Scalable Workforce

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Scalable Workforce

Scalable workforce is a practical approach to organizational human resource management that allows managers the flexibility of adjusting the number of employees in the organization whenever need arises. Scalable workforce strategy practice involves employing labor services in organizations according to the amount of workloads available in the organizations. In so doing, an organization eliminates problems of workforce shortages or excesses by increasing or decreasing the number of staff appropriately, relative to the amount of work available in the organization. Scalable workforce practices seek to eliminate waste and achieve greater efficiency in the management of human resources in organizations.


The origins of scalable workforce can be traced back to lean manufacturing and management techniques that have been practiced at Toyota motor manufacturing company in Japan for many years. Scalable workforce principle is a key component of the just-in-time (JIT) management system that has roots in the Toyota Production System. The development of JIT management system is credited to Taiichi Ohno (19121990), a Japanese manager who invented and advanced the concept at Toyota Production Company during the post World War II period. As a production management system, JIT marks a distinct departure from the traditional uncontrolled bulk production of orders (which required painstaking inventory processes) to a streamlined production style guided by market demand and specific customer orders. In effect, companies that adopt scalable workforce systems make wise use of financial resources and human resources by matching inputs against expected outputs at all times.

In the book titled Excellence in Business third edition, Bovee, Thill, and Mescon contend that periodic strategy shifts, changes in production systems, continuous technological advancements, and fluctuations in sales remain the biggest challenges that managers face in efforts to maintain an adequate and competitive workforce in business organizations. The authors suggest the implementation of alternative work arrangements such as telecommuting, use of temporary employees, job sharing, and outsourcing as suitable solutions for addressing the staffing and demographic challenges prevalent in many business organizations.

The principle of scalable workforce is useful to firms that experience transitional stages in the execution of projects, whereby the completion of a particular phase of a project eliminates the need for particular skills, as is usually the case in construction firms. The principle is also valuable in firms that register seasonal fluctuations of demand for their products or services. It is unrealistic to retain the same number of staff for both the high seasons and the low seasons and thus, appropriate adjustment measures must always be implemented to ensure that the costs of maintaining employees are cut down during the low season by reducing the number of staff and operations within the firm.


The airline JetBlue is a good example of a firm that has successfully integrated the principle of scalable workforce into operations management. JetBlue fully implements the principle of flexible telecommuting staff for its airline reservations services. The work at home program was initiated at JetBlue ever since the airline was founded, and the practice has registered a lot of success for the airline in terms of saving financial resources and eliminating the

need for expansive office spaces. As Sharon Gaudin notes, 80 percent of JetBlue's reservations staff work from home; the company flexibly increases the number of reservations agents during periods of high call volumes and subsequently reduces the number of reservations agents during periods of low call volume by simply e-mailing some of the staff to sign off voluntarily and take time off.

Absence of close supervision and productivity of telecommuting employees is one of the obvious concerns that characterize the concept of scalable off-site workforce. However, this is a problem that can be addressed by simply using relevant information technology software tools (such as log-in and clocking systems) to track the performance of each employee working offsite. The management can also keep in constant touch with the employees through e-mails and phone calls. Productivity among off-site employees can further be enhanced through emphasis on regular meetings and consultations, provision of immediate solutions to problems whenever they arise, discussion of company specific work practices with employees, and ongoing training of the offsite workforce.

As much as the principle of scalable workforce eliminates redundancy among employees in organizations, managers must always be ready to encounter difficult challenges during the adoption and implementation stages of the strategy. Problems such as resistance to change and lack of clear understanding of the concept by employees and workers unions are inevitable. Therefore, implementation of scalable workforce practices in an organization requires a great deal of change management to overcome resistance and negative attitudes among employees. In an article titled Lean Supply Chains, JIT and Cellular Manufacturing: the Human Side Alony and Jones note that managers can initiate change in the culture of the organization to create a receptive environment for scalable workforce practices.

State laws and country labor regulations are very important points of reference when initiating scalable workforce processes in organizations. Laws in the United States require state-owned organizations and enterprises to seek the approval of the Congress before implementing any major adjustment to labor structures in the organizations. For example, in 2007 the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) sought Congressional approval for its strategy to adopt increase flexibility in its workforce, a plan aimed at offloading redundant workforce and replenishing the institution with more specialized and flexible employees with the capacity to achieve greater efficiency in the management of NASA's operations. NASA began moving towards a more scalable workforce after the passage of the Flexiblity Act of 2004, and this process continues in the late 2000s.

SEE ALSO Managing Change


Alony, Irit, and Michael Jones. Lean Supply Chains, JIT and Cellular Manufacturing-The Human Side. Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology. 5 (2008). Available from:

Beasley, J.E. Just-in-time (JIT). OR-Notes 2008. Available from:

Bovee, Courtland L., John V. Thill and Michael H. Mescon. Excellence in Business, 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007.

Fiss, Peer C., and Edward Z. Zajac. The Symbolic Management of Strategic Change: Sensegiving via Framing and Decoupling. The Academy of Management Journal 49, no. 6 (December 2006): 11741193.

Gaudin, Sharon. Telecommuting Takes Flight at JetBlue,March 2006. Available from:

Griffin, Mark, A. Andrew Neal and Sharon K. Parker. A New Model of Work Role Performance: The Impact of Technological Diversity and Alliance Organization on Innovation.The Academy Management Journal 50, no. 2 (April 2007): 328347.

Leath, Audrey T. NASA Faces Major Transition in Workforce Needs. AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News. FYI No. 57 (June 1, 2007). Available from: