Scheduling Is All About Strategy

Today’s shift-based workplace is fast moving, intricate, diverse, and teeming with a specialized workforce.

Within a shift-based work environment, it’s mission critical to invest time and energy in employee scheduling because it ensures your business’ resources are spent when and where it’s right. Beyond this, developing an efficient employee scheduling system impacts so much more of your business, like:

  • Employee productivity
  • Labor costs
  • Legal compliance
  • Employee & customer satisfaction

Employee scheduling is our latchkey to each and every employee’s satisfaction – all of which impacts your overall customer satisfaction. The investment spent in properly planning, publishing, and communicating your employee schedule is far-reaching. In fact, it even contributes to no-shows, employee turnover, happiness, and satisfaction.

The average cost of replacing an employee earning $8 per hour is roughly $3,500.

If you don’t agree that employee scheduling is important yet, you will after reading the following guide.

After reading, you will have a greater understanding of why employee scheduling is important, and better yet, how to do it. The guide will serve as your “Scheduling Shaman”, revealing tips on how to strategically create a better schedule – one that impacts all levels and facets of your business. It will break down the process into a few key elements, all of which are applicable to any modern-day, shift-based workplace.

Without further adieu, read on and find ways to best incorporate these tips into your employee scheduling workflow.

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Step 1: Construct Your Schedule

Before we dig into the nitty-gritty details of how to make a high-functioning and efficient schedule, take a second to better understand what a master employee schedule does:

It defines who, what, and where resources are needed at a high level.

Proper scheduling requires gaining a birds-eye view of your staff resources over a long period of time to better determine supply and demand, especially during the peaks and valleys your business may endure.

When a master schedule is done right, it will reduce:

  • Labor costs by matching supply and demand.
  • The need for shift changes in the future.

Once you have a longitudinal view of your business, you can then start to plan schedules week-by-week, bi-weekly, or monthly. And luckily, because scheduling is a duplicative process, once you have a master schedule set up, you can edit and modify it as you go along, without having to reinvent the wheel.

To start creating a master employee schedule, follow these three steps:

1 — Identify Necessary Resources

Everything starts with your master schedule, so it’s a step you don’t want to skip. Check off all the following boxes to make sure you’re on your way to mastery:

  • Review past schedules to anticipate needs.
  • Determine resources needed for each role by shift length and location.
  • Organize your list via spreadsheet or an online scheduling tool like ShiftNote.
  • Look for patterns or mistakes. For example, you may continuously under or overschedule for a specific role, so take note of it!
  • Plan for the future – consider holidays, peaks, and valleys of your business.
  • Identify specific requirements for each shift. For example, you may need a manager and three employees minimum during each shift, or someone with a special certification or professional designation during each shift.

2 — Anticipate Necessary Resources

This step is all about identifying your “people” resources and making sure they support your business’ needs.

It’s critical to answer the following question:

It defines who, what, and where resources are needed at a high level.

Additional considerations here include the following:

  • Are there upcoming events that may impact employee availability?
  • If you anticipate an uptick in resources needed, then take the assessment a step further by looking into the location, title, and availability of each resource.
  • Factor in additional personnel that would be “on the clock”, even if they are outsourced. For example, you may contract with a particular person or agency to provide additional support. This should be added to and accounted for in the schedule.

3 — Identify Existing Regulations, Processes, and Policies


Some things that are outside of your control – like industry or government regulations – will impact your schedule. Make sure you adhere to your industry’s specific government regulations as you plan your master schedule. For example, if you are in the food or hospitality industry, you’ll want to make sure you adhere to FDA regulations.

Internal Policies and Processes

Pre-existing policies and processes of your business will impact your master schedule as well. If your business has operated in a certain fashion for years, consider the context and plan accordingly.

Location, seniority, overtime rules, and professional certifications are other factors that can impact your master shift schedule when assigning shifts. Rules can vary greatly and can be unique to your organization, so clearly defining them is important to ensure all managers understand the guidelines before assigning shifts.

Take the time to ensure all employees meet legal or industry standards. An expired credentials presents a legal risk – and worst case could shut down your business.

