Staff scheduling is one of the most important factors in shift-based businesses. How you schedule shifts for staff not only affects your business operations but also influences employee satisfaction.

Many small business owners are the chief cook and bottle washer of their company. You’re in charge of everything, both the important and the menial. And good chances are you have to create work schedules for employees, too.

Creating effective work schedules can be overwhelming and time-consuming. In this guide, we’ll help you set up an effective scheduling system so you don’t waste time in the mundane anymore.

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What is an employee work schedule?

An employee work schedule is the hours and days per week that each employee is expected to be at work. It tells employees about when and where they need to go to work, and how much time they need to complete the tasks of their role.

Besides, employee work schedules also affect:

  • How you pay your staff
  • What benefits you should offer
  • How you stay compliant with the laws
  • How you can engage and retain staff and keep them responsible

Creating good work schedules means you schedule the right workers to the right shifts based on expertise, skills, availability, and other requirements. Your schedules can be adjusted flexibly in case of emergencies.

But how do you know if you’ve created good work schedules?

Characteristics of a good work schedule

Easy to understand and access

A good work schedule should do its main job—providing shift information for employees. Your staff should understand right away what shifts and tasks they need to work on.

Work schedules should also be accessible. When someone forgets if they’ve got shifts tomorrow, they should be able to check that information right away.

Flexible

A good schedule shouldn’t be rigid and set in stone. Your shift schedule may change due to various reasons: local events, festivals, peak seasons, fluctuating demand, emergencies, no-call-no-shows, job abandonment, you name it. So make sure you can adjust your schedules without too much sweat.

To maintain that flexibility, you can:

  • Integrate planned and unplanned overtime hours into your schedules
  • Hire temporary workers and contract workers to substitute in emergency situations

Provide continuous coverage

For businesses that operate 24/7, finding coverage for breaks, shift changes, closing and opening times, etc. is important. Without coverage for those periods, the production process is interrupted and you’re not making the best use of the equipment.

To provide continuous coverage during those transition times, you can:

  • Hire relief staff to substitute for the main staff
  • Schedule fewer staff
  • Staff who work nearby the equipment alert the main operating staff in case there’s a problem

Match business demand and labor resources

Planning more shifts means you have to hire more people and labor costs will increase. Planning fewer shifts means you miss the opportunities to produce more and make profits. That’s why your shift schedules should match your business demand and labor resources.

Start figuring out your business situation and priorities, then adjust your shift planning accordingly. This allows you to schedule the right number of staff for each shift and avoid scheduling problems.

Decent payroll and work policies

Irregular schedules can’t have the same payroll and work policies as standard 9-5, Mon-to-Fri schedules.

If your business runs on irregular shifts, you need to adjust your company policies, bearing these aspects in mind:

  • Pay fairly based on the work hours, work conditions, and workload
  • Pay for specific time off or provide income replacement
  • Comply with the laws
  • Compensate for irregular work hours (overtime, night shifts, on-call shifts, weekends, etc.)

Made with employees in mind

A common mistake among business owners is creating work schedules to meet the needs of their business rather than the people who work in it. Because your staff are the ones following those schedules, keeping them happy and engaged should be your priority.

When people are unhappy, performance drops and resentment builds up, making engagement and retention a huge headache.

A work schedule made with employees in mind should include these factors:

  • Predictability: Last-minute changes should be minimized so that employees can better arrange their lives.
  • Breaks and time off: Adequate breaks and time off allow employees to wind down and come back to work feeling more productive.
  • Compensation: Rotating shifts, night shifts, long shifts, etc. are untractive to workers because they have negative impacts on mental and physical well-being. Without decent compensation, it might be hard for you to find and retain good staff.

But why bother yourself with so many details? Don’t you just need to fill open shifts with some staff?

Here’s why.

By creating effective work schedules, you’ll avoid scheduling problems and get more long-term benefits.

Common scheduling problems you’ll want to avoid

Word of mouth and scattered post-it notes

These channels of communication are quick and easy, but the risk of staff forgetting what you say or losing the notes is high.

In other words, “Can you cover John’s shift on Friday?” may mean that your staff doesn’t remember to go to work on Friday. Without written documents and proper reminders, it’s easy to get messed up.

