Shift management: tips, tools, and best practices for your small business

You know that feeling of being in the right place at the right time? Well, that’s not serendipity: that’s shift management. 

Shift management is a phrase that packs a lot of punch. You’ve got planning, scheduling, coordinating, happy employees, and if you’re not managing things right, frustrated ones, too.

So, how’s a business owner supposed to do it all while keeping employees fully satisfied with their schedules? We’ve got the answers, and thankfully, they’re a lot easier than you think. 

What is shift management?

Shift management is the process of organizing and managing the schedules of shift workers.

It’s called a process for a reason. It’s not just about filling up a spreadsheet and the hours in it. It includes planning what those hours are, predicting how busy or slow they might be, coordinating who is available and best suited for those shifts, and tracking past shifts. This includes monitoring attendance records, managing time off, and checking in on employee morale and performance. 

As you might have already guessed, shift management has an HR component to it. A portion of the process includes dealing with compliance, including labor laws and regulations for your areas, and communicating with the team to ensure their shifts are suitable for their schedule and preferences, along with those of your business.

It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. And thankfully, there’s a lot of help available to do it effectively—and even automatically. 

What are the benefits of effective shift management? 

There are a lot of benefits of effective shift management, and they don’t all just impact your team. Here are four that will have you wondering, “why didn’t I think of this sooner?”. 

1. Shift management reduces labor costs

Before we jump into how to reduce costs, let’s look at what the price of labor actually entails. The cost of labor includes the sum of all wages paid, plus how much it costs to provide employee benefits and how much needs to be paid in state and federal payroll taxes.

So, how does effective shift management reduce these costs? Simply put: it can reduce overstaffing and understaffing.

Picture this: you expect Monday morning’s to be the busiest time at your coffee shop. Because really, who doesn’t need a coffee on Monday morning? You double up with four of your top baristas, one of which is Sam.

Sam typically closes up shop, and has already clocked in full-time hours for the week. But you might not know this. 

Without effective shift management, you might miss the fact that Sam now requires overtime pay, and although they haven’t mentioned it to you, is feeling a bit burnt out. Especially because, now, at 6 in the morning, Sam is cleaning empty tables instead of sleeping because—surprise—Monday’s aren’t actually that busy.

Now let’s flip this scenario. As an effective shift manager, you’ve already assessed that Monday’s are actually slower than you imagined. As it turns out, people aren’t rushing to the coffee shop. Instead, they’re rushing their kids out the door and trying to find that missing shoe that their dog has probably destroyed. 

So instead of an empty coffee shop on a quiet Monday morning, now you decide to open later in the day. And on Tuesday, when customers flock to the coffee shop for their afternoon break and relay yet another manic Monday morning to Sam, they just laugh along as they make that  flat white they’re famous for.

In this scenario, Sam isn’t burnt out. They’re working their usual shift, which lets them sleep in and wake up energized and ready for their day—which, thankfully, does not include a missing shoe or an extra morning shift, and leaves you without figuring out any required overtime pay.

2. Shift management creates a more transparent workplace

The story above is a prime example of how transparency and effective shift management can go hand-in-hand.

Effective shift management enables you to do more than just organize and coordinate shifts efficiently. It also helps you communicate schedules to your team. And that communication goes both ways.

Workers need to have a way to notify managers about conflicts. Managers need to know about employee preferences. For example, in Sam’s story, that was Monday mornings, when they were tired and overworked.

Thankfully, effective shift management can help communicate arising conflicts with ease. For Homebase customer Eve Hogan, who owns The Sacred Garden in Makawao, HI, having tools like Homebase’s scheduling app to manage and communicate shifts with her team has been a “gamechanger”.

“It made setting up the schedule super easy,” explains Eve. “My staff and I all really like being able to see the schedule from our phones, know who is working, getting reminders and having a simple way to manage schedule changes. It is super easy, user friendly and helps me run the business on the run!”