Learn how ShiftNote’s employee scheduler helps you to customize the best schedule possible for your business.

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Step 2: Assign Shifts

Now that your employee schedule is mapped out, it’s time to fill the shifts.

If your master schedule was built correctly, then places and times should already be determined, and you can focus on selecting the right people.

Pro Strategies for Assigning Shifts

Assigning employee shifts can be time-consuming depending on the size, scheduling complexity, and level of automation within your business. To maximize your results, consider these key questions:

  • 1 — Who Does the Scheduling?
    Who in your organization typically assigns staff to the schedule? Your manager, owner, or actual staff members?
  • 2 — How Do Employees Request Shifts?
    Another consideration is if you choose to let employees choose shifts or requests off. This is called bottom up scheduling. If you will use this method, factor this into your process. Considering employee preferences will save you time and energy down the line.
  • 3 — What’s My Mix?
    It’s always good to pair veterans with new employees during a shift. Always have one go-to person during a shift who can help mentor the newer or underperforming staff members. Look to employee performance reports or notes as a guide.
  • 4 — How Much Will The Shift Cost?
    Believe it or not, cost forecasting and staff scheduling go hand in hand. Quantify how much each shift will cost by shift block, day, week, and month against forecasted income. This will help you track towards a healthy balance sheet of debt to income.

Double, Then Triple Check Your Schedule

After you have drafted your first schedule, spend time to review it. Make sure the above questions are considered, and remember the impact poor scheduling has on a business! Poor scheduling is a money and time suck, that’s for sure.

It’s easy to overlook things, so get a second set of eyes to review your first few schedules to identify opportunities and mistakes.

Publish and Promote Your Schedule

Ready to use your first cloud-based schedule? Publish it to your greater team. Inform them that you have made changes to the scheduling system, train them on how the new scheduler is used, how to access it, and how to make requests.

This step is way easier with a cloud-based employee scheduling system because every staff will have access with a smartphone or computer. You can even notify employees of changes by sending an automated email straight to their inbox.

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Step 3: Make Ch-, Ch-, Changes!

Even if you’ve crafted the perfect schedule, it will need to be edited or modified.

Scheduling is NOT a “Set It And Forget It” Thing…

Effectively managing change within your business is all about addressing struggles and opportunities associated with a new development … and keeping the lines of communication open along the way. Scheduling is an iterative and open process, so be open to making changes to a schedule at any time. From the time it’s published through the last day it’s active, you may need to adjust the schedule.

Just make sure to communicate changes with all employees and stakeholders!

Here are a few reasons a schedule may change:

  • 1 — Demand (And Lack Thereof…)
    Your labor needs may go up or down, depending on the season or shift. Having a standby pool is a good remediation, meaning have a few back-up people scheduled on-call to work the shift on a short notice.
  • 2 — No-Shows
    Most businesses have that one employee who is not dependable, but has other qualities that make up for it (which is why they are still hired). And, sickness always happens, especially during the winter.
  • 3 — Changing Availability
    This is often a prevalent driver of schedule changes. Many organizations put the onus on employees to identify a suitable replacement once the schedule is posted. This can have mixed results.

Most online scheduling tools offer the ability to shift swap, so employees can have a more fluid structure when it comes to changing their availability.

Have you loved this resource so far? Download our eBook now for more insight on employee scheduling.

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Step 4: Instead of Lather, Rinse, and Repeat… Measure, Learn & Adjust!

Most organizations schedule about two weeks out. After then end of a scheduling cycle, there are multiple transitions, like paying employees via payroll, producing reports, and more.

During each one of the shift transitions, also take the time to revisit your schedule to see if you need to make sure it supports and caters to employee and stakeholder feedback and your overall business goals.

This includes keeping the lines of communication open to other areas of your business, like human resources and finance…

With this being said, make sure to review the following elements:

1 – Compare Forecasts to Actual Demand

Like most things with your business, you need to look at analytics and reporting to decide when to schedule your employees.

Many managers will default to using the same schedule as the previous rotation, but you should always be evaluating. Use sales forecasting to look at the trends from both a micro and macro level. It will help you predict what traffic and sales are going to be like so you can adjust how many employees are scheduled.

