Research shows that managers spend about 3.14 hours per week creating work schedules, which translates to about 20% of a manager’s time at work. This may seem like little time, but, the quality and efficiency of a work schedule is nevertheless a crucial prerequisite for a successful workweek.

So, if you are a manager, you’ll need to ensure your work schedules are efficient — and, you’ll probably wonder:

How can I best schedule employee hours?

What’s the perfect work schedule?

When should a work schedule be posted?

How do I schedule employees fairly?

Can I schedule employees outside their availability?

In this article, you’ll find answers to these questions and learn about other points you’ll need to consider when aiming to effectively schedule employee time.

A quick introduction to work schedules

Before we dive into the question of how to effectively schedule employee time, let’s look at the basics of work schedules: what they are, why they are beneficial for a business, and what types of work schedules you can implement.

What’s a work schedule?

A work schedule (also known as a rota or roster), is a list that details and organizes employee information such as:

  • Work hours
  • Shifts
  • Work locations
  • Responsibilities during the time period covered by the schedule
  • Other associated employee information

The process of creating a schedule is referred to as scheduling, and is usually carried out by a manager. Many types of businesses require schedules, including:

  • Retail stores
  • Manufacturing facilities
  • Restaurants and coffee shops
  • Call centers
  • Businesses with customer/user support teams
  • Businesses that employ freelancers
  • Businesses that employ seasonal workers

Why work scheduling is important

A comprehensive work schedule has its fair share of benefits for both large and small businesses:

  • It ensures efficient operation

When employees understand their work hours and their responsibilities, as well as the location of their work (in case they perform fieldwork), they are in the position to maximize their productivity.

Proper work schedules put managers in the position to consider employee expected work times, and then compare them with employee’s requests for PTO, to ensure there are no overlaps.

  • It eradicates the idea of favoritism

Work schedules make shifts transparent, so the team members are able to see everyone’s shifts/tasks and understand that no one is (hopefully) getting the best shifts/tasks every time.

  • It helps you better manage your time and meet deadlines

Proper time management is important for maintaining high productivity — and, work schedules help you organize your workload better, thus making you more productive. Moreover, when you have all tasks well-organized, you’ll be able to beat any deadline and always keep the workload under control.

  • It helps employees strike a work/life balance

When employees are aware of when they are scheduled to work, they’re able to plan and balance their work obligations, but also their doctor appointments, personal errands, and family activities. This also helps keep stress levels lower.

  • It decreases employee turnover

Employees who have low stress levels and feel like they are as appreciated as their colleagues are less likely to leave their jobs.

  • It helps increase customer/client satisfaction

A well-thought-out schedule helps keep the workflow running like clockwork, which increases the likelihood that the customers or clients will get the expected quality of service. This, in turn, increases their satisfaction and the chance of them becoming regular customers/clients.

What are the types of work schedules?

We recognize 12 main types of work schedules:

1. A full-time schedule

A full-time schedule has employees work between 35 and 40 hours per week. It is usually tied to job positions whose amount and type of workload requires full-time specialists. Many US states mandate that employees working on full-time schedules receive employee benefits.  Most such employees work the same number of days per week and the same number of hours per day. However, their exact working hours may be fixed (e.g. 9:00 am – 5:00 pm) or flexible (e.g. 8 hours per day, in no fixed order).

🔹 Example: An in-house designer scheduled to work 40 hours per week, 8 hours per day, from Monday to Friday.

2. A part-time schedule

A part-time schedule has employees work less than the full-time equivalent schedule prescribed by the company (e.g., in companies that count 35 hours per week as full-time, anything fewer counts as part-time). It is usually tied to job positions whose type of workload permits several part-time employees to carry it out, or whose amount doesn’t require full-time employment. Employees with part-time schedules may not get employee benefits usually associated with full-time work. Such schedules may be consistent (e.g. 9:00 – 2:00 pm every workday), or more erratic (e.g. 8:00 am – 1:00 pm from Mondays to Wednesdays + 1:00 pm – 6:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays).

🔹 Example: A restaurant hostess who works 25 hours per week in total, during the busy times of the day.