3. Shift management results in better employee performance

Better employee performance can occur when the right number of team members are working when they should be. In this case, “should be” includes the needs of the business but also that of the employee. For example, if you continuously schedule an introverted coworker in a customer service role just because you might need a few extra feet on the floor, you might be setting yourself up for failure.

This is where a bit of HR comes into effective shift management. Being able to assess performance before putting someone into a situation that might not work for them, your customers, or your business is important to keep things running smoothly, and everyone happy, of course.

With effective shift management, you can put the right people in the right spots, like the early birds on the morning shift and the extraverts in customer-facing roles. You’re also able to make sure no one is over or underworked, which can impact performance. 

4. Shift management gives employees a morale boost

Effective shift management is just one of the ways to boost employee morale: one that doesn’t involve extra perks, like free coffee or donuts in the breakroom.

By communicating a clear and consistent schedule to your team, you’re showing your team that you understand their needs and value their time and role in the business.

Not only that, but effective shift management can give your team more insight into how and why you’re building out the schedule. Paired with autonomy, this level of transparency gives your team the chance to trade shifts, request extra shifts, or ask for time off, and give notice of any conflicts.

This supports team morale by reducing scheduling stress from all parties, and improving work-life balance. 

Shift management best practices

There are many best practices of shift management. Let’s review four that are all easy, affordable, and effective. 

1. Use scheduling software

Implementing scheduling software is one of the simplest ways to start managing shifts more effectively. It automates the entire process, and stores your schedules on the internet instead of on your desk or the bulletin board. With cloud-based software, schedules are accessible by workers in an app from any device and in real time. 

Managers can build and update the schedule from anywhere, no matter how many users per month they have. Connected time-clock features make it easy to have a full picture of the labor costs, letting you view employee performance to make better decisions about scheduling. 

Scheduling software can also send your team calendar reminders about their work schedule and email reminders when their shift is coming up. Similarly, scheduling apps can also show you which employees show up late most often so you can staff appropriately.

2. Give your team autonomy

Being able to give employees access to their schedules, including on-the-go updates and edits, isn’t only super convenient for your team, it builds trust with them, too. Trust in your abilities to make sure their scheduling needs are covered, and trust in themselves. This is especially true when you give your team the opportunity to take accountability for when they’re working, and even when they’re not.

Scheduling software can help with this level of autonomy. For example, a team communication app like Homebase’s integrates with scheduling apps, so employees can check their schedules and contact each other in the same place. That means if a team member needs to swap a shift because of a conflict with their personal schedule, or if  they’re just feeling a bit too burnt out, they can coordinate shift changes right in the app.

3. Plan for the unexpected

As a business owner, you probably understand the phrase “plan for the unexpected” better than most. This phrase also applies to shift management. You can do that by building flexibility into your scheduling and keeping certain team members on-call, or by having the ability to reach out to them in one place, like a communication app.

Knowing your team’s schedule and their own level of flexibility is also a great way to plan for the unexpected, which can involve planning ahead.

By setting rules for black-out dates and creating time off policies, you can proactively plan for what’s to come, whether you know about it yet or not.

4. Make communication easy

Good communication means more transparency and clarity between your team members. When employees know what’s happening in their workplace and understand why you make certain decisions, they’ll have more confidence in you as an employer.

One way to build communication skills for schedule management is by leaving shift notes. This is the practice of communicating with employees by leaving notes within their schedules. And we’re not talking about sticky notes. These notes, left in a scheduling app, are useful for team members who need to know about something specific about their shifts, like if there’s an incoming delivery or a new team member starting.

You can also set up alerts and reminders to build communication. For example, if employees forget to clock in and out of their shifts, you can set up a reminders feature to send an automatic nudge.

4 tips to improve shift management

Improving shift management doesn’t have to be a job on its own. Here are four simple tips to help you manage shifts smoothly. 

1. Talk to your team

And encourage them to do the same! Communicating with managers and other coworkers is just one way to improve shift management.

When you communicate, you’re sharing information to make sure that everyone is on the same page: not just with shifts, but with the policies related to them, too.