You need to set up a system where staff can view their assigned shifts and tasks so that they don’t forget any important work information.

And you can’t remember everything, either. So you need to set up another system for staff to send in forms, requests, and feedback, so you don’t miss any of them.

Overstaffing and understaffing

Overstaffing means you schedule more staff for a shift than necessary. For example, the morning shift only needs 4 staff to run well, and you schedule 7 staff for that shift. You have to pay more for the 3 extra staff (that you don’t need).

Understaffing means you schedule fewer staff for a shift compared to the shift demand. For example, the evening shift needs 7 staff to run well, and you only schedule 4 staff for that shift. This leads to staff feeling overwhelmed, slow service, and dissatisfied customers.

Scheduling the wrong staff

Scheduling a server to a bartender position is certainly a big problem. While some roles can be replaced by anyone, others require qualified and experienced employees. You don’t want to jeopardize your business because of this silly mistake.

Double-scheduling

Double-scheduling happens when you schedule an employee to be the waiter and the host in one shift. What if it’s a busy night? It’s surely difficult to both wait tables and bolt to the door to welcome guests.

Overscheduling and underscheduling staff

Overscheduling means you schedule too many shifts for certain staff. Underscheduling is the opposite—you schedule too few shifts for staff. Both cases cause big trouble to employee morale, as they’re either exhausted due to overworking or feel you favor certain people.

So, that’s the trouble of having ineffective work schedules. How about the benefits of creating good ones?

Benefits of creating effective work schedules

Reduces time on admin tasks

Creating schedules and dealing with schedule changes is a time-consuming process. If you adopt the best practices for scheduling, you can save time and focus more on important tasks instead.

Increases employee engagement and morale, reduces turnover

Even though employee satisfaction is influenced by many factors, having clarity in work schedules is a big part of employee engagement and retention. According to a study from Snagajob, schedule is among the top 5 important factors when workers decide to take a job.

Small acts such as last-minute changes or scheduling someone while they’re on vacation may make staff feel you disrespect their work-life balance and preferences. Unhappy staff means lower productivity and higher turnover. On the other hand, engaged and satisfied staff are more likely to stay.

How can you engage your staff and retain them? Schedules that are clear, accessible, and predictable are the first step to doing so.

Stays compliant

Depending on where you are, you have to pay attention to laws regarding minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, employment standards, and more.

For example, if your business is in Delaware, you have to pay the minimum wage rate of $10.50 per hour (2022).

A disorganized scheduling system may lead to more unplanned overtime, incorrect payroll, or losing important records. A proper scheduling process makes sure you take those laws into account and stay compliant.

Manages your labor resources and labor costs better

With a good scheduling system in place, you know exactly who’s working, who isn’t, and even who’s late. Having a thorough overview of your staff’s time and attendance, you can avoid costly scheduling problems and control labor costs better.

Increases customer satisfaction

When you schedule the right people and the right number of people for each shift, your business can serve customers better. There’s no delay or obstacle in the workflow. Staff members are happier and more productive.

The right people are those who have the skill sets, flexibility, and morale required for each shift. The right number of people means the shifts are fully-staffed; no more, no less.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the actual process of creating work schedules. First, let’s examine different types of work schedules to see which one(s) will suit your business.

What are the different types of work schedules?

There are many types of work schedules. To choose a suitable schedule type for your business, you need to consider:

  • The nature and demand of the industry you’re in
  • The costs that go with the schedule type you’ve chosen
  • Your business demand and resources: the hours you need to stay open, peak hours, slow days, labor resources, budget, etc.
  • Your employees: their needs and preferences, how they can adapt to your business hours, how you can support them (provide nap areas or sleeping bags, for example)

If you’re not so sure, you can experiment with different schedule types and see what works best.

Below are the most common types of work schedules:

Full-time schedules

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn’t provide a definition for “full-time” or “part-time”. A full-time schedule often includes 30-40 hours of work per week, depending on how your business defines it.

Full-time employees often have a fixed number of work hours or workdays every week. The most common hours is from 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays, with a 1-hour break for lunch.

Most full-time employees receive salary and benefits such as paid time off, health insurance, etc.

