What is workforce management (WFM) and how does it work?

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Supervisor using the workforce management system to forecast call volume

Beyond having first-rate products or providing exceptional customer support, successful businesses put great focus on managing internal processes that involve their most important asset—their employees. 

The path to success certainly calls for a dedicated team that’s focused on common goals. As to how you can create such a team and develop sustainable workforce performance levels, that’s where workforce management comes in.

Let this be your quick workforce management reference guide.

So, what is workforce management?

Workforce management refers to a set of internal processes necessary to create and keep the most efficient workforce possible. It covers all functions and activities needed to maintain a productive workforce, including but not limited to:

  • Human resource management (HRM)
  • Talent management
  • Field service management
  • Labor management
  • Leave management
  • Workforce planning
  • Workforce analytics
Contact center agents talking to customers

What does a workforce manager do?

A workforce manager oversees a company's productivity at the individual, departmental, and organizational levels. As such, they see to it that an efficient workforce management system is in place.

How does workforce management work?

What is workforce management in a call center?

Call center workforce management aims to assign the right number of agents, with the right skill sets, at the right time. You want to go for the best possible fit between the amount of work required and the number of agents scheduled.

Workforce management processes

Demand forecasting

Forecasting involves predicting your future workload so you can determine your labor requirements. To make an accurate forecast, you have to consider demand signals like historical data, weather, special events, and equipment failure. With a promo in effect, for example, a company might experience a surge in inbound call volumes.

Employee scheduling

With an accurate forecast of future call demands, you can define the shifts and hours that would be known as the agents’ official work schedule. Your scheduling software should be able to consider each agent’s skills, contracted work rules, and calendar items to help you optimize schedules given the customer interaction patterns.

Assigning agents

Assign the right number of agents to appropriate shifts to meet operational needs. With our previous example, the company may respond to an increase in inbound call volume by scheduling more agents with specific product knowledge to handle inbound interactions. That will ensure appropriate staffing levels throughout the promo period.

Without a WFM system, a workforce manager can use the Erlang calculation. An Erlang calculator helps contact centers to determine the number of agents needed to handle forecasted contact volumes. 

It's based on the Erlang C formula, which is quite complicated. Working it out can get a little scary if you aren't familiar with the elements involved.

Erlang formula

Calculation can be done via Excel or online Erlang calculators. To get the number of agents you need to meet your service level target, you typically have to input the following elements:

  • Number of phone calls
  • Time period 
  • Average handling time
  • Service level (percentage of calls answered within a specific time period)
  • Shrinkage

Note that the Erlang calculation doesn't take into account lost and abandoned calls, so you risk overestimating the required number of contact center agents.

Intraday management

A call center is a fast-paced environment, and anything can happen at any given time. Your goal is to anticipate changes (e.g., due to absenteeism, sudden spikes in call volume, etc.) and to be able to reforecast targets to ensure service levels are still being met and that agents are doing their assigned tasks during each interval.

Planned training

Training your agents is key to the success of your contact center. It may get complicated, however, if you have to take them away from their tasks, specifically when there’s a spike in inbound calls. You need your agents at their desk helping your customers. 

So when is the right time to train your agents without negatively impacting your contact center performance? Workforce management will help you find the most optimum time for training and other meetings with your agents.

Why is workforce management important?

Workforce management is important because it makes way for effective forecasting, scheduling, and staffing as well as making adjustments in real-time. Just as critical is having access to the right WFM software and WFM tools to automate your processes.

A workforce manager analyzing reports

What are the roles and responsibilities of WFM?

Creating five-star customer experiences doesn’t start with the best product or the most advanced call center technology. It begins with having the right people. 

Imagine having:

  • a workflow manager that continually looks for ways to optimize every management process 
  • a performance manager that willingly coaches agents to improve their handling time or give time management tips; and 
  • a customer success team that helps onboard new users with a product tour.

Let’s dig deeper and understand what makes workforce management (and good WFM software) so important.

Time tracking? It’s only the tip of the WFM automation iceberg

Good time tracking software allows you to accurately track time and attendance data, an obvious benefit of WFM software. But as you will learn, the benefits of WFM systems don’t end there.

Your employees are your most important asset—boost their morale!

