Simulate your staffing needs with the ‘split shift’ web app

Creating an efficient workforce planning is not an easy task. You continually strive to keep the balance between customer expectations, efficient staff deployment and the availability of your employees. Many factors play a role, changes are happening at rapid pace and the arrival of COVID-19 adds a new level of complexity.

It is therefore very complicated and time consuming to manually solve this optimization puzzle. To support you, we have built the ‘split shift’ web app, which allows you to simulate your staffing needs in a well-founded manner with the greatest possible efficiency. The web app uses linear programming to combine different shifts as efficiently as possible.

Peter Debaere

This blog illustrates a practical example of using the web app to simulate your optimal staffing needs.  

Curious? Fill in this form en go to the free split shift app to simulate!

Some context: what is so difficult about finding that optimal balance?

One of the things that makes optimizing your workforce planning so challenging is the fact that customer demand can shows strong peaks. Some moments throughout the day or week will be particularly quiet. An hour later, it is all hands-on deck. These ups and downs in customer demand create uncertainty and unnecessary costs. Peak moments don’t make anyone happy. Customers must wait and stand in a long queue and the staff is under stress to get everything processed on time. The organization should foresee sufficient capacity to do the work, such as workplaces and work material. During off-peak hours, some employees have nothing to do so the efficiency of your staff planning decreases noticeably.

Let’s illustrate this with an example.

An electronics retailer receives 1000 customers a day. The shop is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Employees spent an average of 10 minutes to help a customer in the store. It is not possible to schedule an appointment. Most customers drop by around 2.30 p.m. All employees work full-time.

The graph shows the staffing requirements needed per 30 minutes to meet customer demand throughout the day. To handle the peak at 2.30pm, 49 employees are needed in the store. The rest of the day the customer demand can be met with around 20 employees.

In other words, in order to meet customer demand, the company has to schedule at least 167 hours of staff per day. Taking into account the full-time employment, the total of scheduled staff hours is 392 hours per day. This brings the return on the current staff planning to 43%. Conclusion: the high peak in customer demand causes a low return on workforce planning. 

How can you increase your workforce planning return?

1. Flatten the curve: receive customers by appointment or digitally

Just like when fighting the COVID-19 virus, it is recommended to flatten the curve. However, in our situation, we are talking about leveling off the peaks in customer demand. By spreading the customer demand better over time, it becomes easier to fulfill this demand efficiently within your existing staff capacity. Try to schedule customer appointments around peak moments. The staff present on site to deal with the peak demand can handle customers by appointment during the off-peak hours that are centered around the peak moment. Also consider whether it is possible to help customers digitally. In most cases, digital services take less time to complete.

The same example of the electronics retail, but 25% of the customers come by appointment and 15% of the customers are served digitally (on average 5 minutes per digital visit). 

By scheduling appointments and digital services around peak times, the maximum number of employees needed at busy times decreases from 49 to 30 people.

The efficiency of personnel planning rises to 57% for the same customer demand. This corresponds to 154 staffing hours required and 272 hours of actual scheduled staffing hours due to full-time working arrangements.

2. Working with split-shifts or broken shifts

However, even after flattening the curve, there is a chance that there will still be peaks in customer demand. One can respond to these peaks by means of flexible staffing, such as working with split shifts or broken shifts.

There are various ‘split shift’ arrangements, mostly depending on the type of activity and the specific job content of your employees. The basic principle is always to divide a work schedule into two or more parts. Subsequently, employees can be deployed on different work schedules. For example, an employee can work in the morning from 7am to 10 pm and in the evening from 5pm to 10pm to be available to customers outside working hours. In the afternoon, the employee is free and the work is continued by another team.

In addition to receiving customers by appointment and digitally, the retailer could opt to schedule 25% part-time employees. This optimization scenario ensures that the return on the staff planning increases to 64%. Employees can therefore work in full-time shifts, e.g. from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., or in part-time shifts, e.g. from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or from 10am to 2pm (see below simulation ‘Optimization output – scenario 1’).

Additionally, in case the retailers’ shop extends the opening hours to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., the maximum number of required workstations can be optimized to 27. The efficiency of the workforce planning is then 71% (see below simulation ‘Optimization output – scenario 2’).

Some advantages

  • Saving labor costs as you can employ employees with a certain role only when their work needs to be done. Other possible cost savings are fuel costs, real estate costs, material costs, … depending on the arrangement.
  • You can better respond to changing customer needs. For example, supporting customers outside working hours.
  • Employees have more flexibility to combine other obligations with a full-time job, e.g. taking care of their children, parents, or an ill partner.
  • Eager employees can work more hours or more easily replace a sick colleague, provided they comply with the statutory regulations on working time and rest time.

A few things to consider

  • Consider the labor legislation and any labor regulations stipulated in the collective bargaining agreement. Are broken services permitted under the agreement? What are the minimum and maximum working hours that an employee may work uninterruptedly?
  • Keep in mind the benefits for the employee. For an employee who must commute 2 hours for a shift of 4 hours, the benefit of broken shifts is unlikely to outweigh the negatives.
  • Make sure that you can quickly adjust your working regime in case of absent employees, but also when new or changing safety measures or a crisis occurs again.

Get started with the demo-tool!

The tool is based on our experience we have gained over the past few years in optimizing work supply and staff in various sectors.  To learn more about workforce planning, discover our mini-guide ‘Strategische personeelsplanning’ (Dutch).