Checkout speaks to Ciaran Rowsome, managing director, FlexTime, on how a tailored approach to staff attendance can reap financial savings for retail businesses.
Few service providers to the Houses of the Oireachtas have been able to make the national headlines as readily as Flextime, providers of a system to monitor attendance levels for TDs and Senators. In 2011, the Dublin-based attendance solutions provider installed a system aimed at maximising attendance of Members on the days when the Houses sit; records which are then used as the basis for payment of expenses. “The output from the attendance system in the Oireachtas has to be released under the Freedom of Information Act every quarter; very often there is discussion on political programmes in the media resulting from it,” says Ciaran Rowsome, managing director, FlexTime. “From that point of view, the system gets quite a high profile.”
And if it’s good enough for the Government, the benefits for the Irish retail sector from utilising the system are manifold.
FlexTime, which celebrates 30 years in business in 2013, is an attendance solutions provider with a difference; rather than offer a specific product or service, it tailors its base system offering to the needs of the client. As no two businesses are the same, FlexTime takes into consideration the nuances and processes that make each company unique, before designing a customised product offering for them. Time recording, employee scheduling and shift management are all integrated into a user-friendly interface developed exclusively for a particular business.
FlexTime is not only the go-to attendance solutions provider for the Dáil, it is also used by the Garda Siochána, Met Éireann, FÁS, the HSE, and a myriad of private clients including the likes of Bank of Ireland, Allianz and AXA Insurance, as well as a number of clients in the retail trade.
A Retail Approach
A great example of how a FlexTime solution can assist retail outlets in the smoother running of their stores is at the Evergreen health food chain of stores, located in County Galway.
When Evergreen was founded in 1992, time and attendance at the store was easy to manage; however, when the business spread to encompass five outlets across Galway, not to mention an online customer platform, additional challenges were presented in terms of managing time and attendance across multiple outlets.
Evergreen decided to introduce FlexTime’s system, appreciating the ‘web-oriented’ aspect of the system, whereby the group could have the software residing on one server, centrally at its headquarters in Galway, for all stores. Meanwhile employees could record their attendances locally in each store via PC, one of a myriad of ‘clock-in’ options offered by the company, including fingerprint terminals, ID cards, face recognition, or logging in via mobile devices or tablet computers.
Evergreen employee working hours are calculated automatically as each week progresses and this data is used for payroll calculations at the end of each week. The system also improves communication, as it is possible to “see” who is in attendance right now and at which store, significantly reducing admin costs.
Marks & Spencer is another example of a retailer using FlexTime to its advantage; the system enables employee schedules and rosters easily available to supervisors and management, either in-store, at the company’s headquarters, or online, ensuring management can efficiently manage sales targets at the retailer.
“In Marks & Spencer, one of the issues, which is also the same with most major retailers, is that there is a large proportion of part-time staff,” says Rowsome, “There is also the issue of ‘near-time need’, where management might not know until very close to the time how many staff are needed and in what departments. For example, some customers base such staffing needs partially on what levels of cashflow is coming in. Our system assists with the management of that. There might be 5,000 employees for which the system applies to in terms of their rosters, a high proportion of which are part time. So management need a tool that allows them to compose or manipulate working arragements on the fly. As well as it being a very structured software, you can be very flexible with it.
“In recessionary times, you cut your cloth according to measure – if you know that your turnover is definitely going to be down, you need to adopt a different business model. If you can manage your staff working arrangements in real time, this gives you real flexibility to manage these costs.”
By applying shifts that suit the employee as well as the company, through the services that FlexTime provides, absenteeism can be reduced and turnover increased. In addition, the company offers an additional service known as ‘time banking’, a cross between flexible working and shift orientation: the employee can build up time through overtime, and ask for that time back in lieu of time off.
Other revenue-saving innovations incorporated into the system include automated email alerts to supervisors/managers on critical issues, pop-up warnings when clashes occur during the scheduling process, and the ability to handle real-time requests from staff members looking to take time off.
“FlexTime can be accessible to senior management, supervisors, or individual employees, depending on what level of interaction a company wants to implement,” says Rowsome. “The key point is that we have all the tools necessary, should they want to introduce this level of interaction. In some cases, businesses are apprehensive of changing their culture when it comes to attendance systems, but in other cases we have gone in and actually ended up changing that culture.”
The advent of web technology in the use of attendance management has made it easier for food and retail businesses to track employee working patterns; FlexTime is the platform of choice enabling them to successfully implement this, at a level not possible using many traditional attendance systems. Such is the constrained working environment that many businesses find themselves in, anything that can help lower admin costs and enhance productivity can only be positive for your business.
This article appeared in the January 2013 edition of Checkout