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Workforce Management: Understand the essentials

Workforce Management: Understand the essentials

The landscape of modern industry is changing through digitisation, and the lifeblood of an industrial organisation is its workforce. In order to keep pace with the evolution of industrial manufacturing, business leaders must understand the productivity gains of digitising their workforce to be more mobile through the implementation of software and mobile computing resources. To ensure maximum workforce productivity, a link is needed between front-line workers and the data that keeps them productive. Workforce management software is that link.

What is workforce management?

Workforce management (WFM) is a collection of processes put in place by an organisation to maximise the productivity of its employees. These processes range from field services management to data collection and forecasting. Industries, such as oil and gas, energy, and manufacturing are heavily reliant on WFM to connect their front-line workers to the data and plans they need to perform their jobs efficiently.

A WFM system should provide several services and further interoperate with existing systems, such as human resources, budgeting, training, scheduling, data collection and analytics. As an enterprise-wide solution, WFM software helps to align all elements of an organisation's workforce-oriented processes to provide instant connection to resources, increase tool time, and help make smarter decisions.

WFM can also incorporate:

  • Workload predictions and staff requirements
  • Account management including budgeting and time keeping
  • Payroll and benefits organisation
  • Workforce scheduling with employee input
  • Vacation and leave planning
  • Employee performance management
  • Human resources and safety compliance

Components of workforce management

Workforce management (WFM) is an umbrella term for many components and processes that compromise an enterprise-wide system. Four specific components of WFM are crucial, and any software solution should address these areas specifically.

Field services management

In the energy, oil and gas, and manufacturing industries, workers are regularly dispatched to the field for a variety of tasks. Field services management is the administration of an organisation's resources (human or otherwise) deployed at, or on route to, a client's property. This includes:

  • Vehicle location and tracking
  • Coordination and monitoring of machinery
  • Workforce scheduling and supervision
  • Vehicle and worker safety
  • Billing and accounting

Industrial organisations are often tasked with providing support to operational organisations for the maintenance, upgrading, and repair of plants and power and gas lines. To engage in this process, there are a series of necessary steps, all of which must be managed by a WFM solution.

             Mobile computing and mobility

The ability to connect is vital to properly manage a workforce that operates outside of an organisation's home office. The modern workforce can connect with their organisation's IT and data infrastructure through the use of mobile computers, allowing front-line workers the ability to access data, schematics, processes, inventories, and advanced technical support from the field. This is particularly important for the front-line workers involved in the maintenance and repair of large-scale industrial projects, as they require the ability to operate and gather data from several measuring instruments (e.g., thermometers, hygrometers) and relay and store that information remotely.

The core principles of mobile computing revolve around four factors:

  • Portability: Devices created for mobile computing focus on maximising function and mobility, often through limiting weight and power capabilities.
  • Connectivity: Network connections are maintained, either through local WiFi connections or long-distance satellite relays.
  • Interactivity: The mobile devices can connect to core resources located elsewhere and synchronously share data.
  • Individuality: Devices can be adapted to specific and individual needs of their industry while still functioning in a mobile network.

Human resource management

A core component of WFM is managing the human resources which make up the workforce. Human resource management is the policies, processes, goals, and strategies surrounding the effective management of the people in an organisation to maximise productivity. Productivity is maximised by reducing turnover, ensuring workers can utilise their talents, minimising disruptions to the workflow, and creating a success-oriented culture that is flexible and adaptable to change.

McKinsey & Company have identified several emerging trends in the human resources management field which are directly applicable to industrial organisations. These include:

  • Managing for value and energy: This concept includes taking advantage of emerging markets as talent pools, focusing on rewarding multi-skilled workers for broader role definitions, and personalising career paths for individual talents.
  • People analytics: Using heuristics and analytics to help an organisation make better decisions about their hiring and promotions and utilising digital technologies to provide tailored services (e.g., digital onboarding, personalised learning)
  • New levers for change: Taking advantage of metrics to analyse and support culture, decentralising operating models, creating agile organisations that, while flexible, have a strong core, and blurring company lines through the increased usage of suppliers, contractors, consultants, and freelancers

An industrial organisation that adapts to these trends will be at a competitive advantage. They will have a greater pool of talent from which to select and the members who join their organisation will have more diverse talents. People will be hired and promoted using hard data, which will be created and tracked throughout an employee's time at an organisation. The combination of a flexible and diverse workforce with multiple talents will create a shift that is focused on a decentralised and flexible organisational structure which expands and contracts through the use of seamless integration of external and internal workforce members.