3. A fixed schedule

A fixed schedule has a timetable with the same number of working days and hours per week. May be used for any type of business that requires employees to work together at the same time, or be at service to customers/clients during fixed open hours. A fixed schedule may involve full-time or part-time work.

🔹 Example: A team of HR specialists who are scheduled to work Monday through Friday, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

4. A flexible schedule

A flexible schedule prescribes that an employee needs to work a specific number of hours per day, as a minimum requirement (e.g. 6 hours). But, the actual hours will depend on the employee’s time of arrival at the workplace (e.g. The employee arrives on Monday at 8:00 am and then works until 2:00 pm. But, she arrives at 9:00 am on Tuesday and then works until 3:00 pm). Such schedules may be full-time or part-time. May be used for any type of business that DOESN’T require employees to work together at the same time, or be at service to customers/clients during fixed open hours.

🔹 Example: A customer support specialist is scheduled to work Monday through Friday for 8 hours per day, from the moment of arrival to the office.

5. A floating schedule

A floating schedule involves a fixed, main part (the employee being at the disposal to the employer) and a variable, “floating” part (the employee can choose his/her start and end times during the workday). In practice, floating schedules have been in use for some time. But, they were only given a legal framework with the introduction of the “Flexible and Workable” act (FWW-act) — at least in Belgium.

🔹 Example: A maintenance technician is scheduled to replace a vital part of an ice-cream machine after every 20,000 gallons of ice-cream created, which happens every two weeks. While the ice-cream machine maintenance is a fixed assignment that occurs every two weeks, the maintenance technician performs other work between these times.

6. A shift-based schedule

A shift-based schedule is usually implemented in businesses that operate for 10 or more hours per day. If a business operates 24/7, they usually implement a three-shift approach: employees always work or take turns working in the first shift (morning shift), second shift (afternoon shift), and third shift (night shift).

🔹 Example: 3 gas station attendants who take turns working in three shifts (7:00 am- 3:00 pm; 3:00 pm – 11:00 pm; 11:00 pm – 7:00 am) Monday through Thursday.

7. A seasonal schedule

A seasonal schedule may be shift-based, flexible, fixed, part-time, or full-time, but it is limited to a specific season or time period (e.g. the winter holiday season in November and December).

🔹 Example: Two Santa Clauses scheduled to work in a shopping mall throughout November and December, in two shifts (Shift 1: 8:00 am – 2:00 pm; Shift 2: 2:00 pm – 8:00 pm).

8. An overtime schedule

An overtime schedule involves working for more than the standard 40-hours per week. Depending on the day or length of overtime, but also the US state where the employee is employed, overtime is paid either 1.5. or double the regular employee rates — this applies only to employees who are not exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

🔹 Example: A waiter scheduled to work 45 hours in one week — the 5 extra hours scheduled are considered overtime.

9. A compressed schedule

A compressed schedule involves working the traditional 35-40 hours per week, but in fewer days.

🔹 Example: A window washer scheduled to work 40 hours per week, 10 hours per day (7:00 am – 5:00 pm) Monday through Thursday.

10. A rotating schedule

A rotating schedule is usually tied to shift-based work. Employees are assigned shifts based on a predefined pattern, usually on a weekly or daily basis.

🔹 Example: A doctor working ER is scheduled to work 12-hour day shifts on Mondays and Saturdays and 12-hour night shifts on Tuesdays and Sundays. Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays are off.

11. A split schedule

A split schedule involves parsing a workday intro three distinct points:

  • Working for a few hours in one go
  • Having several hours off
  • Working for another set of hours after the “break”

🔹 Example: A taxi driver scheduled to work from 5:00 am to 9:00 am, take a break from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm, and then work again from 2:00 pm to 7 pm.

12. An on-call schedule

An on-call schedule involves employees being available during specific times of day, or days in general, when they may, or may not be called in to work.

🔹 Example: A firefighter scheduled to work on-call needs to be in a 5-minute vicinity from the fire station during the scheduled days.

How best to create work schedules?

In order to effectively schedule employee time, you’ll need to:

  1. Make the time to understand your team
  2. Make the time to understand the workload
  3. Track employee clock-in and clock-out times
  4. Follow a set of rules to schedule employee fairly
  5. Establish an efficient team communication system
  6. Post the work schedule at least 7 days in advance
  7. Avoid common scheduling errors
  8. Honor work preferences and requests for time off as much as you can
  9. Schedule at least one top-notch employee per shift
  10. Involve the employees in the scheduling process
  11. Use schedule templates to speed up the scheduling process

Let’s look at each point in detail.

