Matching staff levels to demand has always been one of the toughest gigs, and in an industry sector like security where staffing needs to be set at an adequate level, it becomes even tougher. Right now, the security industry is seeing unprecedented levels of blow-outs - because of illness, lockdown, self-isolation and home schooling. Security businesses have to meet contractual demands with set staffing levels and as a result the sector is under further pressure to ensure they can fill any blow-out shifts. Thanks to COVID-related complications, staff sickness and absence rates could reach as much as 15% this winter.

Controllers can no longer assume they know how many security professionals are going to be able to turn up on any given shift. Security professionals may experience sickness or the need to isolate. They may need to care for family members who are sick or home school children who are isolating. The truth is traditional static, fixed schedules and the standard workforce management software can’t resolve blow-outs or unpredictable demand with any degree of reliability. It is too rigid and inevitably operates too close to maximum capacity to give scope for an adequate response.

So, what can the security sector do to ensure all shifts are covered and business is able to continue as normal, during this time of stretched resources? Here are five top tips to weather the winter staffing storm this year.

  1. Build a flexible bench of staff to infill shift work and create a dynamic staffing solution

There is an approach that allows businesses to manage costs and ensure shift coverage and unpredictable demand at the same time. The solution lies in rethinking the approach to static staffing - or staffing by fixed-schedule, permanent team members. In short, the answer is to set full-time staffing levels to the minimum required for operational stability and use a bench of dynamic reserves to cover all other levels of demand.

Static roles are any roles that have a fixed rota pattern, and you would want in place no matter how low or high your site requires. Dynamic roles, in contrast, are those roles that can be filled from a pool of people who work non-fixed hours. Be mindful that every security professional is important to ensure every site is secure and treat all staff members, whether permanent or flexible, the same.

Once you have determined minimum full-time staff requirements, you can begin mapping the dynamic reserves you need.

To build a bench of reserve staff, companies should:

  • Identify what level of staffing can be assigned as flexible
  • Determine the job roles required for your flexible workforce pool, along with availability and geographic spread
  • Survey existing employees to understand preferences for work
  • Assess whether the existing pool has the necessary skills and preferences to effectively cover all available shifts
  • Recruit additional flexible employees to fill in areas of deficiency
  1. Recruit effectively to top up an internal workforce

When building a bench of staff, be mindful that if you don’t have the reserves you need to cover shifts, there has never been a better time for recruiting. This may seem an odd strategy during a recession, but with unemployment levels at a high and incentives from the government to employ apprentices, now is actually the perfect time to look at what your team needs to offer high levels of service. With the option of flexible contracts and many workers looking to be able to fit the work into their busy lifestyles, recruiting staff members to be part of your reserve team is a win-win situation.

  1. Stop using agency staff to infill blow-outs and save time and money

Agency staff are expensive and need to be trained. Each new member of staff that is brought in will have to be familiarized with the site procedures and code of conduct before starting a shift. This process then has to be repeated each time an agency staff member is used - and this is on top of the extra costs incurred in fees and wages. By avoiding agency staff your business can not only save money but also the relentless job of ringing around agencies to fill last minute blow outs.

While COVID is adding extra pressure to the managers and business owners in the security sector, it’s also adding extra worry and stress to the security staff, especially for those who live with, or are a high-risk person themselves. Working in a people-powered business opens up risk of exposure to the virus, and for some this only adds to feelings of overwhelm and mental strain, which can lead to more blow-outs. By using internal staff to fill shifts, costs are cut, and staff members are happier that they are not mixing unnecessarily.

  1. Empower your team and offer them the opportunity to take control of their working patterns

For many workers being able to have control over their shifts and actively have a voice in the process of when they work will make them happier and more likely to stay a loyal employee at your company. We live in a flexible and personalized society so why shouldn’t this thinking be applied to our working lives? By offering staff this dynamic option, many who have other responsibilities such as childcare or ageing relatives to care for, can still enjoy working and contributing to society. This way of thinking is inclusive, empowering and a lifeline for those who are juggling different factors.

Empowerment not only does wonders for staff morale but also can improve staff retention, taking away any unnecessary extra recruitment which can be timely and costly.

  1. Enjoy more certainty in resource planning which will help businesses ‘ride the storm’ of blow-out shifts

Dynamic staffing gives maximum responsiveness and efficiency - but it is complex. The moving parts involved - the volume of workers, their availability, the necessary skills, performance feedback - is hard enough when setting schedules in advance. Throw in last minute blow-outs because of sickness, timetable clashes and operational needs and the sheer complexity can cause operational meltdown.

Dynamic staffing software can help take the operational headache away.

By implementing a dynamic staffing solution, security services will enjoy a smoother staffing schedule this winter and be able to cope with the unpredictability that this pandemic has thrown at the sector.

For security professionals who make up your reserves, remember that your business relies on these people to respond to unpredictable needs, they aren’t a Band-Aid - they are your business - and their performance depends on their satisfaction and retention.