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Workforce planning: Definition, benefits, + best practices

Effective staffing doesn’t happen accidentally—it results from meticulous planning, forecasting, and analysis. Learn how workforce planning can help you increase team productivity.

Par Hannah Wren, Staff Writer

Dernière mise à jour June 27, 2024

What is workforce planning?

Workforce planning ensures an organization has the right people in the right place at the right time. It involves forecasting staffing needs, tracking where teams spend their time, identifying training gaps, and monitoring performance. The ultimate goal of workforce planning is to increase overall efficiency.

As Paul McCartney and The Beatles so famously crooned, “Yesterday / All my troubles seemed so far away / Now it looks as though they are here to stay…” While McCartney was ultimately reminiscing over lost love, workforce managers may find themselves humming the same melancholy tune if they fail to plan for tomorrow’s troubles today. Poor workforce planning can lead to excessive overstaffing expenses, scheduling inconsistencies, and limited insight into your team’s time allocation.

Luckily, workforce planning can be the remedy that ensures you instead sing the lyrics of “Here Comes the Sun.” With the right tools, workforce planning enables you to anticipate staffing requirements, maintain schedule adherence, and pinpoint areas for improvement. This guide covers workforce planning in detail, including benefits, best practices, and how to use it to improve workforce management (WFM).

In this guide:

Why is workforce planning important?

A Zendesk CX Trends Report stat shows that 75 percent of CX leaders see a positive ROI with workforce management tools.

Workforce planning is essential because it can help you enhance team efficiency, avoid overstaffing costs, and improve employee satisfaction.

Businesses that don’t adequately prepare for the future are setting themselves up for failure. These organizations may not think about succession planning—suddenly, two key employees retire, and the business has no qualified employees to replace them. They may not think about future increases in customer demand—suddenly, they don’t have enough support agents to manage increased call volume, leading to lengthy hold times and a sub-par customer experience (CX).

Workforce planning helps prevent these types of situations and ensures your future will operate as smoothly as your present.

Benefits of strategic workforce planning

Workforce planning can result in several benefits for an organization. Here are some of the most impactful.

Get ahead of future workforce needs

Workforce planning aligns with your current business situation and your future workforce needs. By understanding short-term capabilities and future goals, businesses can ensure they have the appropriate staffing levels to set them up for success.

Imagine one of your strategic goals is to improve your customer satisfaction (CSAT) score by 30 percent within 18 months. However, a few key customer service managers are retiring within the year. A good business strategy would be to focus on employee development so that when those managers move on, you have capable replacements waiting in the wings to achieve your CSAT goal.

Optimize labor budget

A significant workforce planning goal is to make sure the right employees are in the right positions at the right time. By forecasting labor needs and costs, companies can optimize resource allocation. This strategic approach can help CX teams find the financial sweet spot, resulting in adequate agent numbers for effective customer service without overspending on labor costs.

Boost team productivity

In CX, strategic workforce planning can enhance team efficiency by ensuring agents have the right customer service skills to excel in their roles. Workforce managers can analyze performance data to identify coaching opportunities. This ongoing training and development can lead to increased agent productivity.

Improve the employee experience

The employee experience (EX) refers to how employees feel about their jobs, work environments, and employers. Workforce planning can improve EX because a successful plan encourages employee development and work-life balance.

Organizations don’t want employees to be stretched thin dealing with too much work, and they also want them to grow in their roles for future promotions. With workforce planning, you can create a positive cycle of engagement and growth that your staff will appreciate.

Steps for workforce planning

When conducting workforce planning, adhering to structured steps is essential to maximize the effectiveness of your strategy. While every organization has unique requirements, here are important steps to consider for success.

Forecasting

A bulleted list details workforce forecasting.

Workforce forecasting is a crucial first step in workforce planning and involves assessing workforce demand and predicting staffing needs. It can include:

  • Evaluating market trends to anticipate industry-wide changes in customer demand
  • Analyzing historical data to identify any seasonal or short-term changes in demand
  • Anticipating skill gaps to ensure employees are ready for expanded roles in the future
  • Preparing for workforce changes like retirements and unexpected resignations, including having succession plans for both situations

This proactive approach ensures you are always prepared to meet operational needs, whether requiring enough employees to assist customers or preparing for future promotions and resignations. And you don’t need to perform this by hand—artificial intelligence (AI) can help. AI-powered software like Zendesk WFM can automatically analyze historical data to predict future staffing needs on a given day, month, or season.

