Workforce Management

Staff Scheduling: Ultimate Guide To Scheduling Workers Efficiently19 min read

By February 4, 2020 No Comments

Google staff scheduling tips, and all you’ll typically find, are articles on how to use scheduling apps, but we wanted to give you the ultimate guide to staff scheduling, and how to schedule workers efficiently, no matter which method you use.

In this article, we’ll discuss the best practices of the four steps to scheduling your workforce, and take a look at the pros and cons of each method.

How to schedule workers efficiently

The aim of efficient staff scheduling is to get the right people at the right place, doing the right things. It sounds simple, but it’s really easier said than done.

We offer four steps to staff scheduling like a pro, and we’ll discuss each in-depth:

Step #1: Create a staff schedule template

The staff schedule template is an overview of how many staff are needed, for which location, and when. The staff schedule template is a strategy, and when it’s done properly, has a positive impact on:

  • Labour costs
  • Turnover
  • No-shows
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Compliance
  • Productivity

Once you have a master template, you won’t need to duplicate your efforts every time you need to create a staff schedule.

[If you plan to use an Excel spreadsheet, download the free template we created].

Here’s a checklist of how to create your master:

#1: Resources


Go over previous staff scheduling to get a feel for what you may need
Determine shift locations and shift lengths
Arrange your list in an Excel spreadsheet or a workforce management digital tool
Identify previous trends or mistakes, such as under or over staffing
Enter any special days, like public holidays and other special days
Consider specific special requirements for every shift

#2: People

Add upcoming events that may impact staff amounts
→ If yes to the above, factor in location, skills and availability of staff
Create a small pool of skilled workers who act as a standby solution and are available to jump on board at short notice (source your own standby team, or use an agency)

#3: Rules, policies, procedures & regulations

Industry or governmental regulations may impact your schedule, so factor those in
Bear in mind any business processes and procedures that will impact the schedule
Skill, certifications, seniority, overtime status etc. may impact rules

Step #2: Assign shifts

Your duty roster template is done, and now it’s time to fill the shifts with a copy of the staff scheduling template.

If your template was built correctly, then times and locations will already have been determined, and so in this step, all you have to do is focus on selecting the right people for each shift.

Now, this can prove a very time consuming activity, especially if there’s scheduling complexity. The more automated the business is through, the easier this step. If you haven’t already, it is highly recommended that you implement workforce scheduling software, which automates the most time consuming tasks.

Follow this checklist for assigning shifts like a boss:


Pair new staff members with experienced so they can show them the ropes. Always include at least one person who can mentor the others. To determine who should get this position, check employee performance
Calculate cost of shifts against forecasted income to keep a healthy balance sheet of debt to income
Review your first draft and tweak where necessary
After creating the schedule, and reviewing for mistakes, publish it 
Distribute the schedule to your team. Remember to communicate regularly about how to access schedules and the process for making requests


PRO TIP! Consider the following in your shift scheduling selection:

Bottom-up or top-down scheduling

Bottom-up scheduling

Staff choose the open shifts they’re qualified for.Although not always practical, bottom-up scheduling may drastically reduce the amount of effort you need to put in when scheduling. This method has been shown to improve employee satisfaction.

Top-down scheduling

In top-down scheduling, you make strategic decisions of where to put your people.

staff scheduling


Use the pre-defined skills and certifications criteria to make sure all employees are assigned to shifts they meet the requirements for. Ensure all credentials have not expired, as this could cause legal issues.

Scheduling rules

Rigorously apply all defined scheduling rules, such as seniority, overtime, or other customised rules pertaining to your organisation.

Employee availability & preferences

Identify which staff are available for that shift, taking into account employee requests, leave dates, issues, any staff who on sick leave, and so on. Making a change is usually due to availability, and is a time consuming process when staff members request changes and the schedule is done manually instead of with a scheduling tool.

