With technology permeating every part of modern life, it’s only fitting that employee scheduling should get an overhaul. After all, there were 77.2 million hourly workers in the United States as of 2014. They made up a massive 58.7% of all salaried and hourly workers. The process to get these millions of workers scheduled has been arduous historically. But lately developments in employee scheduling have made it easier to make and distribute schedule. These are the first steps to making sure that their businesses are always well staffed.

Employers are slowly but surely moving away from putting up a printed spreadsheet or hand written calendar with employee names and hours scribbled up on the bulletin board. But what are they migrating towards and how does this alternative compare?

Modern employee scheduling takes into account the mobile-first direction that the US is heading towards. With 68% of adult Americans owning smartphones toward the end of 2015, it simply makes sense to meet employees on the mobile platforms where they’re already engaged. Similarly, when managers have the ability to make schedules and changes on the fly from their mobile devices, that ease of use certainly improves their daily workflow.

In this guide we’re going to go over the five main aspects that make up the modern employee scheduling experience for businesses of all sizes and all types, from local counter-service restaurants to big chain stores to hospitals and nonprofits. No matter what kind of business, new ways to schedule your employees are here, and they can save you a tremendous amount of time. 

Collecting Availability for Employee Scheduling

The first step in scheduling employees, whether you’re using an old school Excel sheet or the latest scheduling software, is to understand when your employees are available. Some employees may work the same days every week, but others may be more flexible. Knowing exactly who is free to work will help you plan accordingly.

There are two ways to do this. First for employees with a set schedule, managers can note their availability so that they know which employees they can count on each day. On the other hand, an employee without a set schedule can give their preferred days, hours, and also indicate when they would like a day off.

The next step is approving or denying those time off requests. This gets messy when done with pen and paper. “Did I say ‘yes’ verbally to Juan’s day off request when I was busy with customers?” or “Did Natalie ask for a special schedule with enough notice, since our policy requires employees to ask two weeks in advance, unless it’s an emergency?”

Nightmares of an 8×11 sheet of paper with numerous post-it notes with day off requests and needs for customized hours come to mind, not to mention the potential for mistakes. The process isn’t much better when employees email or text in these requests.

The bottom line here is that managers need to know when they can count on certain employees with minimal back-and-forth. They also need all the information in one place to ensure they complete their employee scheduling quickly and accurately—without having to check numerous text threads, emails, or fumbling through post-its.  

Labor Forecasting

Now that you know who is available, the next step is to figure out how many employees you’ll need. If you have a smaller business, you might have a good understanding of your scheduling needs because they’re fairly consistent. But the bigger your staff, the more complicated it might be.

That’s why data is your friend when it comes to modern employee scheduling. Knowing how many employees you had on staff that particular day in past years gives you insight into what might work this time around. But maybe (hopefully!) your business has grown since last year. If your average number of employees working each day has gone up, that should also be a factor in how you determine how many employees you’ll need on site.

You could look up that data in your payroll system and research how many sales you made that day in previous years, but that would take up a good chunk of time you might not have. There are numerous systems at play here that could supply that data, but instead of going through multiple tools to get a better idea of what staff you’ll need, robust scheduling software can accurately give you insight into the number of employees you’ll need on a given day. This helps you make informed staffing decisions, not to mention improving labor costs and service.

However you choose to complete your forecasting, the benefit of doing it correctly can’t be overstated. By having the right staff on hand when you need them, your business runs smoother, you reduce the need for overtime, and you don’t have to be frantic when you’re up to your ears in an unexpected rush. On the flipside, you also don’t want to end up overstaffed when business is uncharacteristically slow. Either way, making data a part of labor forecasting helps you save money and streamline the employee scheduling process.

Once you get all the data you need from employees and through business trends, it’s time to get to work.

Creating Your Schedule

There’s so much that happens before and after you make your schedule, but let’s not forget about the main goal: creating a schedule that meets both business and employee needs. No matter the form that your schedule comes in, it needs to be digestible. That means formatting it in a way that makes sense to everyone who will need to interact with it.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating your schedule:

  • Stay organized: Consider color coding or using icons to differentiate between job functions or shifts to keep things organized on the manager and employee sides.  
  • Stay consistent: If you have the good fortune of having a consistent schedule week after week, consider making a template. Especially when using employee scheduling software, this will help you save time when you can simply access it and copy it to the next week with just one click.

