What Is Workforce Management (WFM)?

Workforce management broadly defined is a company’s compilation of resources that are used to define, measure, and evaluate employee productivity. While many in the corporate world tend to attribute workforce management with call center workplaces, this concept can apply to any company that has a high level of front-line, likely hourly, piece rate, or production style work. If a company has a heavy volume of schedules to produce or relies upon customer demand to schedule its employees, a proper WFM program should likely be on their top priority list. As the “gig economy” continues to gain momentum, and unemployment rates are at the lower end of the scale, it is becoming increasingly important for companies to ensure they are utilizing their workforce as best as possible.

Why It’s Important to Properly Manage Your Workforce

There are numerous benefits that can come from a robust WFM program. The standardization of processes and procedures can save a company, their leaders, and their employees a lot of frustration, confusion, and possible legal troubles.  While the list below is nowhere near exhaustive, these are probably some of the most valuable advantages WFM can bring to the workplace.

  • Labor Cost Control. Salaries, wages, and benefits are typically the biggest expense that a company has. While labor costs may be viewed as a fixed expense, there are actually quite a few variables that can contribute to fluctuating labor costs. If a company can gain more visibility (and ultimately control) over these “people expenses”, the more beneficial a WFM program will be to them.
  • Skilling Optimization. In many production-based work environments, knowing who is trained to do what is also very important. In a contact center environment, there could be employees that take bilingual calls. In manufacturing environments, there could be employees that are specifically trained on particular machinery. While a WFM program isn’t necessarily needed to track these specialized nuances, it would make it a lot easier, therefore freeing up time to be spent elsewhere.
  • Compliance. Compliance with labor laws is one of the most arduous tasks any HR professional, leader, or company has to work through. As a company expands its geographical footprint, the more complicated and confusing these laws can become, as they can vary widely depending on location. A solid WFM program can typically provide insight and reporting that will help in keeping a company out of muddy waters when it comes to labor regulations.

Processes of Workforce Management

All WFM processes point to a similar end goal: making sure a company doesn’t experience any impactful staffing shortages. While some staffing shortages can be made up by asking employees to work overtime, hiring seasonal employees for busy seasons, or even looking into third-party provider solutions, not having enough employees in the right positions could be fairly detrimental to the business. Not to mention, these additional efforts may not always be sustainable and often require even more effort, cost, and resources.


There are many factors that can go into proper workforce forecasting: customer demand, business volume, employee availability, time off requests, budget availability, etc. It could be said that forecasting is more of an art than a science. However, the more effective a company is at forecasting their workforce management needs, the less time they may need to spend on other WFM processes. While many factors that go into forecasting are somewhat unpredictable, having historical data will show trends that allow for reliable projections. WFM systems are a great tool where this historical data can be stored and called upon in the future.


Scheduling often works in tandem and is a subsequent task that comes with forecasting. It is also where the majority of time and effort is spent when considering workforce management practices. While a WFM system may not fully automate scheduling, most will typically provide a much more user-friendly approach that will make tasks much easier. Timecards will become a historic relic, employees often gain self-serve options which boost morale or satisfaction, and requests aren’t lost in the endless world of an email inbox.

Real-Time Management

Despite the best forecasting and scheduling efforts, there will always be more immediate changes that need to happen when it comes to workforce management. Real-time management efforts allow for companies to make on-the-spot adjustments to their scheduling, due to unforeseen circumstances like weather or traffic conditions, unexpected call-outs, etc. While a WFM system may not necessarily solve all the problems that come with real-time management, it will surely allow them to see where gaps are and allow leaders to make the best adjustment possible given the circumstances presented.

How To Get Started With Workforce Management

Evaluating and implementing proper WFM solutions requires a company to do a little introspection first. A solution can’t just be picked off the shelf and thrown into practice in hopes that it’ll solve all the company’s problems.

Identify Gaps or Inefficiencies

This will need to be a collaborative effort within the company best done without any finger-pointing.  Departments like Operations, Finance, Human Resources, Talent Acquisition, and others will need to work together to determine where the company may be missing the mark or where business results could improve. Operating costs, labor costs, attrition rates and so much more can be looked at collectively to determine where the company could focus efforts to ensure the best return on investment. Most WFM solutions will be an added expense, but when comparing that added expense to what the company could possibly be saving, the pros of the solution could easily outweigh the costs.

Set KPIs (Key Performance Indicators or Goals)

Overall business goals should also be considered when looking into workforce management options. Does the company look at the customer and/or employee satisfaction scores? Are employees sitting in unproductive states for too long? Are employees experiencing burnout from working too much overtime? If answers to questions like this can’t be answered by your business strategy and goals, then some additional planning and goals setting is likely needed before entertaining a WFM solution.

Evaluate Available Solutions

The size of the company, cost of the product, add-on options, and level of control are just a few things to be considered when evaluating available solutions. A company doesn’t want to take on a solution that doesn’t fit their needs but doesn’t want to overpay for features that won’t be used or don’t fit with the goals identified in the previous step. Some WFM solutions can be done in-house, but there may also be options that could involve having a provider host the entire WFM function. Decision-makers should always request demonstrations of what a solution can offer to them, as seeing the product in action can make a difference when evaluating options.

Train Leaders

Once a WFM solution is selected, it will be vitally important to train those that will be using it on a day-to-day basis.  This may seem like an obvious step in the process, but can be one that is easily overlooked. Understanding the functionality, the value, and the purpose of the WFM solution will further empower leaders to help meet company KPI’s and goals, but will also help them feel empowered to communicate the same to their employees. The worst outcome that could come from adopting a WFM solution would be that no one uses it!

Tools to Help You Manage the Workforce

WFM integrated with HRIS

If a company already has an HRIS (human resources information system) that they use for core HR functions, it should be determined if the HRIS provider has a WFM functionality. For example, Workday would be an example of a company’s HRIS that has a WFM solution called Adaptive Planning. Having this integrated option could be beneficial, as the company is already familiar with the user interface and the provider may offer a discount because the company already has a contract with them.

WFM integrated with CRM

If a company already has a CRM (customer relationship management) system that they use, there could also be a WFM functionality connected to it. Providers like Verint or NICE are some WFM solutions that may also cater to particular industries, like call centers, adding in features like gamification and other aspects that incentivize employees to perform while providing the workforce management answers a company needs.

Stand-Alone or Outsourced WFM

If a company does not have an HRIS or CRM option, these providers and many others are there to offer up WFM stand-alone options, meaning the company just has another software or program to learn and manage. It’s important to re-emphasize that decision-makers should demo any product before signing a contract. If a company is not interested in adding another software or program to their plate, there are also outsourced WFM options they may want to look into. However, careful consideration should be given when looking at outsourced WFM solutions. A company typically adopts a WFM system in an attempt to gain control over various business factors, therefore outsourcing may be a little counterintuitive as that control would not necessarily be “inhouse”.