For example, buddy punching is a common form of time theft that’s directly related to shift work. Without communicating your policy on clocking in and out for a friend, you might be missing a huge opportunity to get everyone on the same page, not to mention save some dollars.

Communicating also means connecting with employees on shift preferences. This can help staff the right people for the right jobs at the times that are best suited for them.

2. Share, share, share

Sharing is caring, especially when it comes to shift management. Always be transparent in your schedule changes and updates, and try to do so as they happen. Yep: that means if you decide to close up early because of a slow day, connect with every employee to give them the heads up. 

Sharing could also be as simple as leaving a note. For instance, if you’re a business with a delivery team, you might use the shift notes feature on Homebase to provide the addresses of your customers, plus reminders of their furry friends and their less-than friendly demeanor.

A part of sharing means letting employees know about what’s happening, the decisions you’re making, and how they can help. An example could be sharing your reasoning for discontinuing chocolate croissants—the quality just isn’t the same with your new distributor!—and how to communicate said disappointment to customers.

Sharing can also help your team identify issues that need to be brought up before a shift. For instance, your team might give you the heads up that there’s not enough employees during shift changes, leaving a gap in customer service. With this information, you can manage shifts more effectively and staff up where needed. 

3. Encourage accountability

When you encourage accountability, you’re letting employees know that you trust them to get the job done, and done on time. When team members feel valued, they feel more accountable for their actions and the work they’re completing. That includes showing up on time, taking the right amount of breaks, and increasing their productivity, not to mention morale.

So, how can you encourage accountability when it comes to shift management? Try starting with something as simple as an attendance tracker. This helps you identify your team’s attendance patterns and spot any potential issues.

Keeping track of attendance also helps hold employees accountable for their attendance and punctuality. It encourages them to make an effort to be on time and present.

Accountability can also be promoted as recognition. Here’s what we mean: you’ve got an employee who continuously shows up on time, and is always there for their teammates. Give them a shout out, promoting their accountability, so others can see what actions are rewarded at work.

4. Use a shift scheduling app

We don’t have to tell you how busy you are as a business owner. You’ve got schedules to manage, customers to please, employees to train and retain, and so much more. So, when it comes to shift management, opt for convenience. And speed. And a seamless process.

With Homebase scheduling, you can use a scheduling template or even let Homebase’s work schedule maker do the work for you.

Looking for consistency in your shifts? Just copy schedules over to the next pay period. You can also practice predictive scheduling by setting them up weeks in advance and share your schedule to employees instantly.

Are your employees expecting more communication and more notice for their shifts? A scheduling app lets you send schedules each week instantly, all in one place. No email, no bulletin board—just in the app. This reduces the likelihood of no-shows, and even lets workers coordinate covers in the same place, too. Not only that, but you can send out updates as needed, and your employees can do the same. Win win. 

Shift management FAQs 

What is shift management?

Shift management is the process of organizing and managing the schedules of shift workers. It includes planning what hours, days, and weeks, predicting how busy or slow they might be. Plus, it’s important to coordinate who’s available and best suited for those shifts, and track past shifts. This includes monitoring attendance records, managing time off, and checking in on employee morale and performance. 

Why is shift management important when scheduling hourly workers?

Shift management is important when scheduling hourly workers because it helps your business staff up–or down—properly during specific times. It also makes sure that workers know the when’s, where’s and who’s of their shifts, and the expectations around them.

Shift management keeps everyone informed, and can increase productivity and morale. It also can reduce labor costs that can occur from over staffing. Better still, it ensures that your team is paid the right amount for the time they’ve worked, and has adequate time off between shifts.

How can shift management software improve scheduling?

Shift management software can improve scheduling by making it quick and seamless, and if you need it to be, consistent. It helps monitor employee hours, but can integrate with your other must-have people management tools like timesheets, payroll, and team happiness.

Is your business struggling with shift management? Homebase makes it easier to schedule shifts for your team to prevent accidental overtime, make employees feel valued, and minimize shift swapping (while still making it easy). Get started for free.

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