5 Easy Tips to Create Your Team’s Work Schedule

The challenges you overcome while managing your business probably bring you satisfaction. Accomplishment comes by challenge.

There’s one challenge, though, that never goes away. 

Making the team work schedule probably isn’t high on your list of things you love about running the show. It’s a tough, never-ending challenge, and you never quite check it off the list. 

Making the work schedule means trying to balance employee’s lives with fluctuating customer demand, and that’s a lot of moving parts to keep track of. People are coming with requests and expectations in all directions, and it’s possible that even if you’ve been doing it for years, you still feel like you’re trying to figure it out.

Getting the employee work schedule correct is one of those pesky foundations that significantly influence how the whole business functions. Customer experience is directly connected with that work schedule, and it’s from that experience that your whole business lives or dies.

But there’s good news—we’re here to help. We’ll cover the different types of work schedules (there are several) so you know what’s best for your business. Then we’ll give you tips on how to make a work schedule, including the common scheduling mistakes you want to avoid. By the time you’ve read this article, you’ll have a good idea of how to efficiently create your team’s work schedule, and the tools that will make it all easier.

Types of work schedules

It’s important to know the different types of work schedules out there. It’s possible you’re using one that doesn’t fit your business as well as another might. Some of your problems could be solved by changing the type of work schedule you use. 

Plus, you have employees that have come from other places of work using these schedules. You might understand their struggle to adapt to something new if you understand where they’re coming from.

While there are many variations on work schedules, here are some of the most common.

  • Full-time. An employee works about 40 hours a week. That could be divided up as five 8-hour days, four 10-hour days, or six 6.5-hour days. The point is that you’re focusing on total time worked, not which days. This is a stable work schedule for your employees, but can be challenging if overtime is necessary.
  • Part-time. An employee works less than full-time hours. This is usually less regular and hours might be inconsistent, unlike full-time, giving employer and employee flexibility. Part-time works great for some businesses (e.g. restaurant) but not others (e.g. office). It depends on the position the employee has and whether you need them there all the time.
  • Fixed work. An employee works a set and consistent amount of time each week. For example, they might agree to work Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The amount can vary, but the point is that it is a regular set schedule. This is highly stable for all involved.
  • Flexible work. Like fixed work, there’s an agreement with the employee on how many hours they’re expected to work each week. The flexible part comes from how the employee is allowed to assemble those hours. An employer might define set hours they need to be present, but let them adjust hours around that according to their preference. Shift work could be flexible, especially when allowing employees to directly exchange shifts as part of flexible work policies.
  • Rotating shift. Shifts, in general, are for businesses that are open more than ten hours a day, or rely on part-time flexible workers. Rotating shifts mean employees cycle through day, swing, and night shifts quarterly, weekly, or even daily in some cases. Employees are able to be with family and take care of daily life because they aren’t always stuck on the same shift and missing the same parts of the day, but it can also be hard on them physically and mentally. Shifting from a day shift to a night shift is rough.

There are many other types of work schedules (seasonal, freelance, compressed, etc.) but these five are the core approaches from which others are built on. Add in a few of the following scheduling tips, and you can get your work schedule tuned up in no time.

#1 Know what you need

The first step for any major piece of equipment in the machine is knowing what you need it to do.

Review the types of work schedules. Are you using the right type for your business, or have you been operating on default all along? Some of your scheduling woes might be that you’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

A basic approach is knowing the following:

  1. Demand. Customer demand and output needs determine how many employees you need present at that time. Demand fluctuates daily, weekly, and seasonally.
  2. Requirements. Certain types of demand require specific skill sets held by specific employees or positions.
  3. Legal concerns. Follow all local, state, and federal guidelines when it comes to employees (e.g. breaks, hour limits, time clocks, and predictive scheduling).

This is the frame you’ll use to build everything else.

Get this first step in shift planning right, and down the road, you’ll increase productivity while cutting labor costs.

#2 Assess your team

You know your team (and your customers). 

Each team has its own group personality, so consider what you know about how they function as part of the reason you’ll choose one type of work schedule over another.

Maybe you have a lot of employees who have to pick their kids up after school, or perhaps you rely heavily on college students. Knowing what kind of flexibility they’ll need should be considered when you set up your work schedule structure. Perhaps you have some natural leaders on your team. You might consider them to be “anchor” employees and want to have one on each of your busiest shifts.

