• Doug Casterton

Self-Scheduling & Shift Bidding

Updated: Feb 7


Self-scheduling or shift bidding is not a new concept. In fact, it has been around since the 60s in various guises, especially in the healthcare industry. The idea behind shift bidding is simple, shift patterns that suit business needs and colleagues are published, allowing agents to bid in an eBay-style auction. Adoption, however, in contact centers has been slow. However, many are exploring this scheduling method as balancing the agents' needs outside of work vs. business/customer needs becomes ever more critical.


In recognition of the need to provide more equity-based fairness (fairness in every situation) over equality-based fairness (giving people the same thing equally), most contact centers tend to adopt either a bidding, a preference-based approach, or a fixed lifestyle approach. These options can be effective, but there has been a recent lifestyle/preference-based scheduling trend.

The idea of using self-scheduling for home workers has piqued my interest. Because their computer is their only mode of transportation, they are already the most adaptable workforce in a contact center. To begin with, they can be a valuable asset to any workforce planner if they are willing to work overtime or participate in voluntary bank hours. Shift optimization opportunities for home workers, on the other hand, are frequently overlooked.



How is Self-scheduling or Shift bidding offered?

Shift bidding is a concept in which agent schedules are published without assignment to any specific agent, allowing agents to bid in an eBay-style auction for the shifts that they want. This is frequently accomplished by using a point system in which the agents are assigned a set of points during each schedule release that they can use to bid on the shifts that make the most sense to them.


I've seen many variations on this system, such as making the perceived more popular shifts more expensive to bid on and/or awarding higher amounts of points to agents based on tenure or performance.


Shift bidding can be challenging to master, and in some cases, if not used correctly, can cause more harm than good.


More significant amounts of points allocated based on tenure or performance, for example, can result in some agents accumulating so many points that it becomes impossible for other agents ever to get the widespread shifts they want. This risk motivates me to advise against awarding points based on tenure and performance, as you risk alienating a portion of your agent population.


Another challenge is that a popular shift is not always the individual's shift preference because each agent has unique circumstances inside and outside work. Thus their preferences for what shifts they want will differ.


However, there are numerous examples of successful deployments where point allocation has been appropriately balanced. Employee retention, employee autonomy, and decreased staff absenteeism should all be seen as employees choosing shifts that suit their specific lifestyle.


This is also true for a preference/lifestyle-based approach, the best method for larger contact center populations. However, the weakness of this approach is that it provides little flexibility in meeting changing customer demand, which can result in a contact center experiencing boom (over-staffing) and bust (under-staffing) periods intra-day with little ability to respond quickly.

As a result, I believe that combining home-working and shift bidding can provide high optimization levels. Moreover, because of the lack of commuting, split shifts and shorter blocks of hours to fill gaps in coverage (without overlapping over-staffing) should be appealing to home workers.


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