BlogThe Beginner’s Guide To Building A Schedule

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Published: August 3, 2021

The Beginner's Guide To Building A Schedule

New to scheduling or aiming to improve your rota game? Creating the perfect schedule can be tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing, but with a bit of practice and the right pointers you’ll be a pro in no time. Honest.

Before you start:

Okay, first things first: Preparation. Yes, it can be boring and time-consuming when you just want to get the job done, but trust us, you’ll be glad of it later. And if that sounds a bit much like hard work, just think of it as an excuse to procrastinate doing the actual schedule. Winner.

The key bit here is getting to know how your business works. What different job roles are there? When are you busiest? Quietest? Have you set a staffing budget? The answers to those questions are going to form the basis of your schedule, telling you how many staff members you need, when they need to be working, and what they’ll need to be doing.

Once you know that, it’s worth speaking to the employees themselves, too. Finding out when different team members prefer to work can help you to create a more efficient rota, scheduling early birds for the morning shift and night owls to close up. Your team will be happier, meaning that they’ll be less likely to skip shifts or spam you with swap requests and more likely to work hard and provide a good service when you need them. The same goes for getting your team to log their upcoming availability; this allows you to schedule a team member who wants to be there, rather than one whose mind is on the family event they’re missing, or the coursework they’re supposed to be working on. Sure, you won’t always be able to work around your team; they are employed to do a job, after all. But giving everyone the shifts they want when it doesn’t make a difference to you will make your life easier in the long run, as well as building a positive working environment. Hard to argue with that.

The other thing to bear in mind when scheduling is that you don’t want to leave it too late. Yes, you might be a superhuman who’s able to draw up a rota in five minutes flat without making a single mistake, but sending it out the day before you’re expecting people to work is just asking for trouble. Half the time either they’ll already have plans and will bombard you with requests to change their shift, or they won’t get your message. And even if everyone turns up as expected you’ll still have a workforce who are stressed because they never know when they’re working, or whether they’ll have enough free time or not enough hours. Instead, we recommend saving yourself the hassle and posting shifts at least a week in advance so that you always have time to make any necessary changes and your team can balance their work and free time more effectively.

Building the schedule:

Once you’ve finished your prep, it’s time to actually create your schedule. Using the information you’ve gathered you’ll be able to plan how many team members you need for your busiest periods and scale back the numbers when you’re quieter, which should help you to keep within budget. There’s a range of ways to actually craft all this information into a coherent schedule, including scheduling software, spreadsheet templates, and even writing it out with pen and paper. Be warned though; physical rotas are great if you can be sure that they’ll never need to be changed, but they can quickly become a bit of a nightmare if you start moving shifts around and making adjustments.

Once you’ve chosen your schedule format you’ll need to be careful not to schedule anyone for roles that they aren’t trained for; instead, keep track of who does what job and what their different skill sets are to avoid catastrophes like scheduling ten waiters and no chefs for the lunch shift. That’s just no fun for anyone.

Copying the schedule from week to week can be a great tactic too, especially if your business tends to follow standard patterns. Beware of getting too complacent though; just because each week is usually the same as the previous one doesn’t mean they all will be. Keep an eye out for any upcoming events that might have an impact on how busy you are, as well as making sure that you’re rotating your staff so that you don’t end up with people overworking.

Speaking of overworking, you’ll also want to keep an eye on overtime. Occasional overtime is, unfortunately, a fact of life, but it can get very expensive very quickly so it’s worth making sure that you don’t schedule any team members for more hours than they’re contracted to work in a week. To help with that, it can be helpful to make sure that when you create shifts they’re long enough to cover the handover between different employees. You don’t want awkward gaps between shifts just because an employee is running late, or team members working overtime to cover for a colleague who hasn’t shown up.

Once it’s created:

You’ve crafted your schedule, checked and double-checked, and saved it. So you’re done, right? Well, not quite.

While it would be lovely if finishing building your schedule were the last step, in reality you’re going to need to make sure that it makes it to your team as well. You know, so they actually turn up to work. There are lots of ways to go about this, including displaying a printed copy at your workplace or messaging individual employees with their shift details, but to make your life easier we recommend giving your team a way of viewing the schedule and any changes to it easily online so that you don’t have to keep updating everyone if it changes, or worrying that people might still be referring to an old version.

Cloud-based systems for spreadsheets can be an option here, especially if you have a small team, but this is one area where we really would recommend using scheduling software (sorry). A good scheduling solution will notify employees when they’re assigned a shift, allow them to log in to check when they’re scheduled using any internet-enabled device, and warn them about any changes to the schedule that affect them. This lets you create and publish the schedule as needed without worrying whether your team have seen their shifts or having to spam everyone every time you make a change.

No matter how careful you were at the preparation stage, once you’ve published you’re bound to still have employees who don’t want their assigned shift. Rather than trying to rearrange the entire schedule for their benefit, only to find that they preferred the original rota, we recommend delegating the job to them instead. Giving your team the freedom to arrange to swap their shift with a colleague lets them find an arrangement that they’re happy with as well as saving you time, and means that they’re far less likely to call in sick or just not show up. Getting your team to run any changes by you still lets you keep control too, which can be particularly important if not everyone is qualified for a shift, or if a change will put someone into overtime.

 

And there you have it; with your schedule prepped, built, published, and rearranged all that’s left is to do it all again next week, except faster and with more confidence. Happy scheduling!

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