#1: Make the time to understand your team 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦

You may think that having enough people during a shift is enough for success. But, you’ll also need to make sure that they are the right people for the type of tasks, amount of workload, time of day, or type of customers.

So, the first real step in creating efficient work schedules is knowing your team. Make a list that details their:

  • Relevant skills
  • Personal qualities such as perseverance, efficiency, or reliability
  • Certifications, relevant education, experience
  • Their employment status (Are they full-time or part-time?)
  • Personality type (Are they introverted or extroverted?)
  • Work habits, especially if you have flexible schedules, and some employees have the habit of arriving sooner than others

With such a list, you’ll be able to pick the ideal teammates for each shift/task.

🔹Example: Tasking the extroverted full-stack developer, who tends to come in at a later time and finish work at a later time, with the 5:00 pm daily call with a client who’s just starting her workday due to the time zone difference.

#2: Make the time to understand the workload 🚚

Now that you understand the skills, qualities, and traits of each member of your team, it’s time you analyze the workload and the resources you have to handle it.

First, make a chart of workdays and hours the team will have at their disposal. For example, if you operate on a flexible, 8-hours-based schedule Monday through Friday, the team members will have 40 hours each to carry out their work (assuming they never work overtime).

Then, identify busy hours — these are the times when you’ll have the most work, and will likely need more people at the scene.

🔹Example: An IT business that maintains a popular US-based cooking app with easy recipes for busy professionals will have an increased number of user requests during the times when the majority of the app’s users are expected to use the app (e.g. after 5:00 pm, when the said busy professionals start arriving home and planning dinner). In line with that, the business should always schedule a larger number of customer support specialists during these times.

Alternatively, if your business doesn’t have busy times, it’s best that you build your schedule around priorities, i.e. the most important and/or most urgent tasks.

🔹Example: An IT business that works a flexible schedule may want to have all its best developers and QA specialists at the office/connected with the team online during the times when you have a major bug fix planned.

#3: Track employee clock-in and clock-out times ⏰

Recording employee arrival and departure time proves crucial for any business that works overtime. After all, the employees need to record all overtime hours to be properly compensated and to ensure the business’s compliance with the current work time regulations.

Yet, any other type of schedule, from shift-based to flexible ones, can also benefit from tracking work time — the employees get a clear log of their hours worked to serve as proof that they’ve actually worked during their scheduled times. 

In line with that, before setting up your work schedules, you’ll also need to instruct your employees on how to track their clock-in clock-out times. For this purpose, you can use an employee time clock app, such as Clockify.

With Clockify, you’ll be able to define your projects and tasks, assign tasks to team members, and then have the said team members specify their work time in 2 distinct ways:

1. By tracking time in the timer mode — just have everyone start/stop the timer as they start working/finish work on an assigned task/today’s shift.

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2. By logging time after work manually, also in 2 distinct ways:

1. In the manual mode — just have everyone add the duration for each assigned task/shift manually.

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2. In a timesheet — just have everyone add shift duration for each day in a weekly timecard.

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All the time entered can later be viewed in visual and weekly reports — you can use this data to analyze employee attendance and then work on creating even better schedules in the future. If you also define hourly rates for employees, you can use Clockify data for payroll, as employee earnings will be automatically calculated based on the time employees tracked and their respective hourly rates.

💡 To learn more about how best to set up and carry out a clock-in clock-out system, check out our detailed blog post about it:

How to set up a simple employee clock-in clock-out system

#4: Follow a set of rules to schedule employee fairly ⚖️

Predictive Scheduling Laws (also known as Fair Scheduling Laws) mandate certain scheduling practices be followed in order to avoid unpredictable work schedules that prevent employees from having a work-life balance. Despite only a handful of US cities currently enacting them (e.g. New York, San Francisco, and Seattle), and only certain industries (e.g. food service, retail, and hospitality), the 10 scheduling rules prescribed by these laws may be a great addition to any scheduling practice:

Rule#1 —  Provide “Good faith estimates” for the schedules of all new hires.