Part-time schedules

As there’s no legal definition for part-time employees, most part-time workers have fewer work hours compared to full-time employees. In other words, they work fewer than 30-40 hours per week.

Part-time positions have more flexibility as their schedules often change on a weekly basis. That’s why part-time schedules are suitable for students and people who can’t work full time.

Part-time workers often receive wages based on the hours they work and don’t often get benefits.

Example: A part-time waiter may work on Tuesday from 8 am to 12 pm, Thursday from 12 pm to 4 pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm. He works 16 hours per week.

Fixed schedules

Fixed schedules mean the work hours and workdays are the same every week. Both full-time and part-time schedules can be fixed. Candidates and managers often discuss and agree on the working time at the beginning of the employment.

Examples:

  • A fixed full-time schedule: Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 5 pm, every week.
  • A fixed part-time schedule: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday—from 12 pm to 4 pm, every week.

Flexible schedules

In contrast to fixed schedules, flexible schedules mean the work hours change every week.

Flex workers often have a minimum of work hours per week. They select time frames when they’re available and employers will schedule them accordingly.

Some businesses allow employees to work a certain number of hours at the workplace, and then finish their work remotely. Some let staff arrive at work and leave work within certain time frames, rather than on fixed hours.

Examples:

  • An employee works from Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 4 pm this week; and works on weekends from 8 am to 12 pm the following week.
  • Employees can arrive at work at anytime between 8 am and 9 am, and leave between 5 pm and 6 pm.

Split shift schedules

A split shift is a long shift split into 2 shifts, and workers have an unpaid break between the two. Workers aren’t very fond of split shifts because they work as full-time employees, but they don’t get a paid break.

Split shifts are quite common in healthcare, customer service, food and beverage, and transportation.

Example: A nurse works the first shift from 8 am to 12 pm, then clocks out and has lunch from 12 pm to 1 pm, then clocks in the second shift from 1 pm to 5 pm.

Rotating shift schedules

Employees work day shifts for a few days, work night shifts for a few days, then take some days off. Staff keep rotating between day shifts, night shifts, and days off, hence the name rotating shifts.

Rotating schedules are common in industries and businesses that operate 24/7, such as hospitality, healthcare, retail, logistics, etc.

There are actually many variations of rotating schedules, from Pitman and Dupont to 24-48 and 2-2, 3-2, 2-3 shift schedules. Each one has its pros and cons, and businesses have to adjust depending on their needs.

Read more: Rotating Schedule: Benefits & Challenges? How to Create One?

On-call schedules and standby schedules

On-call and standby schedules are mostly used in emergency and healthcare businesses.

Both on-call and standby staff are available to work outside of their normal shifts if called. Standby staff may not be able to use their waiting time for personal purposes, and may be required to stay on the premise during standby hours. On-call staff are less restricted during waiting time. They can go home and go back to work if called, or work from home if their jobs allow.

There might be a slight difference between on-call and standby schedules in some states, while in others, on-call and standby staff are similar. This can affect your scheduling practices and payroll, so make sure to refer to your local laws before implementing these schedule types.

Example: An employee works their normal shifts from 5 pm to 9 pm, and is on call from 9 pm to 12 am. This means they’re available to work from 9 pm to 12 am if the manager contacts them.

Compressed schedules

This type of schedule compresses work hours into fewer days so that employees have more days off. The 9/80 work schedule is a common variation of compressed schedules.

Example: Instead of working 5 eight-hour days, an employee works 8 nine-hour days, 1 eight-hour day, and has 1 more day off every 2 weeks.

A normal full-time schedule: 5 days x 8 hours = 40 hours x 2 weeks = 80 hours → 2 days off every 2 weeks

A rotating schedule: 8 days x 9 hours + 1 day x 8 hour = 80 hours → 3 days off every 2 weeks

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Week 1 9 9 9 9 8 (4 + 4) OFF OFF
Week 2 9 9 9 9 OFF OFF OFF

Other common variations of compressed schedules you may see:

  • 5/4/9 work schedule
  • 10/40 work schedule

Read more: 9/80 Work Schedule: Pros and Cons? Should You Use It for Your Business?

Seasonal schedules

Seasonal schedules are used for employees who work for a temporary period of time.

