Corporate Culture & Productivity

Workforce strategy: 6 steps to future-proofing your team

Joe White
January 11th, 2023

Thanks to the complexities of today’s workplace, workforce strategy is essential. 

Meeting any business objectives always starts with your people. Ensuring you have the right team, with the right skills and—critically—the right tools to do the job, now and in the future. 

Creating and optimizing a good workforce is therefore one of the most important steps to creating a successful business strategy overall.

In this article, we explore workforce strategy, including the six stages of developing workforce strategies. 

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What is workforce strategy planning? 

Given that up to 85% of an organization’s costs can be related to staffing, it’s no surprise that workforce development is top of mind for most companies. 

And given the complexities of hybrid work, companies are now asking more questions than they have in the past:

  • Where should work be done?
  • How should work be done?
  • How should we be supporting our workforce?
  • How do we boost collaboration when people have varying hybrid schedules and/or work remotely?

At its core, strategic workforce planning helps to answer these questions. It’s about ensuring you have the right roles and job functions in your workforce. And, just as important, that you don’t have redundancies, either.

This should include a plan for both upskilling current employees, while also determining what new roles the company will need to fill in the future. 

It may include using location strategies and labor market analysis to see whether distributed work and/or remote work may better suit the company. And potentially lock-in corporate real estate savings, too.  

And it may also include analyzing current facility management maintenance strategies to see how well facility management professionals (FMs) are supporting current initiatives. 

In this way, workforce planning is like ‘headcount planning plus.’ It’s not just about figuring out what people and roles you need in your organization. It’s also about figuring out whether those people have the right schedules, tools, and workplaces to be productive and engaged. 

Finally, note that a Harvard Business Review survey found that 73% of CEOs report not being able to meet business goals because of poor workforce planning. Clearly, good workforce strategy planning is intimately linked to the future of work. 

What is the difference between a workforce strategy and a human resource strategy?

As companies plan for their future workforce, human resource professionals will naturally be involved in the process. 

But workforce strategy and human resource strategy are two separate duties. 

Workforce strategy is about figuring out what types of skills will be required from your workforce in the future. And then determining what steps will ensure you get there. 

HR professionals will certainly play a role in this process. But they’ll likely be working with other decision makers, including space planners, FMs, and leadership. For this reason, more and more organizations are fostering collaboration in the workplace between these departments.. 

Meanwhile, a human resources strategy is the long-term plan and approach that HR professionals use to ensure the people in an organization are contributing to long-term goals and helping to foster a positive company culture. This can include a range of strategies, including performance management, talent management, reskilling, compensation, succession planning, and recruitment.

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What are the benefits of effective workforce strategy planning?

The benefits of effective workforce strategy planning are virtually endless. Improved efficiencies, better demographics and diversity planning (DEI), enhanced cost management, easier and streamlined talent acquisition and attraction, a better retention strategy, skills gap reduction (and related time savings), and skills development are just some of the competitive advantages companies enjoy from this planning process. 

A good workforce strategy can also help determine what metrics and workplace data companies should be collecting to measure progress and efficiency. 

Remember that the idea is to foster proactive management of your talent ecosystem, instead of constantly struggling to keep up and relying on reactionary efforts. 

As the pandemic taught us, workforce challenges affect every aspect of the organization. If employees don’t have the proper support, then they can’t properly finish the tasks assigned to them. And they’re also not going to feel connected to the company and culture. 

HR professionals have become key partners in the workplace, helping to improve employee engagement and experience. When they understand all the given job functions for their current workforce, along with what roles they’ll need down the line, they can turn their attention to ensuring all workers have what they need to be successful.

Questions to answer

Would employee experience be improved by offering flexible seating, or maybe fully remote work? Are there enough on-demand collaboration spaces in the office? Is any new hybrid workplace technology creating an effective smart workplace, or just adding noise? What incentives would encourage more office use, helping to support executive leadership in their efforts to drive culture?  

These are the types of questions that companies need to answer, and HR and FMs can help them do so. Workforce strategy planning allows the focus to shift from short-term concerns surrounding simple employee management, to long-term concerns. This includes things like optimizing workplace experience and improving the hybrid office for the people who actually use it.   

Good workforce planning can also help with real estate portfolio management. This, in turn, can help with both cost-saving and sustainability efforts.

In short, effective workforce strategy planning and informed decision making helps companies to meet their strategic business goals, without sacrificing their culture or their employee experience in the process. 

What are the impacts of not developing a workforce strategy? 

Not developing a solid workforce strategy can dramatically decrease workforce agility, impede long-term business goals, and present various downstream negative impacts on company culture and workplace well-being

This in turn can hinder both talent attraction and retention efforts. This is increasingly dangerous in our post-pandemic and post-Great Resignation landscape. It may therefore reduce innovation in the workplace, too. 

Given this, it’s not surprising that there’s mounting pressure on decision-makers, space planners, HR, and other stakeholders to get workforce strategies right.  

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How do you develop a workforce strategy?

Developing a workforce strategy will be much easier in companies with a strong, inclusive company culture, and in offices that already collect a wide range of workplace data

The most successful workplace teams—both current teams and those in the future—are those that the company treats like important stakeholders and supports from the planning and implementation stages through to optimization. 

