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Sofworks Robert Doherty-Bigara, Head of Business Development UK features in The Retail Bulletin UK Q&A Interview.

How can you simplify and automate retail employee management? In our latest interview, Robert Doherty-Bigara discusses how Softworks ltd Workforce Management Software is perfect for dynamic retail environments.

What does your company do?

Softworks provides Workforce Management software to automate and simplify employee Time, Attendance, Scheduling and HR.

Automating employee management frees up managers from admin work so they can focus on activities that add real value to their company’s bottom line. Our software aids decision-making by giving a birds-eye view of what’s happening as it happens as well as providing extensive reporting capabilities so managers have all the information they need to optimise profitability.

What is your USP? What’s special about the platform and your approach?

What’s truly unique is that at Softworks we configure the system to reflect each retailer’s specific requirements and their working practices. We don’t ask them to change their way of working to suit our system. We’ve been helping companies of all types manage employees more effectively for 30 years. From our original core product of Time and Attendance to the complete Workforce Management system we now have, each company does things differently and that’s fine by us!

The other special thing is how easy to use and intuitive the software is. The system is cloud-based so it can be used on tablets and mobiles as well as PCs. Users get to grips with it quickly which is important because firstly when a system is easy to use it’ll be more positively received by an employee and secondly your focus should be on your end customer and not on learning a new system!

And finally, it’s a modular system. By that I mean there is a huge amount of functionality built in as standard but you can choose to start with something like our Time and Attendance and Employee Self-Service modules and then later start to use modules such as HR, Skills and Task Tracking as your needs change.

What advantage does it add?

Firstly, simplifying employee management frees up managers so they can focus on activities that will add real value to your company. I think that’s especially important in the current climate when everything is changing quickly and you need the bandwidth to handle those changes. Instead of being stuck in an office dealing with rostering or holiday approvals, you’re free to see the bigger picture.

Secondly, it helps decision making, because managers have access to real time information allowing them to make quick, last minute changes, vital in a dynamic working environment.

Finally, we get very positive feedback on our Employee Self-Service App. Employees can view their rosters, accept shifts, view leave balances and request leave from their smartphone or tablet. Employees benefit from greater control of their working lives and our customers tell us this has a very positive impact on employee retention and satisfaction.

How does a product/service implementation actually look like and how do you measure success?

First up is a comprehensive capture of the work rules or policies that apply in your company so these can be reflected in the system. Customers are assigned a dedicated Project Manager to guide them through this process. We also run customer workshops to offer insights and best practice examples to help you succeed.

Success for us is seeing the typical 5% reduction in payroll costs that comes from an implementation and hearing about the hours saved on rostering and time and attendance management. We work hard to keep our customers happy and we also measure success through our very high customer retention and referral rate.

How are retailers using your systems to gain competitive advantage and what does best practice look like? Can you share a case study with us?

One of the ways we add the most value is in the area of dynamic and flexible employee scheduling. We help you ensure the right people are in the right place at the right time and that they have the best skill set for your customers. You can create your monthly schedules at the touch of a button and the software handles even complex scheduling requirements easily.

You can do lots of cool stuff like schedule to include fairness and schedule based on particular skills or seniority required for a shift. All of this saves you time. Your rules are automatically applied to the roster as it’s created without you having to manage that entire process. Ultimately this is all reflected in your ability to optimise profitability by never under or over scheduling.

To-the-minute capture of hours worked means you’ll also benefit from reduced payroll costs through the identification of hidden wage costs such as approved or unapproved overtime, questionable sickness absence, unproductive rosters or lates.

Our case study with Clas Ohlson demonstrates some of these advantages in practice.

Are there other companies you partner with?

In our 30 years we’ve worked with pretty much every other essential business system like Payroll, HR and ERP systems and we scope out new requirements all the time.

What challenges and opportunities do you see in UK retail for 2021 / What challenges are retailers facing in 2020?

One of the biggest challenges for retailers going forward is the ability to react quickly and be dynamic. The rules around Covid-19 change every few weeks and this plays havoc with the ability to plan. Added to that retailers are facing unpredictable demand patterns and difficulty with employee availability due to absences.

Another key challenge to be addressed is the protection of employee’s health while they’re at work. If we are to rebuild and be confident with our new reality then employees have to be protected whether that’s in the warehouse or on the shop floor.

How will you address these challenges and turn them into successes?

The great thing about our software is its flexibility and adaptability which helps when facing this unpredictable environment. For example, during Covid-19 the Employee Scheduler has really come into its own because retailers have access to real time information enabling them to make changes quickly, spot potential employee issues before they happen and take steps to resolve them proactively.

In terms of Health and Safety protection, we’ve recently introduced a contactless Facial and Palm Biometric Fever Recognition Terminal to our clocking range. The terminal has an infrared camera to scan skin temperature. Where a standard skin temperature is detected employees are allowed access based on contactless palm or facial recognition even while wearing a mask. Where an elevated skin temperature is detected an alert is created. We’ve rolled this out to many customers now and it’s providing a welcome addition to the other health and safety measures already in place.

What is on the horizon for you as a company?

We’re continuing to grow, because even though times are tough, many retailers realise that good workforce management enhances their ability to adapt quickly and remain profitable. We’re continuing to work on enhancements to make the software even better. We’re working with exciting new customers all the time as well as helping our existing customers get the most out of their system no matter where and how they’re currently working.

Any final thoughts?

It’s been a really tough 8 months for everyone in retail. From the logistics side through to the shop floor employees are demonstrating huge amounts of tenacity and adaptability in keeping us supplied with both essential and nice to have goods. The Softworks team is proud our system is helping leading retailers in the UK simplify employee time, attendance, scheduling and management so they’re in a good place to focus on this challenging environment.

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