10 features you can’t do without in a staff planning system
Thinking of purchasing a professional staff planning system? You’re not the only one. There’s a lot to think about before you make your decision. Does it suit your needs and the needs of the institution? Which features do you use most and which ones must be included by law? In this article, we list the most important features that simplify your day-to-day work and make resource planning much easier.
1. Borrowing and lending of staff
A staff planning system should have a function for borrowing and lending of staff.
Borrowing and lending of staff between departments is normally done manually – perhaps with an email, at an online meeting or in a phone call. It may feel like a simple thing, but there is a risk that important information is forgotten or lost and doesn’t end up where it should be – in the work task plan. As a result, the information doesn’t reach the employee and the supporting data for salary account-coding is wrong.
It doesn’t need to be like that.
In a professional staff planning tool, there is zero risk of anything getting lost. The system keeps track of borrowing and lending of staff, doesn’t miss important information and is always up-to-date with the latest information – who will be lent or borrowed, for how long and when. The whole process is digital – the information is automatically documented in the work task plan at both the department lending the resources and the department borrowing them. All the supporting data for internal invoicing and salary account-coding will also be automatically correct. The system also allows you to make enquiries about borrowing a specific person or specialism, while at the same time the lending department can suggest people other than the precise person your department wants to borrow.
One extremely flexible feature for people who work on preliminary allocation of borrowed staff is the fact that the system compiles and sends out the requests automatically. Once a request has been accepted, the preliminary allocation is automatically changed to confirmed. Smart.
2. Generation of supporting data for salary account-coding
Creating supporting data for salary account-coding is one of the most vital features of a professional staff planning system.
When it’s time to compile the supporting data for account-coding of employees’ salaries, the person doing the planning usually needs to do a great deal of manual work along with a person from accounts. In fact, it’s almost always done manually, over and over again, employee by employee – an enormous amount of work that can easily go wrong. If the costs are to be allocated correctly, lending of staff must also be reconciled accordingly. Because the compilation takes up so much administration, for obvious reasons it’s only done once or twice a year.
When you use a digital staff planning system, it saves endless time and headaches by automatically adding up and compiling supporting data for salary account-coding based on existing staff planning. The system takes borrowing and lending of staff into account because it automatically analyses what the employee loaned out is allocated to. You receive complete, accurate supporting data – that you then just have to export.
Your colleague from accounts will also be happy because they can spend their time looking for deviations instead. The system takes care of the rest.
Because it’s so much easier and more flexible to produce supporting data, your higher education institution can now monitor finances quarterly or monthly if necessary, instead of half-yearly or yearly. It benefits everyone.
3. Digital signing of work task plans
Work task plans have always been printed out on paper and signed by employees. In duplicate, as well. Or in three copies because some working time agreements must be sent to the trade union for review. Today, there are whole new possibilities with electronic signatures that are legally binding, that can be stored digitally and that save both the environment and your time.
Many working time agreements require the employee to sign their work task plan in advance of the next financial year. Sometimes you also want a signature every half-year and/or after the end of the financial year. So there are a lot of signatures.
Digital signing is a fast, simple and efficient way to simplify and modernise the work.
In a professional staff planning system, the work task plan is signed and archived completely digitally. Every employee has access to all the signed work task plans at all times and heads of department have access to the entire planning as it appeared when it was signed.
If an employee isn’t satisfied with their work task plan, they can write a message and decline to approve it.
The person responsible for planning can always see which employees have approved the signing and which haven’t and can issue reminders to employees who haven’t signed on time. The trade-union representatives can also see the signed work task plans with their own log-in.
4. Delegated course planning
Delegated course planning depends on cooperation and communication and can be done in several different ways. Regardless of the method, a staff planning system should be able to handle it.
There are four different ways to work on staffing and planning and they all begin by drawing up a budget for the course or project. In cases where formulas are used to calculate a budget, these can be entered in the staff planning system.
When the budget has been finally established, the course will be planned and staffed. Planning and staffing can be done by one or more planners or delegated to the course coordinator who then plans the activities in more detail. It can consist of lectures, laboratory work, marking exams, responsibility for courses, examinations, VFU placements and so on.
Once the detailed planning has been done, the course coordinator sends his/her requests for staffing to the planning manager, who in turn ensures that staff are available for the various courses. If any conflict arises in the planning, it is dealt with through discussion with the course coordinator. If you have to re-plan a course for any reason, a staff planning system then comes in very handy. The system keeps track of the changes and the planning manager just needs to attend to any changes that may be required.
5. Professional development time
There are many rules to comply with when calculating continuous professional development time. The rules are also normally different between institutions.