If you are not sure how much traffic you are going to expect for certain shifts, you can always use the on-call method. This can be tricky as many employees do not appreciate being on-call with no guarantee they will be coming in to earn a paycheck. The best strategy for a successful on-call shift is to hire an employee dedicated just to be on-call. This will help you save on labor costs and avoid disgruntled employees.

ShiftNote screenshot of employee scheduler

When you have your forecasting analysis down, it is time to combine that knowledge with the skill sets of your employees. Employees want to be successful and one of the best ways to give them success is to schedule smarter based on skill level. For example, if an employee in a restaurant is a weak host but a strong server, do not schedule them to work a busy Saturday dinner as a host. That employee would not only see greater success and profit working as a server on a busy night, but they will also help grab high-sales opportunities on a busy night to improve your restaurant profit.

2 – Review The “People”

People make a schedule happen. In fact, they are your most important asset! They drive your business and are the difference makers in a competitive market. One of the most important managerial duties is to continuously take a pulse on how you allocate your employees to a schedule.

There are so many things to take into account, however, as you measure, adjust, and review your schedule considering this element:

  • Your employee’s availability
  • Mission-critical roles within your business and make sure you are filling them with the “best and brightest” from your team.
  • Specific time periods and demand – if you notice trends or a change of time-off requests, for example, adjust the schedule as necessary.
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3 – Re-Test Your Process

Want to improve? Test your scheduling ideas. Within a shift-based business, your schedule has a big impact on not only the bottom line, but also how your employees feel about YOUR BUSINESS. Productivity, morale, and retention are directly tied to scheduling, believe it or not!

Why Go Paperless?

The most efficient option to scheduling is by going paperless and streamlining all scheduling-related communications into a single platform. Employees whose shifts are changing would receive an automatic notification to make it easy to communicate changes to those who need to know. Employees could submit availability virtually and managers could update seamlessly without spending hours fitting the pieces of the scheduling puzzle together.

Software can reduce communications that make scheduling messy. Organizational leaders can relinquish manual scheduling work associated with creating schedules so there’s more time to grow sales and profits.

Sounds great, right? You should check out how ShiftNote’s employee scheduling software can help improve your shift-to-shift communication all around and reduce the amount of time spent on creating schedules.

Learn about how ShiftNote can support your organization’s scheduling changes.

Ready for the Ultimate Employee Scheduling Solution?

Are you stuck in the dark ages of scheduling, using paper calendars built from Microsoft Office programs, Post-Its, or a long string of emails?

If this sounds like you… Listen up. Your life is about to get easier.

Enter using an employee scheduling software. Online, cloud-based scheduling tools support any shift-based organizations demands are a great solution.

Online employee scheduling software reduces the time it takes managers to create, communicate, and manage employee schedules. Online shift schedulers makes your life easier in a number of ways. Consider finding an online shift scheduler with the following components:

  • Templates: Using templates to write schedules saves a ton of time… 50%, in fact.
  • Access: You – and employees – should be able to access and manage schedules via phone, computer, or tablet.
  • Forecasting Capabilities: Predict resource needs based on real data. Look for a solution that allows you to accurately predict resources vs. sales, so you’re hitting maximum profits.
  • Supports Additional Documents and Information: Find an employee software solution where you can take notes on employees, upload supporting documents like performance reviews or even “write ups”. Make sure you find a tool that allows you to set permissions and access, too. For example, a manager or admin should be able to see all information, where an employee should be able to access their own information, but not other employees’ information.
  • Communication Tools: When you think about shift schedulers, you may not associate them as a communication tool as well. Believe it or not, software exists that enables 24/7 real-time communication via email or text messaging, so your team is constantly looped in.
  • Reporting: Get the data you have never had before to create efficient shift scheduling online and streamline your profits. Reporting includes a daily roster, labor forecast, and schedule summary.

Managers can save 80% of their scheduling time (or six hours a week scheduling) when utilizing modern scheduling technology.

Thanks for tuning into this guide. We hope you found some helpful insights and best practices to apply to your own scheduling efforts.

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