How to make an employee schedule in six easy steps

Good schedules are the lynchpin of small businesses. Without them, everything from your labor budget to customer service and staff relationships falls apart, so you have to make sure yours are airtight.

But writing schedules is time-consuming and there are other work responsibilities to consider, not to mention your own work-life balance.

So, we’ve created this guide on how to make an employee schedule that fits your budget, respects your team’s preferences, and doesn’t take hours to make. Discover how Homebase can help you with every stage of the process. We’ve included:

  • Business requirements to consider before you begin
  • Tips for scheduling employees according to their availability and preferences
  • How to create reusable schedule templates
  • What to look out for when reviewing your schedule
  • How to manage your schedule when last-minute changes occur

Step #1: Determine schedule requirements

There’s a lot to consider before starting an employee schedule. You have to balance:

  • Fulfilling labor needs
  • Sticking to your budget
  • Having the right mix of roles
  • Complying with applicable federal and state laws

Take care of several items on that list by using Homebase scheduling’s forecasting tool. Instead of spending hours pouring over figures, you can auto-calculate how many employees you need and the sales you can expect to make based on past data. Homebase even includes your sales-to-labor ratio, so you’ll notice if your staff levels are under or over-average instantly (and whether you’ll be under or over-staffed).

As you move through the next steps, you can keep checking the forecasting sidebar to check if you’ve strayed too far from your targets.

Caption: Homebase’s forecasting tool displays all your predictive data in a sidebar at the bottom of each employee schedule.

Now that you know how many employees you need, it’s time to go into finer detail. Identify which roles, departments, and senior team members you’ll require for each shift. For example, if you run a restaurant, what ratio of chefs to wait staff should you have? How many takeaway orders does your delivery team get on average? Are there any new hires that require a manager’s close supervision?

As you create your roster, you’ll probably end up making changes as you go. If you’re using a pen and paper or a spreadsheet and keep having to cross out or copy-paste items, your schedule will get messy and confusing quickly. Use Homebase to create a list of shifts at the top of your employee schedule for each day with all the roles you need, along with the shift hours and any relevant notes.

Caption: Create a color-coordinated list of shifts on top of your Homebase schedule to stay on top of what roles you need for each day.

All that’s left is brushing up on state and federal laws so you can bear them in mind as you write your schedule. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulates:

  • How many days employees can work in a week
  • The number of breaks hourly workers should have
  • How much time off you should give each employee
  • How many hours minors can work and what tasks they can perform
  • How far in advance you need to share your schedule with employees
  • The overtime rate you have to pay employees who work over 40 hours a week

If staying on top of all that sounds exhausting to you, consider using Homebase’s HR and compliance tools. We notify you about potential compliance issues like missed breaks and alert you about changing labor laws.

Step #2: Take employee availability into account

Once you know your schedule requirements, it’s time to collect each employee’s availability. We can’t understate the importance of this step. Respecting your staff’s preferences shows you care about their well-being and acknowledge you respect their lives outside work.

From a practical point of view, understanding employee shift preferences means fewer issues with late arrivals, absences, and constant shift swaps. And keeping your team happy makes them less likely to search for another job with more convenient hours.

Start by asking each team member to fill in a form with their availability and preferred shifts. Some staff may wish to dictate the specific hours they want to work. If that’s not possible, forewarn them that their limited availability may affect the number of hours you can give them.

But here’s the tricky part. Your team’s availability might fluctuate due to factors like family responsibilities, school holidays, or second jobs. If you don’t have time to keep chasing everyone around, prompt your staff to fill in Homebase’s form the moment their situation changes. The platform will then notify you, let you approve the availability form, and block out the employee’s unavailable days on your schedules.

Caption: Homebase provides an easy way to collect each employee’s availability and get an overview of who can work which shifts.

Another factor to consider is time off. If you don’t keep proper track of vacation days, you may end up with too many absent team members at the same time. Then, you’ll risk being understaffed and burning out the employees who can work.

Get ahead of this problem with the following steps:

  1. Create a time off policy: Figure out how many people can take days off at once and set that number as a limit. For popular times of the year, use a fair system, like taking turns to decide which employees get the first pick.
  2. Ask for time off requests in advance: Tell team members you need their vacation requests a certain number of days in advance so you have enough time to arrange cover. Employees can use the Homebase app to fill in their request forms and send them to you.
  3. Track time off on your schedule: When you approve staff requests, Homebase will automatically block the time off on your schedule so you can’t forget about it.