This schedule type is common in retail and hospitality industries where demand fluctuates, and in areas where weather conditions aren’t stable.

Examples:

  • Stores hire seasonal workers to deal with the high volume of customers during Christmas.
  • A ski resort hires more staff during winter months.

After deciding on suitable types of schedules for your business, how do you create good work schedules? Here’s a step-by-step process for doing exactly that:

How to create effective work schedules

Understand your business resources

Evaluate what you have and can afford is the first step to building effective work schedules.

Analyze your financial and labor resources, as well as your payroll budget, by asking questions such as:

  • How much can I pay each staff per week?
  • How many employees are currently working at my business?
  • Do I have to hire more? Do I need full-time employees or contractors?
  • What are other costs associated with each type of schedules and employees?
  • How is my business demand during peak seasons, holidays, and busy times?

If your business operations depend on certain equipment, you can also plan the equipment in your work schedule to ensure there are enough staff and equipment for the shifts.

Identify the demand and needs of each shift

Some shifts are naturally busier than others. Analyze when your business is busy and when it’s slow using your sales history and past experience. If you’re new, you can observe and make adjustments on the go.

The general rule is to schedule more staff for busier time and fewer for deserted hours. But many variables can affect your staffing needs. How many staff do you need per shift? Is there a supervisor/leader role needed, or do staff work independently? How do you determine labor demand for each location if your business has multiple branches?

For example: Your coffee shop needs 4 people for a normal shift—a cashier, a barista, a server, and a dishwasher. On busy days, you may need to hire 7-8 people to meet the shift demand.

You may expect a higher volume of customers during peak seasons, local events, and holidays, so remember to check the calendar of your location.

Decide on the types of shifts

If your business already runs on a specific type of shift, skip this step.

If you haven’t chosen one or many types of shifts to run on, it’s time to do so. Besides considering your business resources, positions required, opening hours, you should also think about:

  • Does this type of shift allow more flexiblility in scheduling?
  • Can staff choose open shifts?
  • Can staff easily swap shifts and find shift substitutes?
  • Some shifts may face more time-off requests. Can I manage them? How?

Collect employee information, availability, and preferences

Scheduling staff is not just about filling shifts with the right number of staff. It’s better to mix and match staff whose strengths, skill sets, and personalities complement each other. For example, you can mix introverts with extroverts, senior staff with new hires, etc.

To do so, you need adequate information about each of your staff. (In fact, some regions require employers to record certain information of employees.)

Use a spreadsheet in Excel or Google Sheets, a note-taking app, a document on your computer, an employee scheduling app, or whatever suits your business, to collect these pieces of information:

  • Staff’s name
  • Skills
  • Certifications, qualifications
  • Preferred types of shifts (opening shift, closing shift, swing shift)
  • Preferred number of work hours per day
  • Preferred days of work per week
  • Full-time/Part-time
  • Availability
  • Overtime restrictions
  • Personality types (introverted, sociable, etc.)
  • Contact information
  • Other notes that can be considered in the scheduling process (hard-working, good at upselling, etc.)

Keep all this information in a place where you can reference quickly during the scheduling process.

Putting staff availability in a big spreadsheet or table also gives you an overview of your labor resources and hiring needs. You may notice days when many staff are available and days when there are none, and then make hiring decisions accordingly.

You can also share the availability spreadsheet with employees so that they can update their own availability and find shift replacements. This gives hourly workers more control over their work schedules as they change their availability quite often.

Research local, federal, and state laws

To avoid costly fines and unwanted lawsuits, you need to stay compliant. Make sure you research and thoroughly understand the local, federal, and state laws related to labor, safety, and employment.

You cant start with these aspects:

  • Laws related to the type of work schedule you’ve chosen
  • Maximum hours of work per week for each type of employees (full-time, part-time, etc.)
  • Overtime restrictions
  • Payroll and benefits
  • Recordkeeping

Setting up policies regarding scheduling and attendance helps staff understand what they’re expected to do and to avoid. You also know what steps to take when facing no-call, no-shows, tardiness, etc.

Some points you should include in your policies:

  • Attendance rules
  • Employees can only swap with coworkers 24 hours before the shift to avoid last-minute changes
  • What steps employees can take to call in sick, request leaves, select open shifts, or find replacements
  • What requirements needed to trade shifts; for instance, experienced workers can’t swap with new hires, or only staff with specific training and certifications can operate certain machines.

