How to Make a Work Schedule

Let’s face it—scheduling can be stressful. And if you’re new to creating work schedules, it can be a bit complicated to wrap your head around.

But employee scheduling isn’t just something you can tuck away and forget about. It’s a key part of building a successful small business, managing a team, and ensuring everyone knows their work schedule. Lucky for you, whether you’re growing your team or new to scheduling—we’ve got you covered.

Keep reading as we dive into everything you need to know about how to make a work schedule. We’ll even walk you through the process step-by-step, so you can start scheduling with confidence.

What is a Work Schedule?

A work schedule is a physical or digital document that communicates the hours and shifts that an employee is set to work. It can also refer to the set work hours for an individual employee.

A work schedule serves two main purposes. The first is to let your employees know when they should come to work. But they also do more than that. They also help with resource planning and staying on top of labor targets to make sure you’re meeting your business needs

Even if you don’t have a large team of employees, you probably still need a work schedule. This ensures you have the right staff when you need them. Plus, you can make the most of your team’s time on the clock.

Type of Work Schedules for your Small Business

Choice, choices choices. When it comes to work schedules, you have so many options to choose from. 

While the different types of work schedules can feel overwhelming, it means you can choose the system that works the best for your small business. Here are some common types of schedules for small businesses and hourly teams:

    • Weekly work schedules: Weekly shifts are the most common for hourly and shift workers. This means the schedule is updated or changed from week to week. Typically you’ll see weekly calendars start on a Sunday or Monday.
    • Fixed work schedule: Fixed work schedules provide consistency, so I always know my work schedule well in advance. With fixed shifts, employee shifts stay relatively constant from week to week. Even if you’re not running a traditional 9-5, everyone typically works the same hours and days of the week. The benefit of this is that it provides consistency for employees, knowing exactly when they’ll be working—even several weeks from now.
    • Rotating work schedules: These are common for businesses where several shifts need to be covered regularly. The shifts tend to stay the same, but every week (or month) things rotate and employees move to a different shift. For example, if you have a morning shift, an afternoon shift, and a night shift, a rotating schedule might have an employee work the morning shift one week, the afternoon shift the following week, and the night shift the week after. Common industries include maintenance workers or healthcare workers.
    • On-call schedule: On-call schedules are commonly used in customer-facing industries where demand can fluctuate. Employees who are on call typically find out closer to their scheduled shift if they’re needed or not. This gives businesses the flexibility to add more employees if needed. 

Most businesses choose one or a combination of these types to meet their scheduling needs.

Who’s Responsible for Making a Work Schedule?

Work schedules don’t just magically appear out of thin air. (Although, sometimes we wish they would.) And while employee feedback should be considered, it’s up to employers to provide their team with a work schedule.

In most small businesses, the responsibility of building a work schedule falls on a manager, team supervisor, or even the business owner themselves. In larger teams, this can often be a shared task among multiple managers. 

Whoever takes on the role of booking in staff should understand the key factors that go into making an effective schedule, like labor laws, labor budgets, and sales forecasts. 

Create effective work schedules in seconds. Use Homebase’s auto-schedule feature to  make a work schedule based on your team’s latest availability, sales forecasts, and labor targets in just a few clicks. (Pretty close to magic if you ask us.)

How to Make a Work Schedule 

If you’ve never done it before, it can feel a bit daunting. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to making the perfect schedule. And if we’re being honest, it can feel a bit chaotic for even the most experienced manager.

Fortunately, there are some tips and tricks that can take the stress out of scheduling. Here’s how you can make your next work schedule a success in eight simple steps.

Step 1: Determine your labor targets

Labor costs can cost you a pretty penny, with labor costs making up as much as 50% of total costs for some businesses. So before you can schedule your employees, you need to know how much labor you need and how much you can afford.

Here are some questions you can ask to help better understand your labor targets:

  • What’s your labor budget? This is how much you can afford to spend on employee wages. This will help you budget the number of work hours you can schedule in a week and is often relative to your sales forecasts.
  • Which days or times do you need more staff? The goal of an employee work schedule is to make sure that you have employees when you need them. You should have an understanding of when you need more resources to support your business goals. For example, in a restaurant, weekend evenings might be busier, which means you’ll need to schedule more staff to support your customers.

Step 2: Get to know your team

Every person you hire is unique. So while it can be tempting to simply stick an employee where there’s an open shift, it’s best to schedule employees for shifts where you know they’ll make the biggest impact.

For example, an employee who has excellent people skills is probably better off working a busy customer-facing shift. Meanwhile, a quieter employee who has great organizational skills might be more productive taking an inventory shift.

So before you start scheduling, you should get to know your team’s skills, strengths, and preferences the best you can. You might learn this as you work with them or even through the hiring and onboarding process.

Step 3: Gather employee availability

Before you can create your schedule, you need to know who’s available and when. This is especially true for shift work where hours can vary and employees may need to manage work around their existing commitments. 

