What Is Workforce Management?

In this article we give a definition of what Workforce Management (WFM) actually is, while going through all of its basic components. 

Workforce Management

Workforce Management (WFM) is a term that encompasses all the activities needed to maintain a productive workforce. These activities include:

In essence, it is about assigning the right employees with the right skills to the right job at the right time, to meet demand.

Recently, the concept of workforce management has begun to evolve into Workforce Optimisation.

[Follow the link for a: Beginners Guide to Workforce Management]

Workforce Optimisation

Workforce Optimisation (WFO) is a business strategy that promotes operational efficiency through the integration of new processes and/or technologies.

Traditionally, WFO is achieved by having the correct number of staff in place to meet the forecast demands of the activity.

In the contact centre, this usually means having the most accurate number of advisors in place to deal with forecast contact volumes.

To work this out, most contact centres either use an Erlang Calculator or WFM software.

Scheduling – How to Work out How Many Staff You Need

The Erlang Calculator

An Erlang Calculator helps the contact centre to calculate the number of staff needed to handle a forecast number of calls, while meeting a given service level and queue time.

This process is quite simple, as you simply have to enter the following details into the Erlang Calculator:

(Here is an example of an Erlang Calculator with these details entered)

Once these details have been entered, the calculator details the number of advisors needed to handle the expected call volumes and gives exact figures for service level and occupancy.

These will be slightly different from those that were initially entered, because the calculator has to round up from 16.X advisors.

Follow the link for a full guide on how to use the Erlang Calculator to work out how many staff you need in a contact centre.

Workforce Management Solutions

While the Erlang Calculator is great for traditional contact centre environments, many contact centres choose to use workforce management solutions to run more complex calculations.

These solutions can ensure that advisors with a specific talent are available to take relevant queries. Such talents include:

  • Familiarity with either specific customers (e.g. account management) or customer sub-sets (e.g. commercial vs. domestic products)
  • Specific product or technical knowledge
  • Right level of experience and empowerment for the customer (e.g. “gold-card” customers may demand single-call resolution, meaning senior agents must take the call)
  • Language skills (both in domestic and international markets)
  • Ability to deal with multimedia interactions (either in real time – such as text chats – or off-line, such as emails)
  • Similar regional accent to caller (where applicable).

Using these solutions, the contact centre will be able to follow the “The Workforce Management Cycle” to successfully optimise the workforce.

The Workforce Management Cycle is highlighted below:


Using a WFM solution as a WFO strategy is an iterative cycle, requiring several key processes to be completed so that service levels can be fulfilled and costs can be managed.

But gaining feedback from each stage means that the contact centre can continually improve its efficiency and become more confident in future staffing level predictions.


While the methods above are helpful in terms of scheduling staff, they are invalid unless the contact centre forecasts accurately.

In the contact centre, forecasts involve the calculation of future contact volumes.

The contact centre can forecast through the use of spreadsheets, WFM software or a combination of both. However, using Excel spreadsheets is still the most common method of doing so.

(This poll was sourced from the survey: Excel Remains an Ever-Popular Forecasting Tool)

Using spreadsheets, it is up to the contact centre team to make forecasts based on contact history data, contact patterns and events or holidays that may impact contact volumes, as highlighted below.

Excel-Based Forecasting

When forecasting using spreadsheets, the first thing that the contact centre must do is to analyse historical call data to highlight recurring patterns.

This will enable the contact centre to see how many inbound calls it has previously received at a certain time, on a day-to-day basis, and also on a seasonal basis.

This data can be pulled from the contact centre’s Automated Call Distribution (ACD) system or its Call Detail Records (CDRs) or it can be obtained by contacting the telephone company.

Using this information, the contact centre must then work out the number of contacts expected during each reporting period (normally 30 minutes).

Daily reports from your ACD should provide the contact centre with the right insight, as historical data is provided in half-hour segments.

However, if not, the contact centre will have to put together a call-arrival pattern, similar to that below.

Time Intervals Percentage of Calls (%)
09:00 4.66%
09:30 4.05%
10:00 5.52%
10:30 4.30%
11:00 6.13%
11:30 5.77%
12:00 8.83%
12:30 5.77%
13:30 5.52%
14:00 6.01%
14:30 5.40%
15:00 6.38%
15:30 6.99%
16:00 6.63%
16:30 6.01%
16:30 0.12%

Contact centres can then follow this pattern by matching each percentage at each point to the corresponding percentage of the overall day’s contact volumes.

Follow the link to try out our free: Erlang C Calculator – Free Excel Spreadsheet

For more useful tools to use when forecasting, visit out Forecasting Tools page.

Intraday Management

While contact centre forecasts are getting more accurate, unexpected changes in contact volumes and absenteeism can throw them off, making day-to-day contact centre management difficult.

So, the contact centre needs to constantly have someone in place to manage the workforce, being in charge of moving advisors across channels to cope with demand, managing performance and improving schedule adherence, amongst other duties.

This the reactive part of WFM. However, many contact centres put in place Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to make clear what should be done in certain scenarios.

SOPs involve a set of guidelines such as who should be called in for support in different situations, like when contact volumes are much higher than expected. Also, SOPs will dictate what duties need to be fulfilled if lines are quieter than expected.

Performance Management

WFM doesn’t just mean making sure that there are the correct number of advisors in place to meet contact volumes though, it also means ensuring that the advisor “workforce” is meeting performance targets.

To do this, a contact centre WFM team will also track performance-based metric scores and run Quality Analysis (QA).

The metrics that WFM teams typically track include First Call Resolution (FCR), Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), amongst others.

These help the contact centre to identify the impact advisors are having on success, loyalty and general satisfaction.

The WFM team will also monitor a few advisor calls (e.g. six calls per advisor, every month) and coach them on how they can improve, while also letting them know what they did well.

In fact, most contact centres give advisors quality scores after monitoring, which are then used to identify which advisors may need extra support and highlight those that may deserve a reward.

To find out more on this subject, read our article: 30 Tips to Improve Your Call Quality Monitoring

Time-Keeping and Attendance

While WFM often involves driving down attrition rates, it also includes reducing absenteeism and ensuring that advisors stick to their working schedules.

So it is often left to the WFM team to ask the contact centre team to work overtime or call in emergency support when attendance is low and time-keeping is off.

This means that many contact centres are now introducing a shift swap scheme or an annualised hours initiative, in order to minimise disruption.

In fact, according to our survey “What Contact Centres Are Doing Right Now (2016 Edition)”, there had been a rise of over 16% in just one year, from 2015-2016, of contact centres implementing annualised hours.

It is the job of those in the WFM team to assess the benefits that changing shift patterns could bring to the contact centre and, consequently, optimise whichever scheme is implemented.

Payments and Benefits

WFM also involves ensuring that the contact centre team are paid promptly and on time. However, the contact centre is not the easiest place to do this.

Why? Because pay is often split between a basic salary and an array of bonuses, which often include:

  • Quality bonuses
  • Team bonuses
  • Target bonuses
  • Absence bonuses

So, there must be good lines of communication between the contact centre floor and the WFM team to ensure that all incentives are financially viable.

In addition, the WFM team will also be charged with conducting salary reviews every so often.

To find out more on how to do so, read our article: How do I undertake salary reviews?

Do you agree with our synopsis of WFM and the contact centre? Or have we missed any key bits of information out?

Please leave your thoughts in an email to Call Centre Helper

Originally published in April 2010. Recently updated. 

Further Reading


Published On: 4th Oct 2017 - Last modified: 19th Nov 2018
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