Magazine Article | October 1, 2003

Erase Employee Scheduling Errors

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

By replacing a paper-based scheduling system with a Web-based workforce management solution, Office Depot was able to reduce scheduling errors by 80% and reduce its 1- to 2-hour scheduling process to 20 minutes.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, October 2003

Most managers walk a fine line when it comes to employee scheduling. It's one of those subjects that fits into the "darned-if-you-do,-darned-if-you-don't" category because over or under scheduling employees is easy to do. If you over schedule employees during a slow period, you're wasting their time and yours (and doesn't that always seem to be the time when the district manager pays an unannounced visit to your store?). On the other hand, if you under schedule employees during a busy period it may seem like you're conserving resources only because underserved customers don't stop to announce, "We'll be shopping at your competitor's store from now on."

Manual Scheduling Causes Employee Grumbling
Office Depot (Delray Beach, FL), an office products retailer with more than 1,000 store locations (mostly in the United States), found itself being "darned" by its employee scheduling process. Each store manager figured out his own store schedule and kept a handwritten sheet, which tracked requests for time off and the weekly work schedule. "Store managers were being taken hostage by the manual scheduling system," recalls Joe Jeffries, senior manager of store processes at Office Depot. "Employees would complain they weren't getting enough weekends off or weren't given as desirable shifts as someone else, and it was difficult to determine whether they were accurate or not. We felt employees needed to be able to plan life events without worrying about when they were scheduled." Office Depot needed a solution that could manage rotating schedules and encompass weekends and preferred shifts when possible. Managers needed a better way to ensure they had the right employees on the floor (e.g. they needed employees with certain office product knowledge on the floor, especially during busy periods), and they had to keep up with the individual exceptions employees requested.

WFM Solution Removes Human Bias, Adds Efficiency
In 2000, Office Depot looked for a solution that could help solve its employee scheduling inefficiency. Within six months the company selected TempoSoft's (Alpharetta, GA) WFM (workforce management) solution. To accommodate its growing number of stores, the company deployed the solution from a central location, running the application on 5 Web servers and 10 optimization servers with dual processors. Store managers access the solution via a proprietary portal on Office Depot's intranet.

The WFM solution is integrated with Office Depot's PeopleSoft ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution, which includes sales forecast figures and employee information such as work availability and skill level on a single screen. "The workforce management solution has enabled store managers to reduce the time it takes to create the schedule from nearly 2 hours to about 20 minutes," says Jeffries. "The solution combines past sales trends with the latest 15 minutes of transactions by department to help managers stay on top of scheduling."

The solution has also helped Office Depot optimize employee tasks. For example, the solution revealed there were redundant processes built into the receiving job. With the help of the WFM solution, Office Depot managers were able to re-engineer the receiving process and reduce the tasks associated with the position from a 40-hour-per-week position to a 12-hour-per-week position. And, while Office Depot doesn't have exact metrics on the cost savings associated with its solution, it has been able to determine that scheduling errors, including over and under scheduling, have been reduced by 80%.

And, unlike many software implementations that meet with a lot of resistance, Office Depot reports its WFM solution has met with a voluntary adoption rate of 96%. Employees who once may have felt they weren't getting scheduled during the more desirable days and shifts now have confidence such metrics are captured and made available through the company's portal. Office Depot has even made it possible for employees to alter their schedules and request time off themselves via the portal. Now, store managers no longer find themselves in the dreaded "darned-if-you-do,-darned-if-you-don't" pickle. And, from a corporate perspective, the workforce management solution puts Office Depot in a "it's-a-darn-good-idea-you-did" category.