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Iryna Viter

How Businesses Can Make the Most Out of Bench Time

Bench time can be a great opportunity for resource managers to position an organization and its people for success. Here's how.

Bench time is those hours that your resources waste while sitting on a bench. At least that's what most people think bench time is. In reality, however, it is much more complex and offers a variety of value points you can derive from it.

In this article, we're going to walk you through the concept of bench time, the stereotypes around it, and the ways leading resource managers use it to everyone's advantage.

We're also going to share some of the unique utilization and bench time management insights we have gained from our talks with seasoned resource managers.

What is bench time?

In professional services and consulting businesses, "bench time" indicates the time period people spend on projects or tasks that are not billable work. This means that the company will not be able to charge its clients for the hours spent on that work. This concept is best suited for professional services businesses that do outsourcing, consulting, or provide various IT services, but it can be applied in other settings, too.

Bench time can happen when your projects conflict with each other in terms of timelines or skill sets required, or when your people need to take time off, which causes skills gaps on projects, and under many other scenarios. As a rule, it all comes down to this: you have people that you need at the company in general, but right now you need them to go sit on a bench for a few days (or even months). In other words, there's no billable project or task you can give them right now, but there will definitely be something important soon.

In an ideal world, many companies might want to get the most out of their resources, making every hour billable, but it doesn't always work like that in resource management.

Unsurprisingly, bench time can get antagonized as the hours where you're losing money. But instead of seeing it as a waste, consider the opportunities it can bring. And if you dig deep enough, you'll see just how beneficial bench time can be for everyone involved.

Practical interpretation of the bench management definition

To set the stage further and show how the concept of bench time works in real life and, dare we say, can bring a lot of benefits, we're going to share with you some of the insights we gained having spoken to 1000+ resource managers.

In one of our recent webinars where we reveal those insights in detail, Nicole Tiefensee, Co-Founder here at Runn, shared one very deep insight and it really stuck with us: "You can be very efficiently doing the wrong things."

Let's stop on that for a moment and think about what this could mean for an organization where its most valuable asset is people and their time.

Suppose you're a consulting or outsourcing company and you're trying your hardest to make the most of your people's time. Resource utilization is at peak levels, 100% and maybe sometimes even more, but those resource gaps still pop up like mushrooms after a rain, and not always because of business expansion.

The truth is that peaking efficiency and utilization do not always mean you're using your resources to their maximum potential. When people are 100% utilized, they have no room for creativity left, no room for upskilling, reskilling, or even taking enough rest in between work to ensure high productivity levels. Before you know it, your resources will be lagging behind the market with their skills and it might even be difficult for them to think outside the box.

So this is where you need to zoom out and look at the bigger picture, the implications of this strategy for long-term company health.

Tim Copeland, Runn's Founder & CEO, gained another insightful story in one of the talks he had with experienced resource managers:

A few months back, I engaged in a conversation with the CFO of a considerably large company. During our discussion, he recounted an experience where the company had shifted its focus from staff utilization. This change came after two decades of operating as a well-established organization. For about 20 years, utilization was their North Star, getting the most out of their staff's time. It was all about making sure everyone's busy and that supposedly drove their success.

However, they’ve come to realize that the skill set possessed by their workforce wasn't necessarily the most sought-after in the market. Consequently, they chose to temporarily step back from focusing on utilization and redirect their efforts towards comprehensive staff training and development, with a particular focus on their sales team. The company even sought projects aligned with the evolving skill set they were cultivating.

This strategic shift wasn't without its challenges. It involved a six-month period of significant adjustments, entailing substantial costs for the transformative process. The result, upon reevaluation, was a scenario in which their staff's utilization was lower than before, yet the work they were undertaking held greater value for their clients.

This transition yielded an intriguing synergy: the company's profitability increased while the workforce experienced reduced stress levels. Operating under the premise that allocating 100% of staff time solely to work tasks left little room for creativity, and even practical considerations like sick leave, they recalibrated their approach. By targeting, for instance, 80% of planned work, they allowed space for spontaneity and creativity to flourish. Instead of aiming for that elusive 100% utilization, they dialed it down to 80%.

Ultimately, this balance facilitated a more productive and innovative work environment. Entrusting employees to manage their time effectively eliminated the need for micromanagement on an hourly basis. So in the future of work, people are going to care more about making better use of the small number of staff that they've got. Making sure they’re highly effective and have the right skills and training. And to do that, they need a long-term forecast into their pipeline, capacity, and capabilities.

So what did this company do again? They implemented company-wide bench time, sort of. The situation they were in called for an immediate change in the way they handled their resources. But if you recognize the true value of bench time early on, you can use it to your company's advantage whenever it happens organically.

Why bench time management is important

Knowing how to handle bench time and your bench resources is one of the working resource management strategies that often get overlooked.