Scheduling

Scheduling involves creating efficient work schedules that align with business needs while accounting for employee breaks and PTO. In customer service, optimal agent scheduling ensures skilled agents are available where and when needed to meet customer demand effectively. Doing so can help maintain a balanced workload, improve employee productivity, optimize labor costs, and make it easier to handle scheduling errors.

Performance reporting

Performance reporting involves tracking workforce performance to ensure employees are meeting organizational goals. You should systematically analyze workforce management metrics and other important figures to measure the effectiveness of your strategy.

This data can also inform your future workforce plans and show areas of improvement so you can optimize your operations. For example, if your support team struggles with a metric like first reply time (FRT), you can develop learning and development programs to correct it.

Real-time activity monitoring

Real-time activity monitoring entails analyzing how and where employees are spending their time. This step gives immediate insights into employee productivity, attendance, and engagement levels, which you can use to build your workforce planning strategy. With the right workforce management software, organizations can leverage real-time data to quickly identify and address issues, adjust employee schedules, and ensure optimal performance.

Levels of workforce planning

You can break down the workforce planning process into four additional levels to better hit your business objectives.

  • Operational workforce planning: Short-term planning involves day-to-day management, including scheduling, task assignments, and short-term staffing issues.
  • Tactical workforce planning: Mid-term planning that lasts roughly one year prioritizes hitting the goals in an organization’s workforce plan. It can involve skills gap analysis, employee development and training, and data analysis.
  • Strategic workforce planning: Long-term planning—typically three to five years in the future—anticipates business growth, market trends, and other external factors.
  • Contingency workforce planning: These are the “in case of emergency, break glass” workforce plans that cover what will happen in drastic situations like an economic downturn, mass resignations, or other sudden changes.

You can achieve more efficient planning and productivity by segmenting your workforce planning into these different levels.

Workforce planning best practices

There are several best practices you should follow when creating a workforce plan. Here are our top tips.

A bulleted list details how to create an effective workforce plan.

Define your KPIs

Key performance indicators (KPIs) like workforce management metrics or customer service KPIs are crucial for measuring progress. Data like customer satisfaction, average resolution time, employee turnover, and more can help you set goals and identify areas of improvement. For example, if your CSAT is lower than you’d like, your goal might be to more effectively staff agents to remove any potential misalignment that could lead to idle agents.

Embrace AI and automation

Artificial intelligence and automation play pivotal roles in modern workforce planning. They can streamline your planning process, quickly identify areas of improvement, forecast staffing needs, and more.

For example, with solutions like Zendesk WFM, you can let AI do the work—analyzing historical trends, forecasting future demand, and creating precise agent schedules in seconds. Capabilities like this help protect your time, manage costs, and improve team productivity.

Invest in workforce management tools

Workforce management software can optimize the workforce planning process and improve workforce optimization. It typically works alongside AI to deliver quicker, more effective insights and capabilities that make your team more efficient.

Zendesk offers AI-powered workforce management and planning capabilities that can assist your operations. With us, you can track team performance in real time, get custom reports on agent productivity, forecast staffing needs, and automatically schedule agents.

Involve your team in the planning process

When you start creating your plan, involving your current workforce and key stakeholders is good practice. Doing so fosters a collaborative environment and ensures plans are realistic and achievable. For example, employees can provide valuable insights into their roles, challenges, and ideas for improvement. Besides gaining a new perspective, engaging your team can promote teamwide buy-in to your plan.

Consider a workforce planning template

A workforce planning template can simplify the planning process and set you up for success. These guides feature strategic questions and steps that organizations can use to evaluate current staffing needs and identify opportunities for training, hiring, succession planning, and more.

Review and improve

Finally, commit to continuously monitoring the performance of your workforce strategies. Regularly assess your KPIs and goals to ensure you’re moving in the right direction. For example, CX teams should look for workforce planning software that gives them real-time insights into agent performance.

Frequently asked questions

Exceed your workforce planning goals with Zendesk WFM

Many organizations may “let it be” when planning for the future, but you need a comprehensive guide to guarantee business success for years to come. Workforce planning can give you the roadmap that helps forecast demand, develop employees, and ensure you have staff in the right places at the right time.

While workforce planning is crucial for all industries, it’s especially so for CX-focused businesses, as it helps them deliver outstanding experiences. Zendesk provides the capabilities CX teams need—such as AI-powered staffing forecasts, automated agent scheduling, real-time activity tracking, and more—helping you develop the perfect workforce plan.

Learn more about our WFM capabilities to see how we can make a difference for you.

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