You should also take into account employee preferences, as this will reduce change requests, but to ensure as smooth a process as possible, make sure to compile policies around this, so that everyone knows how to submit preferences, and by when, and in what format. Considering preferences increases staff satisfaction.

Keep employee profiles updated & rich

Be sure to take the time to keep employee profiles rich, so that when using employee scheduling software, it’s easy to check their information such as role, job level, seniority, pay rates and availability preferences.

Automation of shift assignment

Assigning shifts is typically the most time-consuming portion of the scheduling process, and the more complex, the more time consuming, with managers sometimes spending days doing it.

Staff scheduling applications significantly cut down the time it would usually take, as the software removes the manual process of matching people with positions. Many tools include advanced features such as shift swapping and automated standby filling which are very helpful.

manual staff scheduling

Step #3: Manage changes

It’s a given that changes are going to need to be managed, from the first day the shift schedule is published, to the very last day that it’s active.

PRO TIP! Develop change request policies and stick to them rigorously. It will make the process a lot easier.

In the policy you create for change requests, make sure it states clearly how far in advance the request has to be made, how it must be made, and consequences for not adhering to the policy.

PRO TIP! Include policy compliance as a KPI, as this will motivate staff to follow the process.

Staff scheduling is an ongoing story, and to manage the changes effectively means to address developments with speed and efficiency.

Common reasons for schedule changes include:


It’s often the case that throughout the scheduling period, your staffing requirements may increase or decrease. The answer for this is small, skilled standby pools of people you can call up to work on short notice.

When needs decrease, things become a little more complex, but the solution is to put in surge staff for the last 10-15% of normal schedule needs, creating a buffer for both increases and decreases in demand.

Employee availability

A lot of companies require their people to identify a suitable replacement if their availability changes once the schedule is published, creating mixed results. It’s a good idea if the business has scheduling software that allows for shift swapping, as employees have the ability to post and accept open shifts in real time, and management can configure this workflow in the system to either be automated, or to require permissions.


The human factor means there will be no-shows: at petrol stations for instance, employees may have partied all weekend and then call in sick on Mondays, or some will fall ill or a plethora of other genuine reasons. This means that call lists and text messaging often won’t do the trick.

A standby pool of skilled and flexible employees who will jump in at short notice is essential. Make up a standby pool of part-time staff, contingent workers, and full-time employees who are hungry for overtime opportunities, or use an agency.

Staff Scheduling - Backup Workers

Step #4: Review lessons learned & make continual improvements

Once all’s said and done, it’s time to build the next staff schedule…

But before you do, what did you learn from the last session? And can the process be simplified due to the lessons learned?

It may be time consuming, but this next step is critical to making the staff scheduling processes better and easier. More importantly, this step is critical to saving costs, as it helps you predict staff demand in future.

Reviewing the process, getting employee feedback, and perhaps customer feedback, means taking action where necessary, and using the feedback – positive and negative – to ensure continual improvements.

In fact, it’s a good idea to actively solicit feedback from employees and if possible, and relevant, your customers. Feedback should come not only from staff who are scheduled to shifts, but also staff transition points, when Payroll and HR and any other department, uses the information from the workforce scheduling software, to fulfill their own duties and obligations.

Have someone capable – if not yourself – review all feedback and make recommendations for action that addresses feedback in a meaningful way.

When performing a review after a period of staff scheduling, be sure to take into account these aspects:

Accuracy of forecasting

Check that the forecast to actual staff demand was accurate, and if not, why not? What can be done better next time? Answering questions like this improves your predictive accuracy; one small improvement has the potential to make a huge impact on the business.

Employee evaluations

In order to optimise shifts, it’s important to know the individuals in your workforce. This can be tricky if you manage multiple locations, but not impossible.

Always put someone in charge of each shift, and get them to evaluate the employees that report to them. If it’s impossible to know every employee, then make sure you know those who are in charge. Give them the tools they need in terms of training, tools and tips, and then meet with them regularly for employee evaluations.

