Time and attendance systems for retailers must do more today than clock the comings and goings of associates. These days, workforce management is being equated to brand management — along with keeping Millennial workers happy and productive.
In many cases in retail, “the employee is the brand,” says Derek Jones, vice president of business development at Deputy, a provider of cloud-based workforce management systems that facilitate employee scheduling, time-tracking, communication, tasking and performance management.
“You have to have amazing, engaged employees,” Jones says. “You have to keep the employees motivated. That is a differentiator as a brand. If you don’t create an amazing experience when you walk into a store, people will not come back.”
Deputy and many other workforce management system providers approach the practice with a contemporaneous view — meaning the tools they are developing mimic or extend how workers live their lives today, particularly Millennials, whose expectations about work differ greatly from the past.
More importantly, workforce management tools are pacing along with how workers today interact with emerging technologies while also ensuring that management is compliant with workplace laws and regulations.
“The experience [retail associates]have as an employee should be very similar to — if not better than — the experience they have communicating every day, especially on a mobile device,” Jones says.
The Deputy platform keeps track of labor regulations and how they may impact individual employees, such as whether an associate has taken their allotted work breaks.
Timbuk2 is a small, growing designer, manufacturer and distributor of high-end, customizable messenger bags, backpacks and accessories. Founded in 1989 by a bike messenger, the company prides itself on its positioning as a global brand through a workforce of 130 employees.
The San Francisco-based company also operates 10 physical stores in North America, including in New York, Chicago, Denver, Toronto, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and seven across Asia.
Mike Earl, Timbuk2 senior director of omnichannel, says the company retained Deputy because of an “acute need” to gain greater visibility in how it was scheduling employees to optimize the customer experience. Timbuk2 had been using Google Docs to manage schedules manually; a separate human resources vendor managed timesheets and payroll.
Both solutions were “siloed” and inefficient alongside each other, Earl says. Timbuk2 needed a process that would improve store performance and expense management through scheduling while also integrating labor costs, benefits and payroll.
“If you think about the opportunity you have with the consumer,” Earl says, “you can get it really right or get it really wrong. One of the key influencing factors in a physical retail environment is the way employees show up to bring the brand to life.”
For Timbuk2 store managers setting associate schedules, the Deputy platform allows them to be more nimble by considering historical information in determining staffing needs, including point-of-sale and even weather data. On days of inclement weather, for instance, patterns might show that a store may not need as many associates during a given period, so the scheduling manager could adjust the staffing.
“We were able to take data as related to traffic into stores by time of day and day of week and use that data to more effectively create schedules that would allow for the best customer experience possible,” Earl says, “while balancing the profitability of the store itself.”
As a small company, Timbuk2 needed to “run an incredibly tight ship,” he says, but the former process of manual scheduling via static files and notifications blocked the view of what truly was occurring within its workforce.
The Deputy platform also gives managers the ability to aggregate notes and records pertaining to scheduling and performance without having to rely on sending emails or receiving in-person requests.
“To have a central source of truth as it relates to the employees’ time, attendance and performance has been a huge benefit,” Earl says.
The issue of compliance is another area where Timbuk2 has found benefit: The Deputy platform contains inherent rules that help managers adhere to Timbuk2 corporate policies on time-and-attendance issues such as overtime pay, breaks and sick leave in order to head off potential problems.
Earl says keeping track of labor regulations, particularly in the United States where rules may vary by states or region of the country, requires a big focus on the part of corporations. The Deputy platform keeps track of the rules and how they may impact individual employees, such as whether a manager can schedule an associate for an extra shift or whether the associate has taken their allotted work breaks.
“The compliance piece is almost so inherent that it doesn’t become an issue that needs to be considered because the tools are kind of solving it for you on the fly,” Earl says. “They are notifying you if you are potentially overscheduling an employee.”
A June 2017 survey commissioned and administered by Deputy found that 56 percent of the more than 4,000 businesses surveyed said they did not feel confident with understanding changing labor laws.
While ridding the inefficiencies for a time and attendance process is what first grabs the attention of a company like Timbuk2, Jones says the communication functions of the platform endear it to workers — especially Millennials.
Jones says Gallup polling shows Millennials want two things from their employers: what is expected of them and feedback. That’s where the Deputy communication function comes in, projecting the notion of community that Millennials gravitate to, he says.
“It’s just like a Facebook news feed,” Jones says. “It allows workers and managers to have a two-way dialogue. When you kind of clock in and out, you can see all the communications. You can scroll through it and get caught up with everything going on, all the exciting stuff.”
Through the platform, employees can check in via their smartphones, get their tasks and receive store updates. If a manager has an employee who is out sick, for instance, the manager can also use their smartphone to find a replacement for the shift.
Jones says Deputy’s tasking function gives workers greater insight into what the employer expects of them. “Before you are clocked in, you can see exactly what they want you to do that day. And that’s what most employees want. They want to show up and do an amazing job,” he says.
Earl says the Deputy applications quickly met the needs of the Millennials in Timbuk2’s workforce.
“Within 10 minutes, our workforce was intuitively using it,” he says. “We were up and running within a day.”
M.V. Greene is an independent writer and editor based in Owings Mills, Md., who covers business, technology and retail.