Performance and training

It can be challenging to monitor the performance of a mobile workforce. Front-line workers are less easily observed and expecting clients to report their successes is a flawed methodology. However, a mobile workforce that has been properly digitised can be measured using key performance indicators (KPIs). These are metrics that can be directly tied to the ability of members of a mobile workforce to perform their tasks. While KPIs will differ depending on the job assignment and industry of a worker, according to Matthew Brogie of Repsly there are seven keys to developing effective KPIs:

  1. Simple
  2. Aligned
  3. Relevant
  4. Measurable
  5. Achievable
  6. Timely
  7. Visible

Once the KPIs for a specific function or team have been developed, they must be compared against goals. A key to focus on is not just collecting as much data as possible but collecting data that is directly aligned to superior performance. Once this data is collected, it can be compared in several different ways. Examining variance compares the data to a baseline or goal to measure achievement. Trends involve looking at a minimum of three data points to note whether performance is improving or not. Finally, if data has been gathered over time, different periods can be compared to one another to determine changes.

Data collection and forecasting

A WFM solution should be capable of not only collecting data, but that data should then be able to be used to forecast personnel requirements. By understanding which employees, and with what qualifications, are to be deployed, an organisation can minimise personnel costs and increase productivity.

In the industrial sector, workforce demands can fluctuate, particularly in response to repair needs. By collecting historical data, it can be much easier to forecast the workforce requirements based on several factors (e.g., seasonality, plant age). Once implemented, workforce forecasting should be continually fine-tuned by comparing forecasts to actual job requirements. This will improve the quality of the forecasts and continue to reduce costs.

Workforce management software – How to get digital

Workforce management has been an area of frequent attempts at automation, beginning with timecard machines in the early 20th century. In the 1980s and 1990s many homebrew solutions began to emerge, however, this software often worked as a standalone piece of technology, creating HR and WFM data silos. With the rise of digitisation across industry, business leaders are realizing the value added from having WFM software that integrates into an enterprise-wide project management solution.

Traditional WFM vs Mobile WFM

The traditional WFM solution is highly centralised and relies on workers being at a home office. This software is used to track employees based on key cards, workstation logins, and localised asset usage (e.g., handheld scanners, smart machinery). A traditional WFM solution is adequate for an organisation with one large home office and little need to deploy workers or distinct offices with unique needs.

For many organisations in the oil and gas, energy, and manufacturing industries, workers are frequently deployed to client sites. As such, WFM software is required that is capable of being mobile and utilised by workers remotely. This way, front-line workers with mobile computing devices have access to immediate notifications from a home office and can access resources and connect instantly. Mobile WFM allows for HR and engineering departments to respond to job site challenges and instantly deploy solutions. The result is increased access to data to support smarter and faster decisions, increased productivity, and optimised data collection.

Industrial workforce optimisation

Industrial organisations have extremely complex workforces, with maintenance and repairs often consisting of 10,000+ activities by 2,000 or more workers over 30 days. Managing front-line workers in such situations is very challenging using pen-and-paper methodologies. For managers and workers to make correct and timely decisions, they must have access to up-to-date and accurate information.

Digitising an industrial workforce can optimise their ability to do their jobs with efficiency and predictability, allowing managers to track better and analyse successes and failures. A digitally connected worker can save time by accessing data instantly, recording task completion, getting real-time updates on projects, and having frictionless hand-offs between shifts. This level of data allows managers to spend less time compiling and analysing pen-and-paper reports, engaging in fewer shift meetings, and make better decisions based on accurate and timely information.

Global workforce

Managing a local workforce is challenging enough, but most large industrial organisations employ a global workforce. Each country has distinct labour laws and regulations, and a WFM solution should be able to handle such a challenge. Workers in Europe, for example, cannot have their training information (e.g., metrics, reviews) stored long-term as a result of privacy laws. Some countries labour regulations change based on industry and apply even to visiting workers. Similarly, a WFM solution should also be flexible enough to account for changes in customs based on country. In the US, many workers are independent and appreciate individual attention, whereas workers in China may be more comfortable with group work and accolades. Any WFM software for a multinational organisation needs to be capable of handling the challenges posed by a global workforce.

Savings from digitisation

Business leaders concentrating on the price tag of a quality WFM solution are missing the big picture. WFM software can provide considerable and immediate savings by optimising labour planning, worker scheduling, task and activity management, attendance, and data collection. By implementing WFM software, an organisation can increase worker productivity, directly impacting the bottom line.            

Aker Philadelphia Shipyard (APSI) provides an excellent case study. APSI has over 1,200 employees and manufactures supertankers for the oil and gas industry. They implemented a robust WFM software solution to track time and attendance, absence and leave management, and collect data for analytics. In a short period they increased their overall efficiency and output of supertankers by 33%, building three per year instead of two. Each supertanker has over 10,000 separate tasks and 1.2 million labour hours, so such an increase in efficiency produced an ROI of 110% annually.