Rule #2 — Have employees state their work time/day and location preferences.

Rule #3 — Notify employees in advance about their work schedules.

Rule #4 — Offer additional hours to existing employees before hiring someone new.

Rule #5 — Notify employees about their work schedule changes.

Rule #6 — Offer premium pay for schedule changes you’ve had to make without timely notice.

Rule #7 — Provide a rest period in between two employee shifts, unless the said employee agreed to work during this time.

Rule #8 — Keep the records of previous schedules, for future reference.

Rule #9 — Have a list of schedule-related rights posted at the workplace and/or easily accessible online.

Rule #10 — Don’t retaliate against the employee for trying to enforce schedule-related employee rights.

#5: Establish an efficient team communication system 💬

One of the keys to team productivity and proper employee time management is ensuring the team always feels connected and well-informed about recent developments, updates, or changes to the expected workflow or workload.

So, make sure you always communicate any changes related to the work schedules, and give the employee a chance to reach out to you with their own questions and requests, in return:

  • You’ll always want to notify the employees as soon as you’ve finished and posted the newest work schedule.
  • You may need to notify people of last-minute schedule updates or unexpected, additional obligations.
  • Members of your team may want to inform you that they’ve swapped shifts or taken up additional tasks, which may influence further scheduling.

Of course, to manage all this communication, you’ll need to establish a well-organized communication system, which may involve:

📲 Text messages 

📞 Phone calls 

📧 Emails 

🗨️ Chat apps 

💻 Online video meetings 

Afterward, it’s crucial that your work schedules are regularly updated to reflect what’s been communicated and agreed on between you and your team.

🔹Example: A restaurant manager sends work schedules to the staff 7 days in advance, on Friday mornings, via a group chat. Any changes and shift swaps are then suggested in the group chat and officially requested via email. Afterward, the manager updates the work schedules with approved requests and changes and sends the finalized version via group chat once again, on Friday evenings.

#6: Post the work schedule at least 7 days in advance 🕛

According to the 2019 Employment Law (and in line with rule #3 of the Fair Scheduling Laws), employers must post new work schedules between 7 and 14 days prior to the first scheduled shift.

This way, you’ll also leave enough time if someone:

  • needs to schedule (or reschedule) personal commitments to accommodate the new work schedule
  • wants to find a substitute or trade shifts (you can either let employees trade shifts or have a system for substitutes)
  • wants to talk to you about the days or times they work (perhaps you’re always scheduling employee X on times and days that never work for them)

#7: Avoid common scheduling errors ⚠️

When scheduling, make sure you don’t:

1. Double-schedule employees who have dual responsibilities, but in different shifts

🔹 Example: A person who works as both the hotel hostess and a busser accidentally getting double-scheduled.

2. Schedule staff for the position they were not trained to fill.

🔹 Example: A Pantry Chef in a luxurious restaurant being scheduled to perform the duties of the Roast Chef.

3. Under-schedule or over-schedule your employees, in terms of their work hours.

🔹 Example: A part-time employee being scheduled with too many shifts, or a full-time employee being scheduled with too few shifts.

4. Under-schedule or over-schedule your employees, in terms of the expected workload.

🔹 Example: Realizing that a cocktail bar is understaffed during happy hour.

#8: Honor work preferences and requests for time off as much as you can 🌴

High employee satisfaction means higher productivity. And, the best way to get high employee satisfaction is to make the employees understand that they are being heard by the management.

So, if certain employees prefer to work on certain hours or days, accommodate them if you can.

Or, when an employee asks for time off, oblige to the request, if possible.

Moreover, you should always implement a clear system for employees asking for preferred times and time-off. This way, you’ll make the requests approvals/denials transparent, making it clear there is no favoritism.

#9: Schedule at least one top-notch employee per shift 🏆

If your business operates in shifts, make sure that each shift features at least one of your top players in terms of relevant employee skills, expertise, experience, and personal qualities. This will largely improve the quality of the shift, but also the customer experience. Moreover, the less-experienced employees (especially the newly hired ones) will have someone to look up to in terms of work standards or turn for support when needed.

Having one of your best employees is especially relevant during busy times when you want someone reliable at the scene to “pull” the workload and inspire other teammates to keep up the pace.

