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What is workforce management?

It’s a good question, and perhaps one best answered by defining what workforce management isn’t… a buzzword. Well, OK, maybe that’s not entirely true.

After all, ‘workforce management’ as a term seems to be everywhere right now. Nevertheless, we don’t believe that this is one of those here today, gone tomorrow situations. This is because while many businesses have jumped enthusiastically into the 21st century, their definition of HR and its role in business has not.

The results are disjointed operations and a lack of cohesion in one of the most fundamentally vital areas in any company. All of which goes against the golden rule that less is more when it comes to any software or systems used for management tasks that directly impact staff.

If all that sounds like hyperbole, let’s look at the facts. Human Resources is usually used to describe a specific element of business management – the recruitment, allocation, performance management, retention, training and governance of staff. However, more often than not HR departments are aligned with – if not in control of – other aspects of management.  For example payroll, employee benefits, scheduling, time and attendance or asset distribution – tasks often completed by other departments or line managers.

This means the term HR is really not an accurate term to truly define what many on-the-ground managers or other departments are actually responsible for. Hence the rise of ‘workforce management’. And that’s really a very simple explanation.

“Workforce management is more than just a check-list of HR, management and payroll tasks. It’s seeing a larger picture and using technology to connect multiple parts of your business to make your operations more streamlined. It goes beyond individual transactions and looks at the simplest way of bringing people and tasks together,” Andrew Northcott, CEO and founder of Roubler, explains.

There may be some old-schoolers out there who still see just a few trees rather than the entire wood. Yes, it’s true that business has a habit of reinvention, and some of those reinventions are shortlived – and perhaps pointless in the first place. However, without the evolution in the terminology, we use within the workplace those workplaces themselves are unlikely to ever truly evolve.

“Business has been, and always will be filled with buzzwords. Some are quite apt, but others are definitely there for the benefit of conference speakers,” Northcott continues.

“Language needs to evolve as new jobs are created and new technology comes into play – we just need to make sure the words we choose are meaningful so they don’t end up on the buzzword pile.”

Roubler itself is a market-leading supplier of workforce management software. While the platform does include tools for both HR and payroll tasks, in recent years we have been moving away from such linear titles and looking to make customers clear that these are only part of the overall offering. We are a company that delivers exceptional workforce management software solutions across the board, with applications to suit and aid in a wide range of situations.

“We haven’t shied away from a challenge – specifically bringing together the complete lifecycle from recruitment to payroll,” Northcott replies when asked what managers can expect from using Roubler as a workforce management software provider.

“We stand out in that we’ve brought payroll into the equation and tightly integrated Employee Self Service into the product so managers see real-time savings and real reductions in processing errors.”

PeopleFluent published a great blog on the five challenges of workforce management [] which makes the distinction between this and HR very clear. In identifying the major problems businesses face in this area it reveals plenty about what the term covers. This includes the identification of critical roles – in particular, those roles that are not exclusively the domain of HR – and aligning talent strategy with business strategy.

Traditional HR departments are likely to have a skill set that is too specialised to be able to cover the full breadth of workforce management tasks. This isn’t to say we should get rid of our HR departments – their role in talent strategy, governance and grievance resolution is critical. It’s more that a 21st century business should be combining experienced HR professionals with other team members and systems that can meet the demands and needs individual departments on the ground. This holistic approach can better align talent strategy with business strategy.

Once you re-define the roles and tasks that were once lumped (incorrectly) together as HR you start to see where the problem – and need for a new definition – lies. Workforce management becomes a much more fitting turn of phrase because that’s exactly what it does. Therefore, businesses now need a workforce management software provider, in addition to specialist software for true HR tasks, rather than a partner caught up in old definitions.

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