Related posts:

How to Create Attendance Policy for Your Small Business

How to Develop a Shift Swap Policy That Works

How to Create a PTO Policy: A Guide for Business Owners & Managers

Create a scheduling system

Basically, an effective scheduling system consists of 4 main components:

  • A work schedule maker: for scheduling shifts and notifying staff of new schedules
  • A communication channel: for notifying staff of new schedules, sending announcements, discussing shift-related issues, communicating with team members
  • A system for managing time-off and shift-swap requests: for dealing with leaves, time off, shift trading, and also recordkeeping
  • A system for managing time and attendance: for tracking staff work hours and attendance, creating timesheets for accurate payroll

Let’s go through each component.

Select a work schedule maker

Business owners use many different tools to make work schedules: Google Sheets, Excel, scheduling apps, papers, whiteboards, and more. Each comes with its own pros and cons.

Manual methods such as paper and spreadsheets are easy to get started, but they become too much of a hassle over time, so we don’t recommend them.

You should opt for digital and cloud-based solutions instead for easy accessibility and adjustments. We’ll compare the 3 most used solutions (Excel, Google Sheets, and scheduling apps) later in this guide.

Set up a communication channel

Shift-based businesses tend to face changes and unexpected situations. You’ll need a fast communication channel to keep up with those changes and keep everyone updated.

This channel should be a place to talk about:

  • Work schedule issues
  • Work updates and events
  • Time-off and leave requests
  • Chit chat and fun stuff
  • Sharing resources that help your staff improve their skills (articles, courses, videos, etc.)
  • Files, documents, photos, etc.
  • Anything, really

Common choices include messaging apps such as Slack, Messenger, Viber, or WhatsApp. Some businesses use Facebook groups and create threads to discuss work.

If you decide to use any of the apps mentioned above, you now have to jump back and forth between 2 different apps. This can be a hassle for those looking to keep their workflow simple and minimal.

Tip: Use Camelo to:
• Manage work schedules and message team members in one app.
• Chat privately, or chat in channels created for specific purposes.

Create a system for managing time-off and shift-swap requests

Businesses need a system for time-off and shift-swap requests because it:

  • Employees know where to submit their requests, as well as how they can do so.
  • Employers don’t miss any requests.
  • Employers can view, approve, or deny the requests easily.
  • Employees can check if their requests have been approved or not.
  • Employers can organize and store forms/requests for recordkeeping.

When creating this system, you should make these pieces of information clear to employees:

  • Steps to request time off or shift swaps
  • Forms or documents employees need to submit
  • How you decide to approve or deny requests
  • How employees can contact you to discuss their requests

Some businesses allow employees to find replacements and swap shifts by themselves. This type of flexibility can save you some time and energy. To make sure swapped employees are eligible for the shifts, you can let employees request your approval before swapping.

Integrate your scheduling system with your attendance and payroll system

The total work hours of each employee are calculated based on the time they clock in and clock out of every shift.

If someone asks for a day off, you’ll need to adjust your scheduling accordingly. If someone is late for 15 minutes, that will be counted into their timesheet. And their timesheet determines how you pay them.

So it’s important to keep your systems of attendance, scheduling, and payroll in check. Develop procedures that are consistent and accurate to minimize errors. Try to automate certain steps so that the results can be as precise as possible.

Tip: Use Camelo to:
• Create and adjust work schedules
• Manage all approval requests
• Communicate with team members
• Track work hours and export timesheets for payroll

Create a backup plan for emergencies

The problem of shift schedules is that changes happen regularly and unexpectedly. Staff may forget their shifts or not show up. Family emergencies may occur and staff can’t go to work. To handle these incidents, you should always have a backup plan in place.

If you’ve collected employees’ information in the previous step, use the availability spreadsheet and contact information to find suitable replacements.

It’s also important to create a list of standby and on-call employees, consisting of contingent workers, part-time staff, and staff looking for overtime opportunities. They’ll be available during on-call hours, so you can call them in cases of emergencies.

Assign shifts

Now that you have enough information and tools necessary for scheduling, you can start assigning shifts to employees.

