve the critical operational elements of workforce planning, including rostering & scheduling, time & attendance and leave management, schedule a demo or contact us here.

Humanforce solutions

Humanforce is a leading provider of shift-based workforce management solutions that simplify onboarding, scheduling, time and attendance, employee engagement, and communication. Customers in more than 23 countries use Humanforce to optimise costs, realise compliance confidence, empower their team, and drive growth. Humanforce was founded in Sydney in 2002, and today has offices across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the UK.