🔹Example:  Scheduling a reliable food service specialist to operate the cash register, serve customers, and stock supplies during lunchtime in a city’s business district.

#10: Involve the employees in the scheduling process ✅

You probably don’t want to waste time on constant work schedule updates because your employees are always asking for shift swaps or deadline extensions.

To minimize this, you can aim to involve the employees in the process of creating work schedules as much as you find suitable.

1. Have someone assist you in scheduling

Colleagues are more likely to understand what their co-workers think about their schedules, so, having someone from the “inside” directly assist you with the schedules is optimal. This way, you’ll find out whether members of your team:

  • are satisfied with their appointed times
  • would ideally want more or less time scheduled per week
  • prefer other days or times for their schedules

2. Have the team fill out availability charts

With an availability chart, all employees need to do is mark the days when they are available to work during a certain week. Later on, you’ll use this data to create feasible work schedules.

🔹 Example: You schedule someone for the first shift, but that someone isn’t available to work during this time. You glance at the availability chart and find the next suitable employee who marked his/her availability during the required time. You may even find that you’d have a backup for your backup if a larger number of employees is available.

3. When scheduling outside the available times, consult first

Sometimes, despite all the efforts the team has made with the availability chart, you’ll still need to schedule someone outside their availability times.

🔹 Example:  Perhaps, there’s a big celebration being hosted at your restaurant and you’ll need all hands on deck. Or, perhaps, there’s an unexpected bug in your app, and you need to call in your full-stack engineer to assist you from her vacation.

Emergencies happen, but it’s important how you approach them. If possible, always try to find the person who’d be the least inconvenienced by working outside his/her ideal availability times. 🔹 Example: Out of the two best choices you have, it’s better to call in the person who is unavailable because of his spa appointment than the person who is at the hospital worrying about her sick father.

In any case, it’s always best that you call up the person in question, explain the situation, and be courteous about the request. A reliable, conscientious employee will oblige to your request if it’s possible (but, show understanding if it’s objectively not possible, e.g. the person has an important doctor’s appointment at that time) and will appreciate having a say in this.

#11: Use schedule templates to speed up the scheduling process 📄

The previous 10 points are designed to help you effectively schedule employee time — but, schedule templates will help you make the scheduling process faster and more accurate. Here are 6 work schedule templates you can use now, for free.

🔷 Employee Availability Form

What’s it about?

The Employee Availability Form lets the team enter their availability in terms of days they could ideally come into work and/or be on-call duty. Simply, have the employees mark their availability with checkmarks (Google Sheets) or “X” (Excel).

Alternatively, you can print out the forms and have the employees fill them out with a pen.

Later on, you can use these individual employee availability forms to create feasible schedules.

Best for what and who?

This scheduling form is perfect for any type of business that revolves around scheduling.

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🔽 Download the classic Employee Availability Form in Excel

🔽 Download the online, shareable Employee Availability Form in Google Sheets

🔽 Download the printable Employee Availability Form in PDF

🔷 Daily Work Schedule

What’s it about?

The Daily Work Schedule lets you schedule work hours for employees, along with their accompanying tasks, for each day of work. Simply, specify the employee, the employee department, the date of the scheduled day, and add a checkmark (Google Sheets) or “X” (Excel) next to each hour they’re scheduled to work.

Alternatively, you can print out the schedule and fill it out with a pen.

Best for what and who?

This template is perfect if you prefer to schedule work hours and tasks on a daily basis. In order to stay compliant with the rule of scheduling work at least 7 days in advance, you can combine this more detailed, task-oriented schedule with schedules that cover a larger time period.

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🔽 Download the classic Daily Work Schedule in Excel

🔽 Download the online, shareable Daily Work Schedule in Google Sheets

🔽 Download the printable Daily Work Schedule in PDF

🔷 Weekly Work Schedule

What’s it about?

The Weekly Work Schedule lets you schedule work days for employees, along with the accompanying shifts for each day, on a weekly basis. Simply, add the employee names, and add an “X” under each day they are scheduled to work.

The Google Sheet and Excel versions of the template also calculate the daily statistics per employee, in terms of:

  • how many times individual employees have been scheduled to work per week
  • how many times they were scheduled to work the First, Second, Third, or Split shift (if applicable).

