The Keys to Successful Staffing for Large Events

Planning for the events to come

Forming reliable expectations about attendance is the key to planning for large events. The sooner you can get a precise estimate, the sooner you can put all the pieces of your staffing puzzle together. Even though events themselves may be planned years in advance, like a golf tournament that always takes place on the same weekend at the same course, attendance estimates may arrive with only a few weeks’ notice.

But not all staffing decisions have to wait until so close to the event. Stadiums and arenas have the most success when they establish baseline roles and levels for permanent and temporary staffing several months before their events. These levels can be tweaked closer to the date, but at least they allow core staff to participate in more detailed planning and any necessary training well before the event. Prior years’ attendances are usually a good yardstick for these baselines.

Another clue comes in the form of job fairs. If the recruitment numbers come up short, venues know right away that they will have elevated needs for temporary workers. This is the time to strategize with points of contact at platforms like ours, setting up rosters and booking blocks of shifts that can be modified later.

A wildcard comes in the form of non-profit organizations that supply labor to stadiums, usually in return for a share of the proceeds at designated outlets like concession stands and subcontracted locations. These groups, which often supply staff for the entire season, can offer a cost-effective middle ground between permanent employees and temporary workers. But there are many roles that they can’t or won’t fill. Food preparation and service for luxury boxes and suites require experienced staff. Retail shops may not be able to split revenue with non-profit groups. And there are no proceeds to share from facilities jobs, which the groups’ members may find less desirable in any case.

A final tip for planning is to be ready for attrition. For sports stadiums and arenas, the labor supply from non-profit groups tends to tail off as the season wears on, especially for outdoor games during winter months. Permanent employees also move on to other jobs. Anticipating these shortfalls and working in advance to bring in additional staff – either permanent or temporary – are essential to a successful season.

Getting ready for the big day

As large events draw nearer, the focus moves from planning to implementation. Our most experienced business partners usually reach out to the temporary workers they plan to use, giving them information about the venue and their responsibilities. Here’s a selection of the most important details:

Filling seasonal needs. Already, campus dining facilities are using thousands of temporary workers at the beginning of the academic year, either to fill gaps or while student workers are still getting up to speed. Gaps can open up later in the semester, too, as students drop out of dining staff. And many students opt to leave their campus dining jobs after the first semester, so temporary workers can ensure a smooth return to service in January and February. This is how the use of Instawork Pros evolved over the last academic year, for a fixed sample of campuses:

  • how to get to the venue by mass transit and/or car, and typical journey times
  • which entrance to use, how to find it, and how long it will take to get there from parking or a mass transit stop
  • what tasks are necessary for check-in and setup before the shift, and how much time to budget for them before the start time
  • attire requirements, if possible including photos as models
  • any security that will need to be left in exchange for the use of a uniform, such as a photo ID
  • any tools, own food, or other items that should be brought to the shift
  • rules about hygiene and cleanliness, and clarity about why workers may be sent home
  • any certifications where proof (such as a food handler’s card) will need to be on site

This kind of communication keeps expectations aligned between businesses and workers and helps to avoid unpleasant surprises. When the communication is personalized, it can also build rapport, laying the groundwork for a relationship that can last through many events to come.

Training is another necessity. Even if temporary workers don’t need to come to the venue before the event, having them watch a video or complete an instructional course – and then acknowledging that they have – will leave them more familiar with the logistic aspects of their shifts and better prepared for the big day. 

Booking shifts is where the rubber meets the road. To be on the safe side, our partners post blocks of shifts weeks in advance and then cancel the shifts they don’t need much closer to the event dates. Checking in with staffing partners on a weekly basis can help to ensure that rosters stay full of qualified professionals and that expectations for filling shifts are realistic.

Fill rate versus advance booking time for large events (days)

Source: Instawork transaction data

This is also the moment for setting up teams. Our business partners have found that sprinkling in old hands among the first-time temporary workers makes for smoother operations. Teams can be structured hierarchically, with supervisors sitting above captains, and shift leads below them. For the highest-value roles, such as serving in VIP areas, a team should consist only of experienced professionals, whether temporary or permanent.

Occasionally, permanent employees will only confirm their schedules a few days before events. In these cases, it’s imperative to book the necessary temporary labor as soon as possible in order to maximize the time available to fill the shifts. This is easier in densely populated markets where plenty of workers are looking for shifts. It’s riskier in suburban areas that might require an hour or more of travel for most professionals, in situations where other venues may be competing for the same labor, and also around holiday times.

Tight timeframes can also be part of the nature of the business. At convention centers, attendees may buy tickets at the last minute once a critical mass of their friends decide to go. At car races, crowd numbers may change dramatically because of the weather. In all of these cases, having a roster of trusted professionals – who can be expected to pick up shifts quickly, show up on time, and do the job with minimal training – is essential.

Average time to fill shifts for large events by role (hours)

Source: Instawork transaction data

Most large events will also use captains as part of their temporary labor teams, in order to delegate authority and inject some experience. These professionals can supervise 100 or more workers at a large event. Training captains in advance – either at the beginning of a sports season or before a run of events – gives them the preparation they’ll need. It’s also an opportunity to kick off a relationship that should last through multiple events.

A day or two before the event, captains should have a chance to walk through the venue. During the walkthrough, it’s crucial to think about what captains will be doing on the day of the event. For example, if captains will be responsible for dealing with attire problems, they’ll need to know where to find extra uniforms. If they’re going to clock in late workers or send deficient workers home, they’ll need to know their points of contact for each issue.

A smooth and successful event

If all the planning has occurred on schedule, then the event itself should be a breeze – in theory, at least. Things always happen on the day of the event. The first key to managing the unexpected is to be prepared.

Captains should arrive at least an hour early on the day of the event, to ensure that check-in and workstations are properly set up. Check-in will offer the first signs of how things will go. If workers are arriving late or unprepared, then captains and supervisors should get in touch with their contacts at the companies supplying labor to adjust operations and/or call in reinforcements. By the same token, a fast-moving check-in, where workers can quickly clock in and get to their stations, sets a positive and energetic vibe for the rest of the day.

The second key to success is keeping the lines of communication open throughout the chain of command. During the event, captains will be the main source of information about how things are going on the ground. Supervisors should be on call to solve problems and eliminate bottlenecks. Having an experienced incident team available to pitch in when needed can be another huge plus.

Remember that workers will leave as soon as their clock-out time arrives. If extra time will be needed for clean-up, returning uniforms, or other duties after customers depart, then this time has to be built into the shift. The same goes for events whose end times may not always be consistent. Basketball games go into overtime, golf tournaments have playoffs, and concerts have encores – all of these must be built into the shift time as well.