If you schedule digitally, you can use the split screen mode to view multiple sheets/apps at the same time. You can also print out necessary documents such as the availability sheet and keep them next to you for reference when scheduling.

If you schedule on papers, remember to keep them in a folder for easy organization and avoid losing important documents.

Once you’ve finished, you can save the schedule as a template for making recurring schedules in the future.

Distribute the schedule

Some businesses stick schedules on a wall or a whiteboard in the workplace. Some send work schedules via group chats or emails. Others use scheduling apps to notify employees of new schedules.

Each distribution method has its pros and cons. Paper or whiteboard schedules aren’t always accessible to everyone. Emails and group messages easily drift away. Scheduling apps aren’t always free.

You need to evaluate your budget, needs, and how much time you spend on distribution to decide on a suitable distribution method.

Paper or group messages can be enough for small businesses with few employees. Larger businesses may need some automated digital solutions to keep the scheduling process organized.

However, if you want to avoid clutters of papers and many versions of the same schedule, you should consider using scheduling apps.

Schedule distribution can be the most time-consuming part of the scheduling process if you use manual methods such as papers or spreadsheets.
An automated app makes distribution, redistribution, and keeping track of schedule versions easier:
• You don’t have to resend the schedules manually every time you update them.
• Every staff can access the most up-to-date schedule version with the devices and time they have.

Store the work schedules

Depending on where you are, there might be laws requiring you to keep payroll and employee records for a certain amount of time. For example, if your business is in the US, you need to keep payroll records for at least 3 years.

Set up a system where you can store work schedules neatly and find necessary documents quickly. You can use boxes, physical folders, computer folders, cloud storage, etc.

Then use methods such as color-coding, alphabetical and chronological sorting so that you know exactly where to find the documents you need.

The most convenient way to store work schedules is using cloud-based apps such as Google Drive, Google Sheets, Dropbox, or scheduling software. You can save physical storage space, access the files anywhere you are. You can sort the files in different ways and quickly retrieve any file you need.

Review and revise

By reviewing and revising your work schedules over time, you can create schedules that are more effective and accurate.

It’s important to review schedules in the past and spot patterns to see what works well and what doesn’t.

Some patterns you may want to look for:

  • Who’s more likely to work at which time frame
  • Increased leave requests during certain periods
  • How often your staff swap shifts and why
  • Which shifts need more/fewer staff

Then make changes and experiment to find out what works best for your business.

Now that you know how beneficial it is to have a proper scheduling process and how you can create one, here are some best practices you can apply.

Best practices for effective employee scheduling

Be clear in the recruiment and training process

The recruitment process is all about finding suitable people for your business, so everything you’re looking for from a candidate should be clear.

State your expectations and requirements in your job descriptions, interviews, and conversations.

  • Are you looking for a full-time position or simply a seasonal worker?
  • What types of schedules your business is applying?
  • Do employees have to work on weekends?
  • What is your business opening hours?

This way you’ll attract only those who can match what you need and avoid wasting time of both sides.

Once you’ve hired new employees, it’s important to communicate scheduling rules and policies to them. This is to avoid “I didn’t know anything about this rule!”.

Distribute the schedule as soon as possible

Even though changes may happen all the time, waiting until the last minute to send out schedules is unprofessional and inconsiderate. Last-minute changes mess with employees’ obligations, classes, sleep patterns, and more.

You should release the new schedule at least 2 weeks in advance. This allows your workers to arrange their appointments, personal matters, and life events. They have enough time to swap shifts or find substitutes in case they want some time off. Distributing the schedule in advance also gives more time for adjustments and redistribution.

You can also publish the schedule on a fixed day of the week so that employees know exactly when they’ll receive their schedule.

Make sure employees know which version of the schedule is the final one

Changes have become an inevitable part of staff scheduling, especially in businesses that run on shifts. Every time you make changes, you have to send out multiple versions of one schedule. How can you keep track of the versions? How can your staff know which one is the final version?

Some business owners deal with this by setting naming rules or sending a reminder message to staff before the shifts. There’s a lot of back and forth involved to get this problem solved.

Tips: Automated scheduling apps automatically notify employees of every schedule update, so your employees always know which version is the final one.

