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Manuscript deadline
31 December 2021

Cover image - Production Planning & Control

Production Planning & Control

Special Issue Editor(s)

Shahriar Akter, University of Wollongong, Australia
[email protected]

Demetris Vrontis, University of Nicosia, Cyprus

Alkis Thrassou, University of Nicosia, Cyprus

Sir Cary L. Cooper, University of Manchester, UK

Shlomo Y. Tarba, University of Birmingham, UK

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Workforce Management in the Post-Covid Operations Era

Rationale and objectives of the special issue
In essence, purpose and function, workforce management in operations is being impacted by the dramatic growth of technology in practically every aspect. And though the evolutionary role of technology in operations is as old as the industrial revolution itself, even the last leap of information technology (IT) has simply replaced either physical or (mostly) calculative mental functions creating enormous challenges for a manager. Contemporary advances, however, increasingly offer alternatives to workforce management in operations that require interaction and communication with people and actual decision making in operations, roles that have been assumed to be reserved solely for humans. This SI presents a cross-disciplinary exploration of the development and potential of this phenomenon, along with its inherent risks and vulnerabilities to organisations and society at large. These are focal issues whose importance is being highlighted more than ever under the Covid-19 pandemic conditions that are forcefully transforming the human resource landscape with technology and creating ever-growing challenges for operations managers.

Workforce management in operations has taken many forms. Covid-19 has created enormous challenges across nations, sectors and occupations. The use of technology in operations is an area where a significant disparity has been noticed across the world in managing people in operations. Traversing through contemporary industry and executive overviews, analyses and practices, several new management challenges and their implications are identified, including:

  • The governance challenge of ‘data driven digital platforms’ that reflects fact-based views on the current workforce management, identifies the ethical issues and trends that guide workforce management in operations;
  • The organisational challenge of ‘people analytics in operations’ that helps data-driven decisions, dynamic goal setting, agile team cross-functionality, performance monitoring, talent management, agile team cross-functionality, crowd-sourced feedback, background verification and even ‘Sentiment Analysis’;
  • The challenges of workforce management using ‘cloud technology’ and ‘Software as a Service (SaaS)’ that impact business integration, freelance or gig economy and remote working in operations;
  • Challenges from workforce management using ‘wearable technologies’ that opens an array of potentialities towards increased productivity, motivation, security, communication and operational efficiency in operations;
  • Managing the dark side of ‘Artificial Intelligence in operations’ that transcends mere automation of simple and repetitive tasks and achieves effective interaction with humans.

These digital drivers have implications in the workforce context of operations, strengthening its executive role, empowering employees, retaining talent, eradicating silos, streamlining workforce management, developing new organisational structures, and achieving overall efficiency, effectiveness and performance in both internal and external indicators. The advances are, moreover, strategically tangible through their potential integrative effects across organisational units, and internal versus external environments. In parallel, new disruptive technologies (e.g., AI, blockchain, cloud and data analytics) are changing the manner in which knowledge is managed within organisations, further intensifying the above phenomena. Consequent to their complexity and brief existence, these management challenges and implications are under-researched and disproportionately underrepresented in scholarly work in the context of workforce management in operations.

Technology is continuously changing the nature of service processes and experiences, both internally and externally. Anthropomorphic intelligent “beings” for example, have revolutionised traditional human resource functions in operations, providing growing strengths and potentialities, but against formidable management challenges. Conversational agents, mobile and humanoid service robots as well as virtual assistants, empowered by artificial intelligence and machine learning are reshaping interactions, simplify coordination across space and attract considerable and increasing industry attention. Although the development of Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning Algorithms, Smart Objects, digital technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT) are useful for operations,  it is critical to investigate how do they communicate, coordinate and enhance task productiveness at a lower cost while facilitating multitasking and enabling employees to build bridges with organizationally and geographically distant other people.

Similarly, the introduction of blockchain technology, electronic human resource information systems and other novel technologies offer several opportunities to improve upon and reduce the cost of human resource operations functions; such as the manner in which companies check and evaluate job applicants and towards employee performance appraisals. In the same vein, Cybervetting, the way in which employers utilise the information available online from social media and search engines to evaluate job candidates, is altering personnel selection and reshaping employment relationships in unexpected ways. Further workforce operations implications include gainful employment, increasing of human capital and employment and employee relations. At the same time, the rapid development of increasingly compound work and technologically advanced globally networked organisations highlights the importance of workforce management in operations addressing various managerial challenges.

There are, nonetheless a growing number of questions concerning the nature and future of workforce management in operations, the degree to which workforce management can be enhanced or be replaced by technology, the effects on employee well-being, privacy and security, and wider socio-economic uncertainties. This Special Issue does not aim to fill this gap (a de facto impossibility), but does realistically aim to fuel scientific discussion on the matter, instigate new ideas and concepts, and provide a forum for new perspectives and approaches of, ultimately, also practical application and executive worth in operations management.

Specifically, the objective of the SI is to identify the opportunities and challenges of workforce management based on operations in the post-COVID era, and their inevitable drawbacks and risks for organisations. The objectives are naturally pertinent to the business, but relevant workforce operations foci across the organisational and societal typologies are equally apt.

Theoretical advancement and executive significance of the special issue
This Special Issue aims to advance theory on workforce management in operations triaxially. Firstly, it shall explore the knowledge of the managerial challenges of the existing and currently developed technologies for workforce management in operations, based on the growing experience of businesses. Secondly, it shall investigate the potential applications, implications, benefits and risks of technologies for workforce management. And thirdly, it shall integrate existing and new knowledge into systemic forms at the organisational and/or the contextual workforce management levels in operations.

The practical significance of this knowledge is particular to this SI, as, by nature, it focuses on a subject of explicit and irrevocable practical applications and implications. It is, further, evidently and naturally, a subject of great interest to workforce management executives in operations, globally, and one that impacts not just individuals and organisations, but the economy and society and at every level.

We expect this Special Issue to attract the attention of scholars and practitioners alike, to have a significant impact on science, and for this to be reflected, correspondingly and proportionally, on future research and practice.

Scope and themes of the special issue
The following are illustrative themes that are consistent with the spirit of this special issue.  Authors are encouraged to contribute empirical papers, conceptual works of solid scientific foundation, and cases studies on these, or others in the same vein:

  • What are the emerging trends in workforce management in operations?
  • What are the ethical applications, implications and risks of workforce management using technologies?
  • How do technologies contribute to the functioning of business under the post-COVID-19 pandemic conditions?
  • How did the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily or permanently transform the digitalisation landscape of workforce management and what lessons have been learnt?
  • Are the potentialities and implications of workforce digitalisation different across firm typology (SME, large, multinational, for-profit, non-profit, public, etc.)?
  • What are the strategic dimensions of workforce management using digital platforms in operations?
  • What are the socio-economic consequences of workforce digitalisation?
  • How does digitalisation affect employee and society’s well-being (e.g., privacy, security)?
  • How can existing and new workforce management technologies be systemically integrated for operations?

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