Evaluating workforce management software to meet your needs

With many WFM software solutions available, it can be challenging for business leaders to figure out what software to select. An analysis of both your organisation's needs and the functionality of the software is crucial when making a decision that could shift your organisation's culture. Remember these tips when choosing which software to examine.

  • Evaluate multiple solutions – Each software solution will likely have different strengths and weaknesses. As such, understanding how they operate and assessing this against your organisation's needs is vital.
  • Price is only one factor – The most expensive software isn't inherently the best. Conversely, the least expensive software isn't necessarily the worst. Price is just one factor to consider when seeking out a WFM software solution.
  • Test drive your options – If possible, utilise a trial run of the software on a small department or 'virtual' workers to see how effective they are. Nothing is better than a hands-on test drive to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a solution.
  • Focus on the essentials – Alluring graphics and video transitions are nice, but if the software can't provide you with the essential needs of your organisation it is useless. Evaluating the fundamental needs of a software solution (e.g., shift handover, compliance logging) can help your organisation to decide what to choose.
  • Ensure mobile workforce compatibility – Mobility for front-line workers is a must-have when it comes to workforce management software. Connecting workers to real-time data and communication provides productivity benefits, enhances worker safety, and increase the quality of work.
  • Make sure it can be upgraded – New workforce demands are inevitable, and any software solution should be capable of adapting. Purchasing a solution from a vendor who provides multiple other workforce and project management solutions is beneficial to ensure interoperability with other software.

To understand what workforce management software to select, business leaders need to analyse their organisation and understand what they need from a solution. They can do this by asking themselves these seven questions:

  • How user-friendly is the software? Employees will struggle to adopt new technology if it is difficult to use and they view it as making their job more challenging. Software that is easy to navigate and includes easy and enjoyable training can help the changeover process.
  • Can the software help with compliance? Industrial companies are highly regulated and must meet the demands of compliance organisations. A software solution should have the ability to produce and track training and reporting to meet compliance requirements.
  • How can the software reduce cost through analytics? To demonstrate the necessity of a digital WFM tool to other leaders, it is vital that it can reduce costs, and this is primarily achieved using analytics. Look for software that can examine staffing data, project trends, provide forecasting, and integrate with smart assets.
  • Is the software capable of enhancing accountability and productivity? With front-line workers deployed to work sites, staff working remotely, contractors and subcontractors, and a multinational workforce, it is crucial that WFM software can manage such complexity. The ability for software to produce data-driven reports, track task management in real-time, allow for easy communication, and enable frictionless mobile access are all necessary.
  • How does the software integrate with HR efforts? Since a quality workforce is the lifeblood of any company, it is important that an organisation can easily integrate their existing HR framework into a WFM software solution. Software should be able to aid in onboarding new workers, conduct and track performance evaluation, and manage employee training.

Mobile workforce management – understanding mobility

The modern industrial workforce is more mobile than ever. Front-line workers have access to smartphones, tablets, and computers that allow them to connect to centralised data repositories. If an organisation wants to compete in the industrial landscape, they need to guarantee their workforce can seamlessly access resources to deliver on-site services as though they were at the home office.

Mobility means having access to necessary information when needed. Real mobility starts from the top down – an organisation's goals and strategies must understand the needs of their front-line workers to make sure they are fully supported. This not only includes on-ground workers, but their field supervisors and dispatchers also need to be able to receive real-time status updates. This allows for easy changes to scheduling and workforce and asset tracking. Managing a mobile workforce has numerous technological challenges, but smart business leaders know it is necessary to compete in the industrial sector.

Barriers to adoption

Any change brings challenges. Even for an organisation that has integrated change management procedures, there will be growing pains. There are three primary challenges to any new technological deployment:

  • Buy-in: Human nature is to prefer the comfort of known quantities, but change is inevitable and should be welcomed. Change resistance can be mitigated by getting buy-in from leadership, providing transparency on the reason for change, and making sure employees are heard and have input on the process.
  • Proper deployment: A well-executed rollout of new technology and procedures is vital to helping adoption. If employees encounter technological challenges with their first experience with new technology, they are more likely to be resistant. Starting small with test runs and buying software and hardware from an experienced vendor with quality customer service can abate this challenge.
  • Training: No one can be expected to be a master of a new technology instantly, so provided adequate training can make employees more comfortable integrating it into their daily work experience.

Possibly the greatest challenge in transitioning to a mobile workforce is the highly experienced and skilled employees. These workers have a strongly entrenched way of operating and may have been executing their job function in the same manner for decades. Ensuring their buy-in can have a trickle-down effect on younger, less-experienced workers and help make for an easier transition to mobility.

What is the connected worker?

The connected worker is one who has complete access to the data they need to complete their job properly. Front-line workers can become connected workers when they are empowered with wearables, sensors, smartphones, and tablets. With access to this technology, they can utilise data properly to execute their jobs as efficiently and safely as possible.

A connected worker goes beyond technology. For an organisation to fully connect their workers, they need to have a strategy to link their workers to the right data to aid them in making quicker and better decisions. Workers who are supported in their decision-making help to reduce operating costs, improve productivity, and enhance safety. Given that many industrial and operational organisations are still reliant on pen-and-paper methodologies, connecting workers and data can significantly improve processes.

Implementing a connected worker strategy that is supported by robust processes and the necessary technology can provide the following benefits:

  • Streamlined processes: Data collection, equipment, inventory, and other resources are more easily connected to both workers and leadership. Additionally, response times are reduced for unplanned outages as the right workers can be notified immediately and have easy access to the necessary data and tools to get back online.
  • Reduced costs: Properly executed, a connected workforce can potentially provide OPEX cost savings of 7% to 8% with up to 30% improved productivity. The average payback period is less than one-year thanks to a 290% per year ROI. A connected workforce also wastes less time with 15% less time spent on non-value-added tasks, increasing tool time and eliminating rework.
  • Employees: The connected worker is safer, more reliable, and has better labour productivity. This helps increase overall job satisfaction as 75% of workers express a desire for their company to provide them with the latest technology to simplify their job.

Looking forward – The contingent workforce ecosystem

The workforce of today is not likely to resemble the workforce of the future. Deloitte Insights annual Global Human Capital Trends survey reveals numerous insights about the current makeup and future trends of the composition of the workforce. The average workforce is no longer composed almost exclusively of full-time salaried workers, instead shifting to relying more heavily on "alternative work arrangements" from part-time workers to gig and freelance workers. The future of the workforce will be contingent, with workers hired for specific and granular tasks that match their expertise. With human resources constantly in flux, it is even more important for the digitisation of workforce management to happen sooner.

Challenges of the workforce ecosystem

Deloitte Insights found that this dynamic workforce ecosystem presents several challenges. Most notably, such an ephemeral workforce will challenge even the best HR organisation. Respondents indicated that only 29% of their organisations track contract compliance for contingent workers and only 32% track the quality of their work. These workers don’t easily fit into the traditional HR models and are slipping through the cracks. However, the challenge is not one just for the HR department. Business leaders need to make sure their organisations can adapt to the new workforce ecosystem, as a lack of adjustment will pose legal, security, privacy, and regulatory risks.

Workforce management software in its current state is slow to adapt to this new ecosystem. Most software is heavily orientated towards full-time shift-based workers. This traditional model, while more prevalent in the industrial sector, is still becoming outdated. WFM software needs to adjust to the contingent workforce ecosystem to aid organisations in meeting the challenge of this new normal.

How to engage contingent workers

The trend towards contingent workers isn't abating anytime soon. The impetus is on organisations to respond to maximise the strengths these workers bring while simultaneously protecting themselves and their workers. They can engage these workers by doing the following:

  • Use the entire ecosystem: Many organisations focus on one type of worker – historically full-time workers. HR, legal, and IT departments will all need to work together to reach out to the whole gamut of contingent workers. This will help an organisation to provide these workers with the tools, training, and support to be part of a productive workforce.
  • Involve HR: Up to a third of organisations don't involve their HR department when sourcing and hiring contingent workers. Often, individual departments in an organisation hire contingent workers on an ad hoc basis. This indicates that these workers haven't been subject to the same screening and onboarding process as more traditional employees. Given the increasing importance of contingent workers, this will inevitably create problems.
  • Treat them as professionals: Nearly half of the organisations who employ contingent workers don't provide them with standardised onboarding and training. While these companies may worry about the legal and regulatory challenges of these workers, treating them as second-class citizens can establish a dangerous precedent.
  • Incentivise: As with any worker, an organisation should incentivise contingent workers to get the most out of them. This includes the option to become full-time employees, but also developing their skills and abilities and including them in success measurement metrics and bonuses.


The landscape of the industrial workforce is changing, and organisations' workforce management practices must change as well. Front-line workers are required to respond to maintenance and outages far away from home offices, and the old methods of pen-and-paper record keeping and data access are no longer adequate. A workforce that relies on asynchronous communication and old methodologies is less productive, inefficient, expensive, and less safe.

The benefits of shifting to a workforce that is connected through software and mobile computing are tremendous. Connected workers have access to the data they need to enhance their decision-making, thereby maximising productivity, tool time, and safety. An HR department that uses robust workforce management software can ease employee onboarding, track success metrics and training, and maintain regulatory and legal compliance. Engineering and procurement departments can instantly respond to the needs of front-line workers through real-time communication. Shift handover between workers is smoothed through better data tracking and easy task assignment. A connected workforce supported by software and mobile computing can operate at peak efficiency in a frictionless environment, increasing productivity, safety, and revenue.

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