Checklist for Being a Pro Schedule Builder

There are innumerable ways to make a schedule, online and off, and it is usually a laborious process.

First, you have to see if any of your staff have requested time off. Then, you have to see if any of them have any shift preferences. Finally, you sit down in front of a spreadsheet that lays out your open hours with how many shifts you have in each and begin to try to solve the puzzle.

The day the schedule has to be built (and it does take the day) is nobody’s favorite.

Regardless, the schedule has to be made and your team has to know about it. Here is a checklist of things to make sure you have in place in order to have an easy schedule for your employees to work off of:

1. Rules for how you want employees to switch shifts when the schedule’s posted

Without fail, Employee Eric will want to switch one of his shifts with Worker Wanda even though he said he had no preferences and didn’t need any specific time off. It’s unavoidable, so you might as well put a plan in place for it.

If employees switch shifts, do you require that they tell you about it ahead of time? Or are you fine so long as they mark it off on the employee schedule template that’s posted in the back office?

It doesn’t matter what your preference is so long as you have one that’s clearly laid out for your employees.

2. A define method for how employees request time off before the schedule gets made

For a new employee, every job they’ve had before coming to work at your business has had its own nuances. Seasoned employers know that they can’t assume new employees will just know the policies that they have in place.

On training day, as you’re showing the employee where the schedule is posted, make sure to spell out exactly how you want him/her to request time off. Do you require it be in writing over email? Or do you have them submit a slip to your office? Or do you prefer that they post it on the board and have someone else claim their shift?

Having this policy thought through & spelled out ahead of time will save you and your employee base from confusion and frustration.

3. Emergency plan for when employees have to request to change shifts at the last minute

They wake up sick (or with a hangover); their cat has emergency veterinary needs; they’ve won an all-expenses paid vacation to Europe. Whatever the reason, there is always an instance when an employee needs to get off of his/her shift last minute.

So what would you have them do? Maybe you have a group text setup that the employee needing immediate coverage can send an SOS out to. Or maybe you would have them call all the employees not on the schedule for their shift to see if any are available. Or, perhaps, you prefer that they call you and you take care of the rescheduling.

Be a great scheduler maker by having a standard in place for how you want employees to go about getting a replacement when they’re unable to come in.

4. Decide whether employees can have shift preferences

For simplicity’s sake, you may not let employees elect whether they want the morning, afternoon, or evening shift. For complexity's sake, however, you may fancy yourself a Mensa candidate and really enjoy the puzzle of figuring out who can work when with the added component of who wants to work when.

There are tons of reasons people may have a preference on what shifts they want to take. If you have employees with multiple jobs, for instance, maybe they have to work the evening shift so they can be at their other gig during the morning, or vice versa. It’s up to you, however, whether or not you want to add preferences to the mix as you’re laying out the schedule.

The bonus to allowing shift preferences is giving the employees a greater sense of control and input. The con, though, means you may be pulling your hair out trying to get it all covered and end up having to neglect employees’ requests anyway.

4.5. If employees can have shift preferences, come up with how they communicate that to you

Do you come up with a new schedule every week, every month, or every quarter? If you’re an employer that doesn’t just set a schedule and stick to it but, rather, switches it up every now and again, you’ll want to have a method in place for how employees communicate their preferences to you.

You’ll also have to specify just how picky the employee can be in requesting his/her preference. Can they say that they want to work doubles on Thursdays but never want to work Wednesdays? Or can they just simply state that they prefer working afternoons without a promise that they’ll get what they prefer?

Set the expectations for your employees up front. Ask the employees at their interview whether or not they have a preference around what shift they take and let them know how deeply (or shallowly) you take their preference into consideration.

5. Establish a timeline by which you make the schedule and communicate that to your employees

When it comes to creating a timeline, it’s best to work backwards.

If you like to have the schedule out on the 1st of each month, then what day are you sitting down to actually work on the schedule? If you are sitting down to work on the schedule 2 days before the 1st, then what day do your employees have to have their time off request and shift preferences to you?

Making a schedule is stressful work and not having a set timeline by which you get the schedule made can exacerbate that stress. Decide what timeline you want to operate by and make sure that your employees know what’s expected of them. By giving yourself a few days buffer in making the schedule you give yourself time to finagle with it if people’s preferences or time off requests leave shifts to be filled.

If you are ready to give employees control over building their own schedule, a collaborative web scheduler like TimeTap may be just the ticket. It’ll allow employees to enter in their working hours, breaks, and needed time off.

If you’re not ready, use this 5½ item checklist to figure out the aspects of building a schedule you have to consider to reduce stress and employee confusion. Have you solved these pieces of the puzzle in your own business? What frustrates or delights your employees about how the schedule is made? Let us know in the comments below!