Scheduling Basics

The goal of employee scheduling is to put the right employees on the right jobs at the right times to meet your business demands. Regardless of the industry, the employee scheduling process consists of four essentially universal phases:

  • Determining workload and coverage requirements, including special skills or certifications
  • Designing a scheduling framework to meet demands
  • Building employee work schedules from the framework
  • Publishing, monitoring and adjusting work schedules as required

Doing these tasks by hand is very time consuming and difficult due to workload fluctuations, frequent special requests from employees, last minute changes, and high employee turnover. In addition, the schedule often needs to be changed when scheduled employees call in sick or are unavailable to work. Without the right tools in place, you will expend a great deal of time on these tasks — time better spent on more critical, revenue-generating activities.

Determine workload and coverage goals

In determining workload and coverage goals, you are predicting the demands for your products or services and translating the demands to how many employees are needed at different time intervals over the scheduling horizon. In this context, a scheduling horizon is a time period, typically one week to several months, for which schedules are created.

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Employees are needed to perform certain duties that are based on business demands such as the number of patients in a hospital wing, confirmed hotel reservations, number of calls received, manufacturing quotas, security patrol routes, etc. When defining business demand, you need to address a number of key questions.

What are the drivers for your business demands? By identifying these drivers, you can evaluate and forecast the effect of each driver to staffing requirements. For examples, if you are running a call center, your drivers would be the number of calls to be answered, the average handle time, and the required service level. For hotel housekeeping, it can be the number of rooms to be processed.

Are your business demands varied according to the time of day? Identifying the peaks and valleys and the time periods over which demands vary help you understand the cyclical nature of your business needs. Once the demand pattern has been established, it may be apportioned to shifts that cover the demand. For example, a fast food restaurant will be busier between 11am to 1pm or call volumes for emergency services will be lower at night time.

What tasks are required to satisfy your business demands? Tasks are usually defined in terms of starting time and duration, or a time window that the task must be completed in, the skills required to perform the task, and locations (if applicable). For scheduling purpose, you can combine individual tasks into task sequences that could be done by one person.

You can use your operational knowledge, sales forecasts, confirmed orders, call history, etc. to forecast business demands and create a profile for the scheduling horizon. From this profile, you translate business demands into coverage goals (head counts, positions, or skills) for each time period. Depending on your operation, you might be translating your business demands to coverage goals based on established productivity, service, or economics standards. Or in some cases, the number of employees is fixed and your objective is to make full use of the available resources.

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