Alternatively, you can print out the schedule and fill it out with a pen.

In case your employees work different split shifts, have overtime, or have specific instructions regarding their schedules, you can clarify this below each employee row.

Best for what and who?

This template is perfect if you prefer to schedule workdays on a weekly basis, and/or pay your employees on a weekly basis.

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🔽 Download the classic Weekly Work Schedule in Excel

🔽 Download the online, shareable Weekly Work Schedule in Google Sheets

🔽 Download the printable Weekly Work Schedule in PDF

🔷 Bi-Weekly Work Schedule

What’s it about?

The Bi-Weekly Work Schedule lets you schedule work days for employees, along with the accompanying shifts for each day, on a bi-weekly basis. Simply, add the employee names, and add an “X” under each day they are scheduled to work.

The Google Sheet and Excel versions of the template also calculate the daily statistics per employee, in terms of:

  • how many times individual employees have been scheduled to work per two weeks
  • how many times they were scheduled to work the First, Second, Third, or Split shift (if applicable).

Alternatively, you can print out the schedule and fill it out with a pen.

In case your employees work different split shifts, have overtime, or have specific instructions regarding their schedules, you can clarify this below each employee row.

Best for what and who?

This template is perfect if you prefer to schedule workdays on a bi-weekly basis, and/or pay your employees on a bi-weekly basis.

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🔽 Download the classic Bi-Weekly Work Schedule in Excel

🔽 Download the online, shareable Bi-Weekly Work Schedule in Google Sheets

🔽 Download the printable Bi-Weekly Work Schedule in PDF

🔷 Monthly Work Schedule

What’s it about?

The Monthly Work Schedule lets you schedule work days for employees, along with the accompanying shifts for each calendar date, on a monthly basis. Simply, add the employee names, and add an “X” under each date they are scheduled to work.

The Google Sheet and Excel versions of the template also calculate the daily statistics per employee, in terms of:

  • how many times individual employees have been scheduled to work per month
  • how many times they were scheduled to work the First, Second, Third, or Split shift (if applicable).

Alternatively, you can print out the schedule and fill it out with a pen.

In case your employees work different split shifts, have overtime, or have specific instructions regarding their schedules, you can clarify this below each employee row.

Best for what and who?

This template is perfect if you prefer to schedule workdays on a monthly basis, and/or pay your employees on a monthly basis.

Monthly Work Schedule-min+1
🔽 Download the classic Monthly Work Schedule in Excel

🔽 Download the online, shareable Monthly Work Schedule in Google Sheets

🔽 Download the printable Monthly Work Schedule in PDF

🔷 Yearly Work Schedule

What’s it about?

The Yearly Work Schedule lets you schedule 5 employees over the course of one year (or several weeks or months). Simply, name your employees and associate each with a symbol (“x1”, “x2”, “x3”, “x4”, “x5”). Write the appropriate symbol (e.g “x1” for employee 1) next to the appropriate date to schedule an employee.

Best for what and who? 

This template is perfect if your team operates on a rotating schedule, or manage seasonal workers. It can also be a great choice if you prefer to view and plan the workweeks on a larger scale.

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🔽 Download the classic Yearly Work Schedule in Excel

🔽 Download the online, shareable Yearly Work Schedule in Google Sheets

🔽 Download the printable Yearly Work Schedule in PDF

Wrapping up

Scheduling employee time effectively should not be a challenge — if you implement the right scheduling system that involves:

  • Understanding your team and the workload
  • Having employees clock their work time
  • Ensuring you schedule work fairly and in a timely manner
  • Communicating everything
  • Avoiding common scheduling errors
  • Honoring work preferences and time off requests to the best of your ability
  • Building shifts around the best employees
  • Involving employees in the scheduling process

In addition, following a scheduling template will not only speed up the process but ensure it is carried out methodically.

In the end, no matter whether you work on a fixed, flexible, floating, or any other type of schedule, if you schedule properly, you’ll improve:

  • business operations
  • time management
  • employee work-life balance
  • employee satisfaction
  • customer/client satisfaction

As a result, you’ll also decrease employee turnover, and bring transparency to your team.