For example, some employees may not be able to work on Saturdays for religious reasons. Meanwhile, other employees may be unable to work in the afternoons because they have childcare responsibilities.

Of course, you have to put your business needs first, so not every request can be approved. But it’s best to accommodate wherever you can. Flexible scheduling can go a long way in improving employee engagement and making your employees feel valued.

Step 4: Familiarize yourself with the FLSA and employment laws

Employee scheduling doesn’t just come down to what your business needs.

In the U.S., many labor requirements are enforced by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). So here are some labor laws should keep in mind when making a work schedule:

  • Overtime: Non-exempt employees who work over 40 hours in a workweek are entitled to overtime pay at 1.5x their regular rate of pay.
  • Working hours for minors: FLSA restricts the number of hours minors of 14 or 15 years of age are allowed to work. For example, if school is in session, they can only work 3 hours on a school day and a total of 18 hours a week.
  • State laws: Every state also has its own laws around employee working hours that you need to follow. To make it easy for you, we’ve broken down the labor laws by state in this handy guide

Step 5: Decide how you want to create your schedule

Back in the ‘good old days,’ you’d have to write out shifts and names in pen and paper. Fortunately, these days it’s a lot less complicated and most businesses opt to create things digitally. 

You can keep it simple by creating a template with Google Sheets. However, you can make it even easier by using an online employee scheduling software, like Homebase. These easy-to-use apps make anything small-biz related a breeze by helping automate and simplifying communication, so you can spend less time making schedules and more time growing your business.

No matter what tool or software you decide to use, make sure to keep an eye out for features that can help save you time. Our favorites? Shift swaps, built-in blackout dates, and integrations with a time clock apps.

Step 6: Create your schedule

Ready, set, schedule!

This is the fun part. It’s time to put all the blocks together from the previous steps and build something that works for your business. 

Every schedule will look a bit different but as a general rule, your schedule should include:

  • Dates
  • Employee names and information
  • A breakdown of times and duration
  • Total hours scheduled per employee
  • Any notes and shift instructions

Tip: A schedule template can go a long way in taking the headache out of the process. Get a free drag-and-drop weekly schedule template from Homebase and build in minutes.

Step 7: Review for common scheduling errors

Make a schedule once, check it twice.

We’re only human—we all make mistakes. But with employee schedules, errors can cost you in more ways than one. At best, you might find yourself short-staffed. At worst, you might accidentally break a labor law.

Being aware of common scheduling errors and checking for them can help you avoid potential issues. Some mistakes to look out for include:

  • Overscheduling employees. Either beyond the hours they’ve agreed to or are legally allowed to work.
  • Not booking enough employees for certain shifts.
  • Adding an employee who’s requested time off.
  • Double-booking an employee for multiple shifts at one time.

Step 8: Share your schedule with your team

Once your schedule is ready to go, it’s time to share it with your employees. If you’re using a scheduling app, you’ll likely have a feature that pushes the schedule out to the entire team. Otherwise, you can email the schedule or post it in the workplace.

It’s best to share schedules in advance to give your team as much time to plan as possible—especially if things change drastically from week to week. Having a set cadence for when the calendar becomes available can also help manage employee expectations. For example, you might always release shift info 7 days ahead of time.

Remember: If you need to make changes after you’ve sent it out, make sure to send an update to your team. Otherwise, your team might miss the changes.

Make a Work Schedule with Homebase

Say goodbye to scheduling stress for good. Homebase’s free online schedule software helps you create a work schedule for your small business in minutes. When you make your schedule with Homebase, you can:

  • Build and update your schedule—all online.
  • Save time with templates and auto-scheduling.
  • Track overtime and labor costs.
  • Share shift changes in just a few clicks.
  • Empower your team to pick up and swap shifts, and request time off.

Plus, you’ll get access to Homebase’s suite of free small business tools, including an online time clock, a team communication app, and so much more.

Ready to simplify scheduling with Homebase? 

See for yourself why small businesses across all industries love Homebase. Get started for free today.

How to make a schedule FAQS

Why do I need to learn how to make a schedule for my small business?

Learning how to make a schedule for a small business is part of leading a growing team. 

By creating a schedule, you can help your employees plan ahead and make sure that you have the right employees in the right place at the right time. It not only keeps your employees on track but can help save you time and money.

Creating your first schedule can feel daunting, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never go back!

What type of schedule is best for my business?

The best type of schedule for your business depends on your unique needs. Common types of schedules for small businesses include weekly schedules, fixed schedules, and rotating shift schedules. 

There’s no hard and fast rule for picking a type of work schedule. You can even use a combination of work schedules to make sure your employees are scheduled when you need them.

What is the best way to make a work schedule?

The best way to make a work schedule is by following these steps:

  1. Determine your labor needs and budget.
  2. Familiarize yourself with your employees’ skills and strengths.
  3. Gather employee availability and scheduling preferences.
  4. Review and understand labor laws.
  5. Create your schedule using a scheduling app like Homebase.
  6. Review your schedule for common errors.
  7. Share your schedule with your team.

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