Here's what value project or resource managers can derive from bench management:

  • Resource optimization. By recognizing and working on your resources' bench time, you can optimize and reschedule their time to find the point where their utilization levels are optimal. Resource management experts agree that you shouldn't go over the 80% mark in the billable utilization rate.
  • Reduced costs. Unless you handle bench time right, it can indeed bear financial losses to the company. But as long as you use it to minimize the unproductive hours and downtime, the company will enjoy reduced costs in the long term.
  • Strategic workforce planning. If there is a lot of bench time at the company, this might be the signal that the way you plan your workforce needs to be revisited to improve allocation and reduce understaffing and overstaffing issues.
  • Increased employee satisfaction and retention. One of the best ways to make the most out of bench time that can't be reduced is to use it for employee development and career progression programs.

So on that last item, what are some of the ways you can still maximize the use of the remaining bench time, having optimized your people's schedules?

How to use bench time to everyone's advantage

Bench time is one of those secret weapons you can deploy when upgrading your company's skills inventory. It is the point where you take a deeper look into your resources and ways you can position them for success, help everyone meet their career goals, and at the same time meet market demand.

Let's break it down.

Invest in employee learning and development

One of the first things the modern workforce looks for in their employment is opportunities for growth — personal growth, professional growth, and career growth. Bench time can help you facilitate that. Having reliable employee learning and development programs, which your people can do during their bench time, is the way to increase employee satisfaction, retention, and loyalty to the company.

Note that it's best when learning and development are directly connected to the company's overall objectives, but in the real world, it may look different. As long as it aligns with the person's career plans and aspirations, this is going to be a win-win. One such example would be an engineer who wants to take a public speaking course — it might have no impact on the quality of their code, but it will sure make them into a more successful communicator and a better team player.

Retrain people to fill skills gaps

As a resource manager trying to get your existing projects and new projects to work just right together, you will need to have full visibility into your talent pool — what skills it is lacking, what skills it has in abundance, etc. This you do by running a skills gap analysis as a part of your skills management efforts.

Having identified those skills gaps, you can develop plans for upskilling and reskilling your workforce not just to match the growing needs of your business, but also to help your people develop the skill sets that are the most sought-after in the market.

This helps you make sure that your people know all the latest trends, hacks, and technology in their niche to be as efficient, productive, and creative as possible when they take up any new project work.

And bench time is the perfect opportunity to run such initiatives and invest in the long-term potential of your resources.

Do knowledge management

In resource management, knowledge management stands for the processes aimed at defining, structuring, retaining, and sharing the knowledge and expertise your people have. It means creating or developing a system where your people can register the insights they gained and share them with their colleagues so everyone can grow and benefit from it.

If you are in the professional services business, use bench time to get someone to register their learnings from a project they did. How much time did it take? What hurdles did they have to overcome? What creative solutions helped them reach the goal? What insights did they gain?

Using this historical data from earlier projects, your people will be smarter in the way they approach new and similar projects, avoid mistakes, and maximize outputs.

Encourage the pursuit of passion

Tracking skills might be a relatively obvious way to use bench time, but tracking passions definitely isn't.

Taking an interest in what your people enjoy doing in their spare time and how that can be combined with their work is one of the pillars of the future of work. In that future, people don't work because they have to work — they do it because they want to and genuinely enjoy what they do. While this idea might sound somewhat utopian, there are ways to try and help people work on the things they enjoy. After all, passion drives intrinsic motivation like nothing else.

In the same webinar we mentioned earlier, Nicole illustrated how this strategy can be brought to life.

Suppose you have a project where your team needs to develop a website for a large guitar manufacturer. There are two engineers that you can assign to this project. One of them is senior and has the perfect skill set to handle the job, while the other one is junior, maybe lacking a few skills, but they are super passionate about playing the guitar in their spare time.

Naturally, that second engineer might not bring the best skill set to the table, but it is the passion, the customer experience, and the deep insights that they can provide. Not to mention the new skills they are going to gain while working on such a project alongside someone who's more skilled.

Investigating those passions and giving people the time to develop them is a great thing you can do as a part of bench time management.

Bonus point: Focus on strategic internal initiatives

A company is not a company without any internal projects, whether they are meant for administration, improving internal systems, programs, offers, etc.

As a rule, you'd need to schedule non-billable work for your people to manage such initiatives, but bench time is a great opportunity to get those projects taken care of without wasting resources.

To conclude, bench time is a challenge resource managers need to tackle for increased company outputs. But if you know how to manage it well, it can take your resource efficiency to new unseen levels.

With its skills management features, Runn will help you track your resources and their skills so you can be sure to derive maximum value from bench time and ensure that your people get to work on the things they are truly passionate about.

Book a free demo today to see how you can reduce and leverage bench time within a few clicks!

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