Allow some flexibility in the scheduling process

Many businesses adopt flexible scheduling—letting employees choose their own shifts and work hours. Employees can select open shifts when they want more hours, or trade shifts with each other if they aren’t available for work.

This method saves you some time because you don’t have to do everything yourself. But to avoid staff swapping with someone who’s not suitable, you need to set some requirements for each shift.

As staff members have more ownership over the work schedules, unwanted circumstances—like someone unintentionally deleting someone else’s shifts—can happen. So make sure you can keep track of changes and avoid those difficult situations.

With an online scheduling app, you can:
• Set shift requirements so that only qualified staff can take those shifts.
• Turn on shift trade request feature so that every request will need your approval.

Rotate shifts when necessary

Rotating shifts enable businesses to open 24/7 and give equal work opportunities to everyone. Employees don’t have to wonder why someone always works during daytime, or why someone always gets the night shifts with extra pay and benefits.

Read: Rotating Schedule: Benefits & Challenges? How to Create One? [Templates Included]

Schedule so that every shift has at least one excellent employee

The presence of an excellent employee in each shift has 2 big benefits:

  • There’s always an efficient staff in each shift.
  • There’s always someone who’s experienced to help new hires or less experienced employees. They can observe and learn from this staff.

If you decide to apply this practice, you may want to be careful. Avoid acts of favoritism and unfairness as they can backfire on you. Your goal should be to help every staff become that excellent employee instead of letting one employee carry all the work.

Make sure the schedule is easy to read and accessible

An easy-to-read and accessible schedule keeps everyone pleasant and updated.

What’s an easy-to-read schedule? It should be organized neatly to avoid confusion. When looking at it, staff should know immediately:

  • The starting and ending time of their shifts
  • The location of their shifts
  • Where to ask for time off

You can color-code columns, rows, staff’s names, important information to make them stand out.

What’s an accessible schedule? Your employees can access it wherever they are and with the devices they have (especially phones).

Seek feedback from your staff

As your staff are directly affected by your scheduling process and system, don’t forget to seek feedback from them. They may notice things that you can’t.

Ask them about busy times, slow times, and when to schedule more/fewer staff. Ask them about what already works and what should be changed. Then make the right adjustments.

Types of employee scheduling tools: Excel, Google Sheets & Scheduling Software

Because Excel and Google Sheets aren’t specifically made for employee scheduling, it’s unfair to compare them to scheduling software. But as these are the most common choices of business owners, we’re trying to provide a closer look into the basic differences between the options.

Note:

  • Providers of these options may change their pricing or add new features.
  • Different scheduling apps have different features, pricing, and limitations. We’re trying to compare scheduling apps in general.
Features Excel 365 Google Sheets Scheduling Software
Price $8.25/month Free
Business: $5/month
Free
Paid: ~$2-$5/user/month
Sharing & collaboration Limited Easy Easy
Interface Complicated Intuitive Intuitive
Automatic reminders No No Yes
Learning curve Low for basic use

High for advanced use
Easy to use for basic use

Higher learning curve for more advanced use
Needs some time to get used to at first, but easy later
Storage Unlimited Free for first 15GB Free for limited GB (depending on app)

Pay for more storage
Pros • Customizable: colors, text, animation

• Advanced functionality: data visualization options, advanced mathematical calculations, more formulas

• Can handle a massive amount of data
• Sharing, access and collaboration are easy

• Integration with Google services and add-ons

• Automatic revision history Real-time chat
• Easy to set up and adjust

• Features made for employee scheduling: open shifts, swap shifts, recurring schedules, set shift requirements, compliance reminders, etc.
Cons • Time-consuming to set up and adjust

• More prone to human error

• Sharing, access, and collaboration are limited

• No revision history and control over versions

• Limited insights from data
• Time-consuming to set up and adjust

• More prone to human error

• Limited formulas and functions, customization options and data visualization options

• Limited insights from data

• Slow if there's more data
• New learning curve at first

• Free plans are limited in features and storage
Suitable for • Large businesses with a huge amount of data and do lots of analysis

• Smaller businesses and individuals who need advanced tools

• Offline users
• Smaller businesses and individuals

• Online users

• Need easy collaboration and sharing
• Large and small businesses with less data analysis

• Online users

• Need easy collaboration and sharing

Employee work schedule FAQs

What are the best ways to create employee work schedules?

Cloud-based and automated scheduling apps. They not only make the scheduling process easier, but also solve common scheduling problems. This option may be free but come with limited features. You can try out the free version, and then decide if opting for a paid plan is worth it.

Another effective way is to use a combination of a cloud-based spreadsheet app, a calendar app, and a chat app. For example, Google Sheets + Google Calendar + Facebook Messenger. This option is free completely, but you’ll have to jump between many apps to get the job done. So it works, but we don’t consider it efficient.

How long should it take to create a work schedule?

The scheduling process, the tools you use, and schedule adjustments may influence the total hours needed for scheduling.

If you’re using manual methods such as pen and paper or a custom spreadsheet, you have to enter most data by yourself, which is time-consuming.

In fact, many managers don’t even know how much time they actually spend on scheduling. Knowing the real number can provide insights into how you can manage your time better.

You can keep track of the time you spend on scheduling, making adjustments, and distributing schedules by using a time-tracking app like RescueTime. Or simply observe yourself for one week and jot down how you use your time on a piece of paper.

If you’re spending over 5 hours every week on scheduling, you may need to look for a better alternative. Scheduling tasks can be automated using affordable digital solutions, giving you back plenty of time for more important matters.

How can I notify my staff of sudden and big schedule changes?

Sometimes, you may realize that your business should run on night shifts or rotating shifts. Or some staff may decide to abandon their jobs in one day (this sucks, but it happens). This is when you need to make the big and sudden changes.

To avoid dissatisfaction and resentment among your staff, try these steps below:

  • Organize a team meeting or 1-on-1 conversations
  • Explain why you make the changes
  • Ask if employees are OK with the changes and discuss solutions if there are conflicts
  • Provide guidance and tips on how employees can maintain their well-being and work-life balance
  • Provide tools, resources, accommodations, and support for staff so that they can cope with the changes better

Should I delegate the scheduling task to someone else?

If your business has lower-level managers, you can delegate this task to them. They understand the demand of each shift, the nature and resources of your business, and are close to workers.

But if you’re like most small business owners out there, chances are you have to do the scheduling work yourself. In this case, you can seek assistance from scheduling software without having to find a specific person to help with shift planning.

You can let your staff help a bit with scheduling by letting them choose open shifts, trade shifts, or find their own substitutes.

Why shouldn’t I use spreadsheets for employee scheduling?

  • They lack features made for employee scheduling: Spreadsheet programs aren’t designed for employee scheduling. They simply provide a space and tools for you to create work schedules on your own. You have to enter work hours manually. You can’t group staff by location, availability, skill sets unless you have advanced knowledge of spreadsheet programs.
  • It’s time-consuming to create, update, and maintain schedules: You may spend hours on formatting, customizing, updating, and distributing the schedules. Yes, even when you’re a tech-savvy person. We understand the fun of tweaking your own stuff, but you don’t have all the time in the world.
  • They don’t automatically give insights unless you know how to work with functions and formulas: Scheduling data helps you measure the effectiveness of your scheduling methods and how you manage your workforce. Based on specific numbers, you can see if your business is overstaffed or understaffed, compare costs with revenue and calculate ROI, and adjust your practices.

Why do some businesses choose scheduling software instead of spreadsheets?

Businesses switch to scheduling software because they can:

  • Send work schedules to staff and notify them of changes quickly
  • Track staff’s work hours and attendance accurately
  • Let staff view their schedules from their own devices, wherever they are
  • Put important information—schedules, work hour records, work messages, announcements, etc.—into one place for easier management
  • Have more control over labor costs

Experiment to find the right scheduling system

Employee scheduling can be complicated if you haven’t figured out an efficient system for your business yet.

We recommend you examine closely what you have and can afford, then experiment. One step at a time, and you’ll find the right tools, procedures, and systems for your business.

If you want a central system to create work schedules, track employee work hours and attendance, and chat with staff, give the Camelo scheduling app a try. Experience premium features for 30 days, and if you’re not sure whether to upgrade, there’s a free plan, too.

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