Overall, you want to create something that is easy to understand. If there is any chance employees could get confused by it, then there’s a chance you could end up improperly staffed. If you’re ever trying out a new layout, show at least a few employees first to make sure it will still meet their needs.

Once your schedule is finalized, the distribution fun begins.

Schedule Communication

So you’ve completed your employee schedule—congrats! Now it’s time to push it out to your employees so that they’re aware of when they need to be at work. This is a notoriously tricky part of employee scheduling. As our world becomes more and more mobile friendly, employees are increasingly requiring mobile access to their schedules.

Let’s go over some potential ways to distribute your schedule:

  • Email: This may work well for businesses with tech-savvy employees. With digital natives already present and entering the workforce en masse, the vast majority of your employees likely have an email account and can get their schedule that way. But how will you send it out? Is it a mass email that goes out to all employees or do you want to send personalized emails so that employees aren’t inundated with replies that don’t relate to them? You can even automate emails to go out when you’ve finalized your schedule, if you’re using scheduling software. There are many options, but always strive to keep employee communication simple.
  • Text Messages: Some managers at small businesses choose to distribute their schedules via text. Whether in a group or sent out individually, text messages can be an easy way to get your team on the same page. Texts are consumed quickly, making them an effective communication channel. Adobe states that, “Email open rates are great at 20-30 percent. But according to a Dynmark report, SMS blows that away at 98 percent open rate! In fact, 90 percent are read within 3 seconds.” This is a pretty compelling reason to incorporate texts into your employee scheduling distribution plan. These texts can be manual or automatic, depending on the scheduling solution you use.
  • App: There’s an app for just about everything these days, but they are also great places to centralize information. Going through the 25 RSVPs you got for your housewarming party via email is much more of a pain than just scrolling down the list of people who said they would attend on a Facebook event page. An app is perfect for businesses that want to save time and stay organized.

The great thing about apps is that they come with push notifications, so employees can

get notified immediately when their new schedule is live. This eliminates the possibility of the schedule you sent out via email getting sent to employee spam folders on accident. Push notifications can also alert employees when their shifts are coming up to reduce the risk of absenteeism—saving businesses time, money, and headaches.  

When considering an app for scheduling, an important question to ask yourself is how many of your employees have smartphones. It’s got to be 100% or very close to it, otherwise you’ll be back to printing out schedules before you know it. Just like the example above when you were thinking of changing up the look of your schedule, changing how you distribute it requires buy-in from employees as well. If it isn’t easy for them, then they’re not going to use it. So no matter what method you use to share employee schedules, make sure your staff is on board to minimize friction.

Employees just need to know when they’re working, so find what works for the majority of your staff and stick with that.

Shift Swapping

Now that your schedule is complete and sent out to employees, the inevitable next step is shift swaps. You might think that your work here is done once it’s in employee hands, but something often comes up and a quick switch with a coworker can fix it.

But not all schedules are flexible. Maybe one employee will go over their hours if you approve a shift switch. Or maybe an employee has requested to change with the wrong “Sarah” and the schedule will be off if you approve it accidentally. Mistakes are easy to make because we’re all human. But if you have systems in place to alert you when a shift swap won’t work, then you will be much less likely to make an uninformed switch. If you choose to schedule with an app, employees can independently find another employee to switch with and all it will require from the manager is final approval.

After the shift swap goes through, intelligent scheduling apps send updates to the impacted employees automatically. That way everyone stays in the loop with minimal effort required on the employee and manager side.

What’s Next in Employee Scheduling

Businesses big and small are starting to see the benefits of using employee scheduling software. There simply isn’t room for mistakes and the automated functions ingrained in it keep them at bay. From tracking employee availability to sending out alerts for upcoming shifts, it is certainly making waves across industries. It’s hard to deny the benefits when managers save several hours each time they need to create a new schedule. Not to mention that it makes payroll easier too, with automatic error reporting and a timesheet sync so you can be sure people on your team are paid accurately for the hours they work. 

The new way of doing employee scheduling has the potential to impact businesses in a number of ways. First, managers can focus on other important tasks, like growing the businesses they work for. Second, employees are more aware of when they’re working and how to address the issue of being scheduled for a shift that they are unable to work. Lastly, businesses are better staffed, so they can be more helpful with customers. With benefits across the board, modern employee scheduling is sure to shake up the way businesses run now and in the years to come.

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