We already know that most employees want to upskill. Up to 86% of workers say job training and career development matters to them. It’s one of the many reasons the World Economic Forum is calling for an ‘upskilling revolution.’ 

And as we know from the pandemic, most employees have motivation to ‘do the work,’ even without a manager breathing down their neck. 

“The labor market is too competitive now to not be doing what you love,” says  Angie Earlywine, workplace strategist and Senior Director in the Total Workplace division of Global Occupier Services at Cushman & Wakefield. “Most people do the right thing.” 

But of course, ‘doing the right thing’ is only possible when you’re enabled to do so. Developing a workforce strategy therefore begins with your existing workforce. And ensuring they have the right tools and workplace strategies

Only then can planners begin to identify talent gaps and determine how to close them. 

What is a workforce strategy map?  

Workforce strategy maps are common workforce planning tools. Like the name suggests, they’re a visual representation of the workforce. This type of strategy map typically starts from the top down. It typically lists every position from the C-Suite through to entry-level employees. It should also outline the functions of each group/department, along with how they should communicate and interact with each other.  

Workforce strategy maps are usually created by leadership, to represent where they expect the organization to be in 3-5 years. In other words, they’re maps of where leadership plans to go, based on market trends, competition, and their own business goals. With this map as a guidepost, HR can then direct their workforce planning efforts so that they align with overarching company plans. 

How does a workforce strategy map help organizations achieve their goals and objectives? 

Workforce strategy maps help organizations by ensuring there is broad alignment across different departments. Specifically, these maps help HR to see where leadership expects the team to grow or shrink in the future. HR can then take this information to ensure that they have hiring and training plans in place to keep pace with the overall strategic vision of the company. 

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What are the 6 stages of workforce strategy planning? 

While workforce strategy planning will look different for each company, most will follow the six following steps. 

1. Define business goals

Workforce strategy planning is about ensuring you have a team of people to help you achieve current and future objectives. So, naturally, the first step of this planning is to understand what those current and future objectives actually are. 

This will require clear communication and objectives from leadership. Ideally, it will also be coupled with advanced workplace analytics that provide insight into the current state of affairs. Among other benefits, this will allow for much easier benchmarking in the future.  

2. Analyze the current workforce 

The next step in workforce strategy is assessing the current job roles in your organization… Along with the people who fill them. Also called ‘supply analysis,’ this includes tasks like analyzing trends in your workforce and projecting how it will change over time. Does your current workforce support your business goals? Can or should they be rearranged to work better?

Will you struggle to fill upcoming positions, and if so, what can you do to boost recruitment efforts? 

For example, given the growing demand for flexible working, many companies are now trying to create sustainable hybrid work models to help attract (and retain) workers. This can be especially helpful when it comes to attracting younger generations in the workplace

3. Analyze demand

Also called ‘demand analysis, this step in the methodology is about determining what an organization will need from their current and future employees. Decision makers here will need to understand workloads, along with the skillsets and amount of staff needed to meet them. 

Critically, according to the Office of Human Resources, this step is also about determining if there are “anticipated changes in technology, policies, regulations, or customer base that would affect workload demand.” And will those changes impact workloads?

For example, if a company is planning a hybrid workplace transformation, or if leadership adopts a hybrid policy to keep up with employee demand, what impact will that have on workloads? Or on the ability to fill new positions?

4. Identify gaps

When you understand both your current workforce and the workforce you’ll need in the future, you’re ready to determine whether any skill or competency gaps will impact business goals. Gap analysis is not just about finding gaps, but also about prioritizing which gaps need to be filled most.  

Critically, this analysis should include determining whether there are diversity gaps in the organization. This is along with what steps can help improve diversity and inclusion. 

5. Implement solutions

Only after all this analysis has been completed, can HR and other departments begin the critical work of actually filling in workforce gaps. Remember that in many cases, training and upskilling can be just as impactful (or more so) than hiring new staff. 

Note that the Office of Human Resources emphasizes the need to use data to identify solutions. Specifically, they recommend considering the following questions:

  • What metrics/ratios will best help me monitor/identify workforce challenges/risks? 
  • What metrics/ratios should I use to diagnose workforce challenges?
  • How do I determine which data source best matches my need?

Finally, as with any other changes made to the workplace, it’s best to start small. Test any new strategies before implementing them writ large. 

“How reversible are the decisions you are being asked to make?” asks Kathleen Williams, Senior Product Manager at OfficeSpace. “The more impactful they are, the more you want to have both high confidence and longer views of your workforce analytics.”

6. Monitor progress

Of course, just because you’ve identified your gaps and taken some steps to fill them, doesn’t mean your work is done. Like you would for any other initiatives undertaken to meet strategic goals, it’s critical to monitor success and effectiveness. 

Note, too, that even the most effective strategies may need adjustments over time. That’s why HR and other leaders should be establishing custom KPIs to continuously measure efficiency in the workplace.  

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What should a workforce strategy include?

Like with any workplace strategy, workforce strategy must include workplace reports and analytics to ensure that companies are backing up decisions with real-time data. They should also include what metrics HR should be tracking to see how well any initiatives within the strategy are actually working. 

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Photos: Anchiy, NicolasMcComber, Jay Yuno, Paul Bradbury, Peerawich Phaisitsawan