You may also need to assess individual skill sets or certifications if your business requires it. Your work schedule will have to take into account what positions must be filled on every shift, for example, meaning a certain set of employees will always have to be present.

#3 Create a policy

Based on what you need, create a policy. 

Outline your plan, include expectations and requirements, and be clear about how you’ll handle special scheduling requests, holidays, shift swaps, excessive overtime, or tardiness. The key here is to be clear about what employees can, should, and cannot do. Define only what needs to be defined at a top level instead of outlining every scenario. 

Being clear doesn’t mean being verbose; you don’t need 40 pages if you can do it in two. Allow for flexibility at first to work out the kinks as real-world situations crash up against your policy. Too little detail and too much detail are both a problem.

It’s not fair to employees if they don’t know what work schedule policies are, so be sure to communicate this in a way that you know they all know it. It should be part of the employee handbook, the hiring process, and reviewed directly with current employees if you’ve made changes from when they were hired. 

#4 Set up the system

We’ll talk about this more in a bit, but you’ll have to decide what system you’ll use to get your work schedule functioning.

Maybe you’ll use a spreadsheet in your office, but hang a huge calendar on the wall in the break room. Maybe you’ll use text messaging, or email. Maybe you’ll use software to help automate the process. Whatever you decide, make sure your whole team knows how to use it, and redirect anyone who tries to circumvent it back to the fold.

#5 Be people-centric

While you want to adhere to your scheduling system, always be people-centric. 

That means that because your employees are your most important asset, revisit your system periodically. Look for repeated trouble spots and adjust. Maybe you’ve set up too rigid a structure that doesn’t allow for the flexibility your employees need to have a good work-life balance.

It’s a tricky balance between not frustrating employees because there’s no give, and being easily walked on by employees taking advantage of loopholes. Both extreme ends of the spectrum create frustration. People-centric means you’re in the center, and both expectation and flexibility are balanced.

Common scheduling mistakes to avoid

Even the perfect scheduling system can have errors. Some of the most common scheduling mistakes include:

  1. Overscheduling. This is scheduling employees too much, or too close to previous shifts. Try to give your employees at least 12 hours between shifts when you can. Repeatedly sticking them with the close-open shifts will wear them down. If you find you need to do this, it’s probably a sign you need to hire more employees or re-evaluate customer demand.
  2. Missed scheduled positions. Scheduling the wrong positions, or employees with a specific skill set, at the wrong time creates problems for the other employees, and customers.
  3. Flexibility in a bad system. Flexibility is good; today’s work culture demands it. Flexibility in a poorly structured system, however, is going to lead to chaos. Shift swaps and other flexible activity may leave you confused as to who should work when. And that leads to…
  4. Overtime abuse. Not keeping an eye on overtime can destroy your bottom line. Overtime is directly related to the schedule, and both over or under-staffing mistakes can break the bank. Reducing overtime should be a top priority.

At this point, you might think that getting the work schedule right is impossible.

The good news is, there’s an easy way.

The easiest way to schedule employees

There are many tools you can use to schedule your employees. But which one does the best job for you, specifically?

One of the reasons so many managers choose to use When I Work to create a work schedule is that it is incredibly easy for them to create something that’s actually workable for their team.

When I Work feels intuitive, with a lot of these complicated pieces we’ve talked about built right into the system.

Maybe you want to go the self-scheduling route, and simply block out shifts and set up requirements, allowing employees to select their schedule. Maybe you’d rather have more control, but want to make it easy for employees to swap shifts with each other instead of needing your involvement. When I Work does this.

Think of the work schedule system you’re using now, and imagine that all you had to do was define parameters like shift coverage, skill or position requirements, and overtime. Then, you let the software deal with all of the time-off requests and auto-schedule your employees based on what you need. 

When I Work can do that, generating a schedule and letting you tweak it a bit before publishing it for employees. Plus, there’s a great communications platform built right into the system to make shift swaps, schedule questions and concerns, and requests easier to handle.

For a shift-based workforce, there’s no easier alternative than When I Work. 

Making a work schedule takes a lot of time, and it’s never set-and-forget. There’s always someone or something that needs a change on it. 

When I Work removes that hassle and injects flexibility into the schedule, something your employees want so they can balance their work and personal lives better, all while making management easier.

Whichever way you choose to schedule, following these five tips will make sure you’re creating a solid work schedule that your whole team can have confidence in.

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