By Joshua Pines, Co-founder Sirenum
According to the Wellcome Trust, the discovery and research phase of a vaccine is anywhere from two to five years. Having spent a number of years in clinical technology, I can attest to the fact that timelines are often even longer. That’s why the authorisation of multiple Covid-19 vaccines in less than a year is a great achievement. However, it is only one part of the puzzle, and managing a global vaccination programme is something of a challenge in itself – but one where technology will provide the answer.
More commonly associated with the management of shift workers or those operating in the gig economy in retail or hospitality, workforce management (WFM) technology is now being deployed to manage the human workforce needed for the Covid-19 vaccination programme. The reasons? The large volume of workers required—estimated in the UK to be an additional 46,000 alongside the NHS—further exacerbated by the complexity of the task, means technology is needed to take care of the admin. This leaves more personnel free for other jobs needed to execute the vaccination. In fact, there are a few ways that technology will be supporting the vaccination programme as outlined below.
Ensuring ‘hidden’ workers are not neglected
In the UK, GPs, retired doctors, nurses, pharmacists, health visitors and other healthcare workers who can be trained, are being called upon to administer the jab. As part of this, a number of venues such as football stadiums, racecourses, GP surgeries, and pharmacies will be used as vaccination hubs alongside hospitals.
Aside from the core workers being used to administer the vaccine, these venues will need ancillary staff such as cleaners and security. Other roles may also be necessary such as warehouse staff for the storage of the vaccine, receptionists, and delivery drivers. WFM technology can be used to ensure these shifts are covered as part of any vaccination centre and that these workers are not ‘neglected’ when it comes to managing them.
Right place, right time
Given the sheer number of shifts to fill, a manual matching process could take days, which is why technology is being used to speed up the process. With a modern cloud-based WFM tool, managers are able to bulk upload shifts and automatically assign the right worker to each shift, from any device whenever it’s convenient, making it possible to build a roster with thousands of shifts in seconds instead of hours or days.
This also makes it possible to source and deploy replacements quickly and efficiently. This is particularly relevant if a worker has tested positive for the virus or just needs to isolate due to exposure. A WFM tool can allow workers to share such a status with a single click and thus prevent a manager from trying to schedule a shift for that worker until they are out of isolation and quickly find a replacement within a talent pool.
Match workers with the right qualifications to a shift
The general consensus among social scientists is that without technology, people are only capable of knowing about 150 people well at any given time. With a large or complex workforce like that required for the vaccination process, managers are simply incapable of knowing which workers have the right qualifications, skills, and availability for which roles. Aside from being an irritation, if this scenario happened in the context of the vaccination programme, it could lead to a breakdown in the schedule, as well as delays and further complications of an already complex logistical undertaking.
Again, this is where WFM technology can come into its own, as it can match workers according to the requirements of each shift. A strong matching algorithm considers dozens of factors including how far away a worker lives from the vaccination centre. This then provides the hiring manager with all the information needed to make an informed decision quickly and efficiently.
Reduce health and safety headaches
Fatigue and burnout are very likely scenarios for healthcare professionals who have been tirelessly working during this pandemic, both of which can cause human error. It’s likely that the new vaccination centres will be operating beyond what would be classed as usual working hours–there’s even been talk of certain hubs being open ONLY outside usual working hours–and therefore health and safety is of paramount importance.
Using WFM technology, managers can be alerted when staff require breaks or are at risk of burnout as they reach the acceptable working hours threshold defined by UK health and safety legislation. Managers can also factor in flexibility for overtime if shifts take longer than anticipated and make changes and adjustments as necessary without the burden of paperwork. For example, if a worker finished their shift two hours after their scheduled hours, a manager could then be alerted to the fact that the worker needs more time to rest in between shifts, and that a replacement worker is needed. Optimally, that can all happen automatically.
Another knock-on impact of centres operating outside of working hours may mean that a worker needs information about their shift when the hiring manager is out of office. Sophisticated WFM platforms operate in the cloud and are accompanied by a mobile app where workers can receive notifications about upcoming shifts, accept new assignments, and even check payroll 24/7 without needing to contact their hiring manager. The worker can also use the app to notify their hiring manager of any changes to their availability and to clock in and out of shifts. Not only does this improve employee engagement, but it also means the hiring manager has the right data to ensure workers are paid the right amount for their work, even if rates are variable according to the time of day or expertise required.
Future of work
Although the healthcare market is no stranger to utilising WFM technology even with this latest use case, adoption across other sectors and fields is likely to be accelerated as a result of the pandemic. In fact, a report from Gartner estimates that by 2025, 60% of global midmarket and large enterprises will have invested in a cloud-based Human Capital Management (HCM) suite for administrative HR and talent management.
The future of work is a concept that has been bandied about since the advent of the World Wide Web in the mid-90s, heralding a workforce that requires new skills from both workers and managers. This conversation has accelerated as the global workforce has adjusted to new working patterns that are likely to last well into 2021. But it has been primarily focused on information workers and often overlooks today’s shift workers. However, the future of work also means changes in the way shift workers work and are managed. Adoption of modern, cloud-based WFM technology for hourly workers will be key in supporting a more productive, safer, and more engaged future of work.