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  • Writer's pictureDoug Casterton

Team scheduling or Individual Agent Scheduling? What works best?

Updated: Feb 2


Workforce Management, particularly Scheduling, is all about making trade-offs. Of course, every operation wants to improve its bottom line, increase productivity, and keep customers and workers satisfied. However, every WFM decision involves a trade-off, some more than others.

One such trade-off that any scheduler is aware of is the debate over what is best for my operation: team-based Scheduling or individual agent Scheduling. But, of course, you'll get a different answer depending on who you ask, and here's why.

The Advantages of Team-Based Scheduling

It is a fact that promoting teamwork and a group spirit will result in more productivity & learning. When you combine that with the fact that managing a group is easier than managing a group of individuals, you will discover that many operational managers prefer Team-Based Schedules.

Another fascinating fact I learned from William Durr (Principal Global Solutions Consultant at Verint Systems) is that team-based environments perform better in terms of meeting and exceeding sales targets. Unfortunately, I don't have any proof, but I can see how this may be the case.

Furthermore, over the last decade, an increasing number of organizations have shifted toward self-directed work teams. The advantages of this in any hierarchy are obvious, and they are no less so in an operational setting. Team-based schedules can be an excellent facilitator for self-directed work teams, resulting in higher productivity, increased employee motivation, decreased bureaucracy, ongoing improvements, and all the benefits that come with it.

Richard Lundgren made an excellent point in favor of a team-based schedule:

One of those interesting questions that always keep appearing. I do believe that team based schedules, even with the overhead they come with do have their place. For example in India & Philippines where schedules are often designed around the ability to get people to the contact centres in a group pickup from a similar location. In this case they do effectively serve a purpose, despite the additional overhead they can cause.

The benefits of Individual Agent Scheduling

Simply put, the most significant advantage of Individual Agent Scheduling is a better match of agents' schedules to the number required. The typical operation workload, particularly voice and instant chat inbound work, depends entirely on changing arrival patterns. In contrast to work where sequential tasks are completed, most operations' usual workload arrival patterns result in the number of agents required at any one interval of the day varying wildly. Therefore, Scheduling blocks of teams is fundamentally less efficient than Scheduling for the exact number of bodies required for each half-hour period. In fact, team-based schedules frequently result in overstaffing/cost overruns during one period and understaffing/poor service during another.

To balance Richard Lundgren comment in favor of Team-Based, Richard also had this to say about non-team based Scheduling:

In other locations such as a customer I had in Singapore, they just did not suit the organisation and the customer demand. After much consultation over many many months, the organisation finally gave in and ditched the team based scheduling methodology and immediately saw better service levels and customer satisfaction. Were the employees unhappy? For a while yes, there was a level of dissatisfaction, however that dissipated over a number of months and flexible scheduling became the norm, with the benefits that come with that. They may have lost a handful of employees, but the increased performance made up for that along with the cost benefits of requiring less overall FTE.

Another significant advantage of individual agent Scheduling is the opposite of a benefit frequently cited in favor of team-based schedules: schedule fairness. Scheduling Fairness is commonly based on everyone working an equal number of shifts. But, when you think about it, is this really fair? People all have distinct lifestyles outside of work, which results in a variance in preference for the hours they want to work. Believe it or not, you will find people who prefer to work weekends and night shifts. Okay, they're a minority, but is it really fair or even prudent to force everyone to work the same shift when it goes against employee preferences? When used effectively, individual agent Scheduling is a terrific facilitator of preference-based Scheduling; nonetheless, I am sure you can see the basic benefit today.

So what is the answer? Team Scheduling or Individual Agent Scheduling? What works best?

The answer is neither, and it is dependent..... I realize this appears to be an evasion of the question, but bear with me as I explain.

The dependency aspect is heavily reliant on what you do in the operation. I agree that sales targets are easier to accomplish in team environments; I've been there, and having the support of your coworkers when things aren't going well, or feeding off the intra-competition between top performers, motivates you to do better. Furthermore, in mixed contact centers where agents must also complete sequential activities such as emails and letters, a team-based structure makes a lot of sense.

The "neither" part, on the other hand, pertains to my first point: workforce planning is all about trade-offs. So why not combine both systems to allow for team-based Scheduling some of the time and individual Scheduling the rest, giving you the best of both worlds?

The exact balance of team-based and individual work is very much tied to your operation and can depend on many elements such as; type of work, volatility in interval workflow, opening hours of the center, size of your operation, and agent preference. What works in one operation may not work in another, so take caution when combining team and individual Scheduling, as too much of one can quickly negate the benefits and efficiency achieved by the other. Before making a decision, a business must thoroughly consider each and every aspect of the team idea and decide what makes sense based on all conceivable outcomes.

Here are some of the answers to this question pasted from the LinkedIn groups:

Ritesh Parswani - Director WFM at Sutherland Global Services: Typically every call center struggles between making the clients happy or the operations happy. Clients would expect best coverage from schedules to meet the forecast they send however operations typically expect to make the schedules easier for the agents & team leaders with Team schedules, Consecutive day offs, At least one common off for the team, and consistent start times. In my opinion a 70% block schedules & 30% agent schedule mix works best to get a good coverage as well as improve team management.
Charlemagne Canela - Forecasting Lead at Accenture: Ideally if you want to focus on profitability and coverage, agent based scheduling is the way to go. We've had studies done at my previous company where there was a remarkable increase in GM when we shifted to agent based scheduling. But then again you have to factor in coverage of support as well. Since BPO operations also have quality and sales to consider, I'd agree, managing to a 70% 30% is a good mix - depending on the coach ratio and call arrival patterns of course.
Hazel Manzano – Chua - Workforce Manager at C3/CustomerContactChannels, Inc.: Agent scheduling only works to a less than 100 fte start up. As the lob grows, I try to fit them in a team scheduling and fewer agent scheduling. Agree with the 70/30. In the end, I wouldn’t want attrition just because of schedules
Edwin Neil Gonzales – Workforce Team Leafer at Global Payments: I believe this will be dependent on the requirements. Our center started small and team based scheduling was not applicable. Thus, we also managed the team leaders schedule to ensure the coverage. Now, we are growing and doing the mix scheduling but necessary 70/30 because we don’t want to overstaff but we still handle the team leaders schedule for coverage purposes only.

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