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Workforce Planning and Analytics: Using Data to Make Strategic Decisions

It’s a tough time to be a business leader.

Hybrid work, hiring freezes and budget cuts are all impacting how, when and where people work. These changes lead to all kinds of questions — and the answers aren’t always clear.

How do employees spend their time? Are they more productive from home or in the office? Does your real estate footprint still align with new ways of working? Are critical talent segments at risk of burnout?

Addressing these issues and others like them is critical in today’s climate. But how do you know if your organizational and workforce strategies are moving in lock-step?

That’s where workforce planning and analytics come in.

What is workforce planning and analytics?

Workforce planning and analytics is the process of identifying, analyzing and addressing the needs of an organization’s workforce. It helps you reach business goals faster by ensuring your organization has the right people with the right skills in the right location at the right cost and right time.

To better understand how workforce planning and analytics work, it helps to take a quick look at the individual components.

Workforce planning is a method for identifying the specific skills your organization needs to succeed. If you were to start a strategic workforce planning process today, it might look like this:

  • Assess the current state of your workforce
  • Decide what you want it to look like in the future
  • Identify skills gaps and resource needs
  • Create an action plan to move your team forward

Workforce plans are based on a variety of business goals, from attracting top talent to improving work-life balance.

Workforce analytics is the glue that makes data-driven workforce planning possible. It pulls from different data sources to track key employee activities — app and website usage, hours worked and more — and turns that information into user-friendly dashboards and reports. These let you go beyond HR analytics and talent acquisition to reveal a full range of performance metrics and answer questions such as:

  • Are employees working on activities aligned with their roles?
  • Do they have the right tools?
  • How much time do they spend on focused work?

The two come together as workplace planning and analytics, which provide a framework for ensuring your organization runs as efficiently as possible.

The benefits of workforce planning and analytics

Many organizations rely on pulse surveys and sentiment analysis to understand how employees engage with their jobs, managers and organizations at-large. While these solutions offer tremendous benefits, they can’t tell you the full story.

Why? Because self-assessments and estimates are rarely accurate. Which is why workforce planning is so important. These data-driven insights paint an objective picture of employee engagement and operations. Applied at scale, they provide several tangible benefits.

Improved employee productivity

Few organizations have a consistent method to measure employee productivity. But if you want to create a culture where productivity thrives, workforce analytics is a must.

For example, evaluate:

  • How much time is devoted to focused activities versus meetings and multitasking — and use those insights to guide Focus Friday decisions.
  • When people lose time to context switching — and leverage that data to experiment with “off hours” for messaging apps and other distracting tools.

Better decision-making

With workforce analytics tools that turn employee activities into insight, leadership can visualize, measure and optimize key trends.

For example, compare:

  • Which apps are used most and which aren’t, as an easy way to evaluate software licenses.
  • The work habits of remote, in-office and hybrid teams to inform office real estate decisions.

Increased efficiency

In a recent poll, 54% of business leaders named “cost and time efficiency” as a top challenge. Workforce planning and analytics give you a big advantage in this area.

For example, see:

  • Where resource gaps exist — and reallocate talent across your organization without adding headcount.
  • What top performers do differently to streamline processes and establish performance benchmarks for other employees to follow.

Reduced risk

From layoffs and hiring freezes to merger and acquisition activity, organizations face a number of challenges. Data-driven workforce planning shows which employees may be at risk of burnout so you can act quickly.

For example, track:

  • Which employees are underutilized or overutilized — and take steps to rebalance workloads across teams.
  • Periods of longer-than-average work hours so you know when it’s time to assess team coverage and adjust schedules.

Developing a workforce planning strategy

Once you have workforce analytics in place, you can use data to make informed workforce planning decisions. Our recommendation? Start with the following five core steps.

Step 1: Establish your strategic objectives

First, define what you’re solving for. This first step is critical to set the foundation for how you optimize your workforce.

Start with where you need to focus efforts, whether it’s at the organization, business unit or team level. Then identify a handful of areas you want to address first. This could involve anything from simplifying your tech stack to understanding when people are most productive.

The key here is to get granular. You need to know where specific problems exist to avoid taking a workplace optimization approach that’s too broad.

Step 2: Analyze your workforce

Next, establish baseline metrics to inform analysis and reporting. Use a workforce analytics platform to answer questions such as:

  • What does productivity look like across teams?
  • How is technology used?
  • What are the biggest digital distractions?

This gives you a holistic view of your workforce so you can set benchmarks and identify areas for improvement.

Step 3: Identify gaps

In the third step, define what success looks like. Where are you now compared to where you want to be? Some questions to consider during this step include:

  • What is the ideal productivity for each team?
  • What should a healthy workload balance look like across team members?
  • How much activity is there in individual technology solutions?

Then set improvement goals in each area using your baseline metrics from step two.

Step 4: Set business goals

Once you’ve identified gaps in step three, create a plan to close them. Again, be precise. It’s important to identify specific levers to pull to influence real change.

If you need to prevent a critical part of the workforce from leaving, your goal might be to implement a targeted retention program. If reducing IT costs is a priority, it might involve using workforce analytics to identify a specific number of software subscriptions to cancel.

Step 5: Implement your plan

Driving meaningful change for your organization is not a one-time planning event. But how will you know if the workforce policies you’ve put in place have the desired impact over time?

As you implement your plan, decide upfront when you’ll review and report on findings. Pick a cadence that’s predictable and easy to support, such as monthly or quarterly. And look for opportunities to celebrate wins publicly with your teams and broader leadership. These will provide the momentum you need to keep going.

Using workforce analytics with ActivTrak

As the workplace evolves, businesses will continue to face concerns around burnout, retention and economic uncertainty. Thankfully, today’s leaders have a major advantage with workplace planning and analytics.

ActivTrak provides accurate insights on daily work habits as well as short and long-term trends. It’s the simplest way to analyze your workforce and achieve your business goals — and address issues long before they become bigger problems. Request a demo to see how you can start using the platform today.