A dynamic solution to the winter staffing storm by Scott Erwin

We know it was nonstop challenges for most of last year, but with the rise in COVID-19 cases and the re-introduction of a national lockdown, it seems Controllers, who are working with high levels of absenteeism and the difficult task of filling blow out shifts, may find that the worst is yet to come.
The cold and flu season is here, and this year it’s compounded by the effects of rapidly rising COVID cases. Not only will there unfortunately be some officers who contract COVID, but there will be others asked to isolate for 10 days. Add this on top of the always expected rise in missed shifts due to coughs and colds that winter brings and there is going to be a much bigger strain on your human resources than ever before.

We’ve now of course had the very welcome news that an effective vaccine for COVID-19 has been announced. They question however remains – how do we deal with absenteeism between now and when the population has been vaccinated?

We don’t want to be scare-mongers with exaggerated modelling, but even if you consider a 50% rise in absenteeism rates, and a 50% rise in the time off taken – not unreasonable given COVID infection rates, and the typical time off being 2 weeks instead of 1 (at least) that’s going to add up to a huge increase in shifts that need to be covered.

Security is an essential service, and you can’t operate or fulfil contracts while understaffed. So, what can you do to avoid a winter staffing storm during these difficult months ahead?

When faced with high levels of absenteeism, your usual reflex may be to call your trusted temp agencies but, you may find that they either don’t have all the officers you need, or you’re not willing to have such a high influx of ‘new’ officers into your shifts from a health and safety perspective (aside from the additional cost).

Keeping a workplace ‘COVID secure’ doesn’t work as well with new team members arriving on a daily basis from agencies who don’t know your protocols and procedures. Your own team on the other hand will be well versed in ‘how things work’.

So, what can you do to avoid agencies but also ensure you have the staffing levels you require? The solution lies in rethinking the approach to static staffing – or staffing by fixed-schedule, permanent team members. In short, the answer is to set full-time staffing levels to the minimum required for operational stability and use a bench of dynamic reserves to cover all other levels of demand.

Static roles are those that have a fixed rota pattern and are needed in place no matter how low or high each site requires. Dynamic roles, in contrast, are those roles that can be filled from a pool of people who work non-fixed hours. Once minimum full-time officers’ requirements are determined then you can begin mapping the reserves needed to build a dynamic bench of officers.

If you don’t already have your own bench of internal officers now is the time to build that capability. This is a job worth doing as it will save you time and money further down the line. It will also give you peace of mind that you have the reserves needed to run your company successfully with the right people in the right place at the right time.

If you don’t already have a bench of officers that you can call upon, this is how we recommend you start building one:

• Choose areas of the business (by client contract or region) that will benefit most. As a guide, look first where any temp agency usage is significant. 

• A bench isn’t a line-up of second-rate substitutes - it’s an opportunity to build a talented flexible workforce that wants or needs to be able to work non-standard hours. By empowering your bench officers with choice over how and when they work, you will see less staff turnover and be able to fill shifts quickly and easily with the right people.

• By taking into account the preferences and skills of your workforce you can intelligently ‘match’ available officers to the ‘right shifts’ for them. This helps to build better teams that work well together and allows officers to choose the shifts that suit them best.

• Review whether your existing pool has the necessary skills and working preferences to effectively cover all the shifts at a static level.

While reviewing your workforce, keep in mind that there has never been a better time for recruiting additional bench officers. This may seem an odd strategy during a recession, but with unemployment levels higher and incentives from the government to employ apprentices, now is actually the great time to look at what additional skills each team needs to offer high levels of service. With the option of flexible contracts and many officers looking to be able to fit work into their busy lifestyles, recruiting additional officers to be part of a bench is a win-win situation.
When recruiting for bench officers remember:
• People are looking for more secure work contracts

• More talent may be available as other organisations stop furlough and make employees redundant

• Your team want to be valued and know they can contribute to keeping your organisation but do need that added element of flexibility in their work

• Cost cutting is always attractive

• More certainty in resource planning will help you ‘ride the storm’ 

By offering flexible working options, officers can feel empowered and happier; we live in a flexible and personalised society so why shouldn’t this thinking be applied to our working lives? By giving your officers this dynamic shift option, many who have other responsibilities such as childcare or ageing relatives to care for, can still enjoy working and contributing to society. This way of thinking is inclusive, empowering and a lifeline for those who are juggling different factors.

Dynamic staffing gives maximum responsiveness and efficiency – but it is complex. The moving parts involved – the volume of officers, their availability, the necessary skills, performance feedback – is hard enough when setting static schedules in advance. Throw in last minute blow-outs because of sickness, timetable clashes and operational needs and the sheer complexity can cause operational meltdown.
Dynamic staffing software can help take the operational headache away. It isn’t a good use of managerial time to be dealing with scheduling and rescheduling.

Every Security provider is going to see a rise in last minute dropped shifts this winter – because it happens every year. But you do need to prepare for it to be worse this year, and you need to shift from a reliance on agency officers to building your own bench and utilising a dynamic staffing solution, if you’re going to manage this with any kind of certainty.

Lastly, it is important that you treat all your officers equally, whether full time or bench. Your reputation relies on these bench officers to respond to unpredictable needs, they aren’t a band-aid – they are the business – and their performance depends on their satisfaction and retention.


Scott Erwin

Workforce optimisation expert and former McKinsey Management Consultant, Scott Erwin, is founder and CEO of HireHand. The software and app company helps people-powered businesses manage dynamic staffing – helping organisations build their own flexible pool of workers, intelligently matching them to work opportunities to fill last minute dropped shifts.