By creating a fair and transparent time off system, you’ll make sure employees almost always get the vacation days they want. That goes a long way toward boosting morale and building strong relationships with your team.

Step #3: Create a schedule template

By this stage, you should have all the information you need to write your employee schedule. It’s just a matter of taking the shifts you created in step one and organizing them around the team availability you collected in step two.

You can automate that process by using Homebase to auto-populate your schedule based on roles and availability. But if you prefer to organize your schedules down to the last detail, you can simply drag shifts from the top bar into the spaces on the timetable.

Caption: Once you decide what shifts you need filled, you can drag them from the top bar and drop them into empty spaces on your Homebase schedule.

Your labor needs and team availability may often remain unchanged for weeks. So if you’ve got a schedule that works for everyone, you can reuse it. Homebase lets you save your best schedules into a template library that you can easily access from the dropdown menu.

Caption: Create schedules for different times of the year. Then, rename and add them to Homebase’s unlimited template library for easy access.

As well as being a time saver, schedule templates help you stay consistent. You can see which hours and roles employees are used to working so you don’t disrupt their routines unnecessarily. For example, someone who’s happy working late shifts and flies through the closing checklist may react badly if you suddenly switch them to morning shifts without any explanation.

That’s not to mention the friendships your staff build with each other and regular customers during their normal shifts. If you keep moving team members around for no reason, you could unintentionally affect morale and customer satisfaction.

Step #4: Review and approve your schedule

Now that you have your schedule draft finished, avoid the temptation to share it with your team straight away and check it for any issues. Ask yourself:

  • Does each employee have at least two consecutive days off per week?
  • Do they have enough time to rest between late finishes and early opens?
  • Do any employees have too many undesirable shifts (for example, split shifts, nights, or busy periods?)
  • Do new hires have an experienced member of staff to supervise them?
  • Are there any scheduling conflicts you may have missed?

At first glance, you may not notice these kinds of problems, but it’s important to iron them out as soon as possible. If your staff work too many challenging or undesirable shifts, their morale will plummet, and they may get burnt out. Homebase helps you spot issues like scheduling conflicts and employees approaching overtime with built-in alerts.

Caption: Homebase alerts you about problems like scheduling conflicts immediately.

For extra accuracy, get your employees to review their hours too. They’ll be able to give their schedule more individual attention than you’ll ever be able to. So, when you publish your schedule to the Homebase mobile app, encourage staff to send you feedback. Then, make any necessary tweaks and re-publish it with just a couple of clicks.

Step #5: Share your schedule

Make sure employees can view the schedule as soon as you’ve published it. Then, they can plan their personal lives around their shifts well in advance and won’t get overwhelmed by last-minute arrangements. The last thing anyone wants is staff turning up stressed out because they’ve spent the whole day calling babysitters or trying to find someone who can give them a ride to work.

The free Homebase app publishes your finished schedule and instantly notifies all your employees that it’s ready. Then, you can use message confirmations to verify whether each team member has seen their latest shifts or not.

Caption: Send your finished schedule to the entire team using the free Homebase mobile app.

Step #6: Make any last-minute changes

No matter how hard you try, your employee schedule won’t ever be flawless. There will always be last-minute changes to make due to sickness, traffic jams, or emergencies.

In those circumstances, all you can do is reach out to your team and see who can pick up their shifts. That’s no easy task when you’re unsure who might be available to replace them and may be concerned about what’s happened to them. Homebase can help by letting you filter your staff based on who’s available and send them a message.

Caption: Homebase notifies you about no-shows and automatically creates a message request for cover to send to all available employees.

And if someone gives you a few days’ warning they won’t be able to work, you can also list the absent person’s hours as open shifts for team members to claim.

Sometimes unexpected problems that come up are less serious, like employees forgetting their friend’s birthday party or suddenly discovering their favorite band is coming to town. In those cases, staff members can try to arrange their own cover by requesting trades via the Homebase app.

Make scheduling easy with Homebase

While you recognize scheduling is important, you don’t want to dedicate hours of your life to it. That’s why it’s essential to find a way to make employee schedules that prioritizes time-saving techniques.

Homebase lets you speed through scheduling without risking your staff’s well-being, going over budget, or dealing with compliance issues. Businesses report saving hours every week with our scheduling, forecasting, and communication tools. That’s time you can spend expanding your business, checking in with your team, or simply relaxing.

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