Lean workforce scheduling for cleaning sector

24th of September 2014
Lean workforce scheduling for cleaning sector

ECJ editor Michelle Marshall reports from Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, where facilities services contractor Vebego has invested in a workforce scheduling system from Ortec. All cleaning staff are now managed via computer rather than the previous paper-based system, which as resulted in significant all-round savings says Vebego’s personnel advisor.

Vebego Airport Services at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands, comprises six different organisations and encompasses a range of services – including security, trolley logistics, airport information desks and cleaning. In total over 570 employees are on the roster across all those services.

Monique Bakker, personnel advisor at Vebego Airport Services explained how the task was carried out before the conversion to a computer-based system. “All workforce scheduling was done on paper, and there were 150 members of cleaning staff to manage at that time – now there are 220 cleaners on the site.

“Under the paper-based system we were subject to human error of course, so mistakes were made. The greatest challenge was miscalculations with payroll, for example, because administration staff were retyping information into Excel documents. This information was sent by fax by team leaders around the airport twice a day.

We have many different shift patterns during the day, with up to 50 staff per shift. So you can see how it would be open to error.”

Train project leaders

When Bakker joined Vebego the Ortec system was on trial at the airport and one of her first key tasks was to implement the new workforce scheduling system for the cleaning company and train the project leaders in using it. “The first thing I did was input previous paperwork into the system to check the outcome against what had gone before,” explains Bakker, “then changed any elements that needed changing.

“We then ran a two-day course for the team leaders and taught them how it worked, how to plan schedules, allocate holidays etc. For two months we ran two systems hand-in-hand – so planning was carried out in Ortec and on paper.”

Bakker then checked the outcomes for payroll in both traditional and Ortec systems, to ensure all details were the same. There were certain complexities and adaptations to be made when implementing Ortec due to the different collective agreements in place – in fact there are seven at Vebego.

“So some time had to be spent in configuring the system to allow for all those permutations,” she continues. “And in the testing period too various new challenges arose – one concerning national holidays for example.”

Planning schedule

How did staff react to this enormous change to how they planned their schedule? “The supervisors were very enthusiastic right from the start because they could see how much time they could save,” Bakker replies. “The new system also enables them to plan so much further ahead, so currently they are scheduling for November and December in terms of Christmas holidays etc, rather than having to do new worksheets every day and not being able to work so far in advance.”

The most significant difference in working methods has been administrative of course, because the whole operation has converted from inputting into computer from paper sheets, to planning everything directly on the computer.

Bakker says: “This gives us a much better overview at grounds roots level of the level of tasks being carried out, the schedule and the staff resource required. And if a supervisor were to leave the company, there is no longer any scheduling problem because everything is stored on the computer, whereas much of the information and knowledge was previously stored in their memories alone.”

Another feature - which is only being used by the information desk staff at the moment - is the Employee Self-Service (ESS) module, which allows operatives to change shifts online with colleagues for example, and to book holidays. This allows them to have much more control over their own schedule and the employees really do enjoy using it says Bakker.

And there are many additional functions that could be added as implementation moves forward. Bakker explains: “I’d like to use it for budgetary control, for example, and the workplace planning facility enables deployment and allocation of staff.” With this module it is possible to store information on the qualification of staff to work in certain areas, and their skills level.

“This means we could define the locations to be cleaned and the skills we need there, and Ortec would plan the roster and allocate the right people to each location.”

Ortec’s account manager Paul Alsemgeest explains the company’s standardised systems are adapted to specific needs, such as those at Vebego. “We have been developing optimisation solutions since 1981, specialising in workforce and logistics. Our products are based on specific industries – healthcare, transport and logistics for example, in route planning and truck loading - forecasting in oil and gas industries and professional public services. This is where workforce scheduling and service planning comes in.”

Upgrades vital

He emphasises that regular maintenance and upgrades are vital, “because there are always new features to be added and amendments to be made – the software very much evolves to suit the user”.

After a system has been implemented the customer works according to a contract with Ortec and pays a combination of license and maintenance fee on a monthly basis in order to best manage payments. The timescale for implementation is a grey area because it depends very much on the site and the client. “The average is between six and nine months,” Alsemgeest says.

For Monique Bakker having an automated workforce scheduling system has brought significant benefits. “One of the best things is the overview of our scheduling – who has to be where and when. Here at Schiphol our locations are fairly close together but at sites where people are more spread out computerised scheduling can provide that valuable overview of planning a cleaner’s day – particularly if they are working at more than one site for example.

“And when someone calls in sick, for example, it’s much easier to have that overview in order to react and plan quickly.”

What about cost effectiveness? Bakker replies: “Our greatest savings have been made in the payroll department because the administration staff no longer had to input details from paper. The reduction in errors has also been an important benefit.”


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