We’ve mentioned this earlier, but let’s be a bit more specific this time—a happy workforce is a must-have. 

A happy workforce is a productive workforce, making it the most significant competitive advantage a business could have. As a workforce manager, you’d want to have engaged employees who put in nothing less than their best effort to accomplish their assigned tasks.

Automated WFM systems give your employee engagement efforts a big push by helping you schedule agents properly.

Allow your employees to request time off/bid for shift/swap shift

Make your agents even happier by giving them more flexibility with their shifts while maintaining the efficiency of your contact center. This is something they’ll surely appreciate.

It’s a way to reduce expenses

Understaffing stops you from meeting contact volumes while overstaffing makes for idle time and underutilized agents. None of these will happen with proper scheduling. You’ll instead be able to maximize the individual contributions of your employees, balancing productivity and payroll costs.

Fact: Employees don’t come cheap. It doesn’t take a human capital management expert to know that the total sum of employees’ salaries, including overtime and indirect compensation, makes up a considerable chunk of a company’s operational costs. That makes WFM crucial to reducing expenses.

Here are a few other areas where you can minimize costs with WFM:

  1. Administrative costs - Submit payroll in minutes without having to fix timesheet inaccuracies or work on error-prone clerical tasks
  2. Unplanned overtime -  Eliminate unnecessary overtime hours by planning for the correct number of agents
  3. Time theft - Reduce fraudulent hours with an online time clock (RingCentral integrates well with different WFM solutions, time clocks included)
  4. Labor law violations - Quality workforce management systems provide oversight and complete employee records to guarantee compliance
  5. Wage and hour miscalculations - Workforce management software removes errors in time and pay calculations and ensures pay rules are correctly implemented
Always make better decisions

With access to more data, context, and workforce management tools, the workforce manager will be able to make informed decisions and be less likely to make incorrect judgments (think about functional requirements like staffing). 

They’ll respond to fluctuating demand levels without sacrificing quality, reallocate human resources when necessary, and enforce ways to improve customer satisfaction or promote corporate social responsibility.

Data handling made simple

Incomplete spreadsheets, agent turnover, filing discrepancies—there was a time when issues like these made it hard for businesses to optimize their workforce management processes. That’s mainly because they were doing manual paperwork or using disconnected systems to record and analyze operational data.

With top-notch workforce management solutions like the one offered by RingCentral, you can easily track and analyze data. Your managers will be able to compare your actual contact center performance against your budget and make process adjustments if needed.

Working habits are changing

These days it isn’t uncommon for businesses to have remote employees—something old WFM systems may not be able to handle effectively. Go for workforce management software that has the flexibility to accommodate a global workforce.

RingCentral Engage’s approach to the workforce management solution delivers all the benefits of workforce management while also providing comprehensive phone features (e.g., skills-based routing, call recording, and IVR) to employees working in different time zones and work hours. 

Find out how it works and how it can further optimize your omnichannel customer support initiatives by reaching out to our sales team.

What is the best workforce management software for contact centers?

Here’s something you probably didn’t expect: Just as the best HR software or workforce manager may not exist, you’d probably have a tough time looking for the best workforce management software.

You may be able to find one with the most comprehensive set of tools and features, but if you’re not going to use all of them, you’re wasting funds. It’s about having the right workforce management software. That one solution that best addresses your specific needs and addresses common contact center challenges, such as:

  • Absenteeism - Unsatisfied agents tend to feel overly stressed or burned out and start to look for excuses not to come in
  • High turnover rate - Poor employee experiences may ultimately force people to leave a company
  • Time and attendance tracking - Paper-based tracking is open to discrepancies and employee dishonesty
  • Lack of budget - High costs of staffing, failure to recognize savings in technological investments, and falsely allocating resources—just to name a few causes
  • Lack of open communication with management - Agents may feel that managers are in a bubble of their own

Tackling these challenges won’t be easy, but as you may have noticed, all of them can be addressed by a solid WFM strategy. With streamlined processes and the appropriate technology, you can effectively manage your workforce to ensure optimal performance and generate happy customer stories.

RingCentral Contact Center

RingCentral Contact Center has workforce management capabilities essential to contact center success. Give it a try today, so you can see how it can improve not only customer but also employee experiences.