5 Principles for Easier, More Efficient Employee Scheduling

Take the pain out of shift scheduling, variable schedules, or task assignment. Here are five principles for easier, better, efficient employee scheduling.

Scheduling employees is an important part of running a business. Unfortunately, it’s often one of the most frustrating tasks, as well.

You need the right people in the right roles. You need to ensure that all the necessary tasks are getting done (and done well). You also want to consider how your different team members work together; interpersonal issues can derail productivity and effectiveness.

The frustration of scheduling comes from a variety of sources:

  • Using old methods of scheduling that simply aren’t efficient. They were the best method at one time, maybe, but they’re out-dated and time-consuming.
  • Trying to consider multiple priorities at the same time, while considering variable elements such as employee availability, vacation time, client schedules, material and resource readiness. It’s a lot to think about.
  • Handling communication over a variety of channels, or via an inefficient channel. You send out the schedule via email and you get responses from three different channels: one employee calls, another texts, and another uses Slack.
  • Becoming the single access point for all scheduling-related information. If you’re the only one who knows what’s going on, you’re the only one who can make good decisions. This puts pressure on you (everyone’s waiting on your decision) and is exasperating for others who could handle more responsibility if they equipped to do so.

Okay, so much for the sources of frustration. Once you know the problem, you can find the solution. Let’s look at principles you can use to make employee scheduling an easy and (dare we say it?) even enjoyable task.

Principle 1: Pick one communication channel and stick to it.

Limit all scheduling-related communication to one channel. Require everyone to use that communication channel. 

It’s best, of course, if you use a communication channel that’s easy and intuitive. But the primary point is to pick one channel and stick with it. This will eliminate the inefficiency of multiple incoming sources of communication, and will prevent errors in scheduling. It’s easy to miss important responses and updates when you have multiple ways to communicate. You may scan them too quickly, check one but not the other, forget to reply, or simply get confused. 

Features of a good communication channel:

  • Easy to access. Mobile apps are helpful. A channel that’s usable via any browser, rather than requiring specific software, is helpful.
  • Easy to use. The easier it is to use, the faster people will start using it.
  • Connected or linked to the schedule itself. That way, everyone can reference the actual schedule while communicating about it, rather than trying to remember or going back and forth between screens.

To use a communication channel well, check it on a regular basis. But don’t check it constantly. Instead, determine how often schedule changes need to be made. Can you update the schedule once daily? Then check the communication channel once daily and make the needed changes.

Principle 2: Pick one tool for scheduling and stick to it.

Quit jumping back and forth between spreadsheets, your email inbox, the shift schedule print-out, an employee calendar, and that scribbled list of day-off and shift requests. Instead, pick one tool for all scheduling information and always use it, for all the scheduling information. 

You won’t have to remember where you wrote something down or saved it or copied it. Make one decision, and eliminate a thousand smaller decisions. If you always use one tool for scheduling, you’ll have everything you need in one place.

Principle 3: Plan ahead for flexibility.

Depending on the nature of your business, you may need to schedule anywhere from a few days to several months in advance. What does a last-minute schedule change mean for you? Does it mean an employee calling in sick a few hours before their shift? Or does it mean a shipment delay that will put a client installation behind schedule by a week or more? 

You can lessen the impact of last-minute schedule changes by giving yourself room for flexibility:

  • Schedule shifts and other variable schedule at least two weeks in advance.
  • Require 24-hour notice of non-emergency/non-illness time off.
  • Schedule extra time for deliveries, shipments, or other elements that you can’t control.
  • Establish a process for schedule changes, document it, and stick to it.

Change happens, and that’s fine. If you expect changes, you can build flexibility into your scheduling. You’ll have less stress and more options, which makes it easier to handle changes when they come.

Principle 4: Build error prevention into your scheduling.

What are the scheduling errors that cause you the most frustration? Here are a few common issues:

  • Scheduling an employee for the wrong role: the station chef may not be able to fill in for the pastry chef.
  • Under- or over-scheduling an employee: only one shift a week is frustrating. Getting too many hours leads to exhaustion.
  • Scheduling inexperienced/new employees together: you want at least one strongly experienced employee to help lead the way.
  • Scheduling employees without the needed skills: if no one present is qualified to operate the machinery, the job won’t get done.
  • Double-booking an employee: assigning too many tasks or jobs to an employee leads to low-quality work.

Consider the scheduling issues that develop in your business most often. Once you’ve identified them, think about how to prevent them. Some solutions are simple; for example, a change to your calendar settings could prevent double-booking issues. Others may require more thought, but with a single scheduling tool, you can keep all the information in one place.

Use the features of your scheduling tool to give yourself reminders or put error-prevention in place. Here are a few examples from Teamup calendar:

  • use sign-ups to have employees claim the tasks they are qualified to do.
  • use folders to sort different employee types/qualifications.
  • use custom event fields to list the skills or experience-level required for a particular task.
  • use comments to keep notes or give instructions.

Principle 5: Move toward autonomy.

Autonomous employees are happier and more effective. As you organize and streamline your method of employee scheduling, look for ways to move toward autonomy. Having a single communication channel, and a single scheduling tool (or a single tool that can do both, like, ahem, a Teamup calendar) is a huge step toward autonomy. Why? Because access to information enables autonomy. If an employee can check a regularly updated calendar for shift or task assignments, they don’t need to contact you for that information.

You can take it a step further by delegating, creating a PTO request calendar, and setting up an approval system. Take it a step at a time. Communicate a process and stick with it. After a month or so, evaluate: is it working? Is there anything that needs to change?

You don’t have to let go of control to let go of frustration. When it comes to employee scheduling, what’s good for you is good for your employees, too. Pick one or two tools that make your work easier, use them consistently, and enjoy the results.

🔗 Learn more: How to Schedule Work with a Teamup Calendar

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash