This article is part of a larger series on Employee Scheduling.
Deciding how to schedule employees requires you to be in tune with how your company operates, like knowing its busiest days and months and product sales trends. Having insight into your employees’ needs is also important. The best schedules are flexible, don’t underwork or overwork employees, maximize profits, and are published well in advance.
If you’re interested in using scheduling software, consider Homebase. It lets you easily create work shifts for an unlimited number of employees. Additionally, once you create your weekly schedule, you can replicate it each week, and all time calculations are done by the system to ensure overtime compliance while saving you time and reducing errors. And the best news is that Homebase has a FREE forever plan for businesses with only one location.
To start scheduling, follow these simple steps, which can be made easier and less time-consuming with employee scheduling software:
1. Make a Detailed List of Employees
Start with making a detailed list that includes all of your current employees. This will serve as your reference sheet when you begin assigning work times. Input as much information as possible that can help you create the best schedule. Data such as employee names, job titles, and shift preference (night vs day) are good examples.
Employee Name: When you input each employee’s name, be sure to include first and last names, at a minimum. Look out for duplicates. Employees with common first and last names are likely to one day have at least one co-worker who shares their name. In cases like these, you’ll need to use a differentiator, like a middle name or initial.
You might also be able to use a nickname for one worker and a full name for the other (Michael vs Mike) if they approve. Inadvertently scheduling an employee for a double shift due to confusion about their name could lead to conflict and expensive overtime pay (along with higher taxes).
Employee Job Title or Role: You should document any official job titles or roles that reflect the scope of your employees’ work. Later, when you start creating the schedule, you’ll need an easy way to match employees with the jobs you need to staff.
Depending on your business, some workers may have multiple job titles. For instance, many restaurant employees work as both servers and hosts, just on different days. Including this information in your employee list ensures you always know how to maximize your employees’ work time throughout each week.
Shift Preference and Availability: Upon hire, you should determine each employee’s shift preferences. Do they prefer to work morning hours, evening hours, full-time, or part-time? Including this in your reference sheet will make scheduling easier.
Although you should request and document your employees’ general availability at the time of hire, you should also encourage them to communicate any deviations from that as soon as possible (at least a couple of weeks in advance, if possible).
The information we suggest you include in your employee list can usually be organized more efficiently and quicker if you use an Excel scheduling template. The columns you need are already set up and all you need to do is enter the information specific to your employees and business.
2. Use a Calendar
Scheduling is an activity that requires you to look ahead. That’s easily accomplished if you’re using a calendar. Jot down notes on certain days or weeks to remind yourself of important considerations, such as upcoming vacations for employees and high sales volume weeks.
3. Consider Company Scheduling Needs
To create a successful employee schedule, you must consider the needs of your business. Are some days busier than others? Are there weeks that always seem to be slower than others (such as around the holidays)? Are there certain products or services you sell more of that require you to schedule more workers in a particular position?
You may feel like you can use your instinct to gauge what trends to consider when scheduling, but we recommend you reference data or reports from your systems or software, if possible. It’s more objective and precise. Review your company sales reports, year over year, if you have them. If you notice big jumps in business during certain months or weeks over the course of multiple years, you can more confidently increase the number of employees you schedule for that time frame.
If you have a service business with different employees for different services—like beauticians, nail techs, and estheticians—having data on service sales trends would be helpful. For example, if you are aware that historically customers don’t set many hair appointments during July but nail services increase, you should be able to schedule accordingly.
4. Assign Shifts
Once you have finished organizing and reviewing the information you need to schedule your employees for the upcoming period, you can start to assign shifts. Be sure to create a good mix of workers based on their skill level and performance. For instance, don’t schedule all of your newest employees at once. Be sure to sprinkle in some vets, so your newbies have the chance to learn the ropes from more experienced co-workers.
In order to successfully schedule your staff, you should know what your business’ typical staffing needs are on an average day. Ten waitstaff, four cooks, five hosts? Use this as a baseline each time you create an employee schedule; on higher sales volume days, increase the number and vice versa on slower days. You should always start the scheduling process knowing which and how many positions you need to fill each day.
Then move on to each person’s availability. You can easily start populating a schedule based on the details you have on your employee reference list and calendar.
Another aspect to keep in mind is each employee’s proven performance level. You’ll inevitably have some workers who are more productive than others. It’s a good idea to schedule at least one high performer (or more, depending on the size of your business) on each shift.
5. Get Employee Feedback
Once you finish the first draft of your schedule, it’s crucial to get employee feedback. It is inevitable that situations will come up, such as a sick child, a forgotten doctor’s appointment, or an upcoming family event. Accommodating your workers’ needs improves their job satisfaction and reduces the chance of no-shows.
Once all employee feedback has been received, you’ll need to review it to see if any changes to the schedule are required. If you need to change the staffing lineup, use your employee detail list to figure out which workers are more likely to be available on the date and time in question. You can also empower your employees to find their own replacements ahead of time; they can include that detail with their feedback, so all you have to do is update the schedule.
If you opt to use software like Homebase, this step can usually be automated. Employees can reject a workday and suggest a replacement for you to approve.
6. Finalize and Publish Your Schedule
After incorporating and/or responding to all schedule change requests, you can finalize and publish your schedule. If your draft is in Excel, consider publishing it to PDF and sending it to your team. They won’t be able to edit it, and it will prevent anyone from confusing the final version with the draft. If feasible, it’s also a good idea to post the schedule somewhere in the workplace, like a breakroom. If your team is more tech-savvy and/or spread out, Google Drive may work better.
You may think that once you’ve published your schedule, there won’t be any more changes. In a perfect world that’d be the case, but realistically you’ll need to monitor it daily so you can make any necessary revisions immediately. Employees get sick, car trouble happens, and the list goes on. Your schedule should be as realistic as possible and always reflect your current staffing plan; otherwise, employees can become confused and not show up to work when they should.
If you need help tracking your employees’ working hours check out our best time & attendance software article.
Employee Scheduling With Software
Although you can create and manage your employees’ work schedules manually, it isn’t the most efficient way to handle it. There are many free or low-cost employee scheduling software you can use, and most have special features that help you avoid overtime costs, find shift replacements quickly, make changes from anywhere using a mobile device, and so on.
We’ve mentioned Homebase, but you may also consider the following:
- When I Work if you have fewer than 75 employees and need an easy-to-use employee scheduling software that’s free. Additionally, you can manage the entire schedule online using your mobile device.
- Humanity because it has tools to help you manage your labor costs.
- Deputy if you have multiple locations and job sites because of its facility scheduling features.
- 7Shifts is ideal for larger restaurants because it gives you the choice to only see employees who are eligible to work shifts and positions for which you need to schedule.
There are some unique circumstances that may require you to document additional information about your employees. For instance, if you measure your productivity by client appointments versus consecutive hours on the job, or if your business is in an industry with an unpredictable work schedule, you’ll need to account for this when preparing to schedule your employees.
There are other factors you might also need to consider when scheduling, like the legalities of employing minors and required certifications for certain types of work. The weather may also play a role, especially if you conduct your business outside (such as with an auto detailing business).
Employee Scheduling Legal Considerations
Learning how to schedule employees in a way that works best for your company is essential. There are numerous labor laws to consider, but not all will apply to your business. The federal overtime rule—all hours worked over 40 in a seven-day period must be paid at the time and half rate—is a big one to consider; to keep costs down, schedule hourly employees for a maximum of 40 hours each week. You’ll also need to retain copies of all employee scheduling records for at least two years.
While there are no federal predictive scheduling laws currently in place, some states and localities have them. It is good practice for businesses to give ample notice to employees of their schedules so that they can plan around their working hours. Affording your employees enough time before the publication of a work schedule gives structure to their schedules and helps them better manage their daily lives.
The quality of your employee schedules can make or break your business. Figuring out how to schedule employees so that you’re maximizing profits (by avoiding overtime, overstaffing, and losing business due to understaffing) and keeping your employees happy is a balancing act. It requires creating solid processes on the front end, gathering the most appropriate data to help you make the best scheduling decisions, and regularly evaluating the schedules you create.
If you’re tired of using pen and paper to schedule employees and don’t want to deal with Excel spreadsheets yet still want a free option, consider using Homebase. It’s free for employers with only one location, and you can manage it on your mobile device. Employees can also access the schedule and request changes or suggest replacements from anywhere.