A professional staff planning tool should support several different regulatory frameworks, such as:
- Continuous professional development time obtained on the basis of the FTE percentage for the post and any absence during the year.
- The continuous professional development time is only obtained for work in first-cycle education and further training.
- The continuous professional development time is reduced by assignments that do not generate continuous professional development time.
- All staffing as a percentage of full-time or as a percentage of allocatable time reduces the continuous professional development time obtained.
Percentages for continuous professional development time can either be specified centrally or according to the staff category and the calculation takes place either on a yearly or half-yearly basis.
6. Copying courses from one term to another
Why reinvent the wheel? Copying courses saves a lot of time so you almost can’t do without a copy function.
At many institutions, the planning is often the same every academic year. Next spring term is largely the same as last spring term. In order to avoid having to redo all planning from scratch every term, a feature that copies all planning from one term to another saves an incredible amount of time.
Because start and end dates vary from one year to the next, it must be possible for the system to allow you to easily adjust planning of activities and staffing according to the start of the term.
It’s also important for the system to be able to take changes in staffing status into consideration when the planning is copied. This is particularly relevant in the case of delegated planning to enable the course coordinator to submit new staffing requests.
7. Calculation of income and costs
Finances are one of the cornerstones when you’re planning the next financial year. A missed budget or a change of staff can have consequences that no-one counted on. Questions often asked in advance of the next financial year are:
- Does the budget add up in pure financial terms?
- Which courses generate a surplus or a deficit?
- What effect will it have on the results of a course if we change staff?
The costs in a course are based on the staffing. The system calculates an hourly rate based on the staff’s monthly salary, age, salary cost increment and increments due to the type of course or project.
The staff planning system then calculates the results for each course. The system also adds up revenues, costs and results at an aggregated level, for example for programmes, first-cycle education and further training.
8. Joint courses
Joint courses are common, but can be a challenge to plan. It’s difficult to gain an overall view of how the course is carried out just by planning each individual instance of a joint course. At the same time, it leads to problems if you only plan one course instance at a time. When you procure a staff planning system, keep an eye out for one that can handle joint courses.
This is what you do:
The solution is to create a joint course in the staff planning system for all instances of joint courses. Information, such as planning numbers and estimated budgets from each individual course instance, is automatically added up in the joint course. Planning and staffing are then carried out in the joint course, which gives employees and those responsible for planning an overall view of how the course is planned.
When it’s time to extract supporting data for salary account-coding, the staffing cost is automatically allocated to each individual course instance. It couldn’t be simpler.
9. Scenario management
Scenario management is a powerful tool for heads of department and is a very smart feature to have in a staff planning system.
One area in which scenario management is used is when comparing the planning in advance of the next financial year with the actual outcome. When the planning has been completed and reconciled for the next financial year, it’s saved as a scenario. Changes then take place continuously throughout the year when something happens that affects the planning, such as when someone leaves or falls ill. At the end of the year, all changes are introduced and the planning is therefore an outcome. If the planning has been saved as a scenario, you can compare the planning in advance of the financial year with the actual outcome.
Another area in which scenario management is used is when you want to test different planning options. By creating a scenario (i.e. a copy) of current planning, you can draw up different planning scenarios, evaluate them and gain a better overview of the consequences.
Sometimes it may also be relevant to obtain employees’ feedback on a ready-made scenario so the option of being able to publish a scenario should also be included in the staff planning system.
A staff planning system isn’t a stand-alone resource within the higher education institution, but needs to be integrated with several other systems in order for the information to be up-to-date. Make sure that there are ready-made integrations for course systems, personnel systems and financial systems available, as well as reports for salary account-coding and supporting data for budgets.
On the other hand, the staff planning system in turn provides supporting data for the personnel system for salary account-coding, for the scheduling system for planning schedules, for the budget system for budgeting for the next financial year and for the business intelligence system for analysis of activities. Interaction at its best.
Now you’ve been given a quick overview of what a professional staff planning system can do for you and your institution. It simplifies, saves time, makes you more efficient and keeps you, the management, the trade unions and the employees constantly up-to-date on work task plans, utilisation, budgets and changes. In real time.
If you want to learn more about the pitfalls and benefits of staff planning as well as what you can expect from a professional staff planning system, sign up for our free webinar.
Read more about the benefits of a professional staff planning system that has been developed specifically for higher education institutions.
These are the most important features that a higher education institution should require in a professional staff planning system.
About the author
Jens Apelgren has over ten years’ experience in workforce planning at higher education institutions and has personally introduced workforce planning systems at 18 different institutions. Jens is CEO of Retendo AB, which offers systems to streamline administration for both higher education institutions and project-oriented companies. Jens is closely involved in the development of Retendo’s workforce planning system.