Build employee performance into KPIs, and target areas that can be improved. For example, if you find a trend where many employees are “no-shows’ on Mondays, find a way to obliterate that, in a way that will motivate staff to arrive for their shift instead of not pitching.

Speaking of evaluating employees…be sure to regularly measure the health of your standby pools too, so that when you most need staff urgently, there will be no need to rush around like a chicken without a head.

Analytics and reporting

Gone are the days of scheduling with Excel spreadsheets.

Instead, the right staff scheduling software automatically collects the data needed to reveal meaningful insights. With the right understanding of data, the scheduling process can be fully optimised, and provides the ability to save costs.

Staff Scheduling Reports

Pros and cons: manual vs digital staff scheduling

Staff scheduling may not be the most glamorous of jobs, but if the organisation sells man-hours, it’s certainly the most important job for obvious reasons, but also because salaries are usually a company’s highest expense.

In addition, for companies whose business it is to handle employee time, employee stationing impacts brand reputation, customer satisfaction, productivity of the business, performance of the business, customer contractual obligations, employee satisfaction, and most importantly, profitability.

Finally…did you know that payroll errors are usually due to poor employee organising?

The point is, that creating accurate, efficient staff schedules is of utmost importance, and more especially if your business revolves around man-hours.

This all being said, let’s check out the pros and cons of manual vs. digital employee scheduling:

Pros of manual scheduling

If you’re a start-up business with only a handful of employees (15 – 20 max), you may not yet need the benefits of automated scheduling, which can incur unnecessary additional costs.

Typically, a handmade schedule is simply a piece of paper ruled into squares with the names of employees on the left-hand side and time slots of shifts across the top. The details for the job, like tools, location and so on, are inputted into the time slot. And that is the extent of the duty roster.

If the table is created with a pencil, it is easy to erase details like shift swaps.

More sophisticated than paper and pencil, are Excel spreadsheets. Both methods are manual, and both can easily be used to schedule a small amount of employees.

Both work well depending on the environment, which has to be simplistic, because when the scheduling process becomes a little more complex (as in scheduling staff to multiple locations), or the amount of resources necessary becomes greater, then it’s going to be difficult to continue with either.

Free Shift Roster Excel Template Download

Cons of manual staff scheduling

Employee volume, scheduling complexity, unpredictability, or the need for workforce analytical insights, is when the manual scheduling process starts to fail.

For example, for each pay period, it is necessary to consider how many resources are needed for each shift, what positions they should fill and what qualifications and skills are needed. Next, you need to cross check their availability. Once you get all that done, then you need to look at how to control overtime, insert appropriate breaks, make sure everything is legally compliant, and that staff have more or less the same amount of shifts.

To accomplish all this is very time consuming when done manually, but workforce management systems can actually take the data that is in the system, and create shifts automatically, and then you simply need to run an eye over them to make sure everything is good.

The whole process can take a few hours to a few days to complete, depending on complexity.

In addition, there are human errors in manual scheduling, and in a B2B environment, the service level agreement can complicate the decision-making process even more. If you have more than 15 – 20 employees that work around shifts, manual scheduling is going to fail you.

Lastly, unless you have your own internal Excel guru who has the ability to set up complex spreadsheets that automate reporting as much as possible, it will be just about impossible to glean meaningful insights around employees and shifts, making reporting difficult at best.

Pros of digital staff scheduling

If some companies were to use a manual approach to scheduling, the result would be increased expenses, missed opportunities and errors.

Digital (aka automated) scheduling streamlines and makes the process efficient, increasing productivity, decreasing frustration, and improving employee satisfaction which in turn leads to lower staff turnover.

Good automated scheduling systems integrate with the software that companies are already using, and allows the sharing of information between departments, so that each can use the information stored in the system, to carry out their own processes without the need for paper or getting in touch with the shift scheduler.

To boot, all information is in real time, and once it’s been inputted, any relevant person from any department can access it immediately, from anywhere in the world, which also makes the scheduling process more flexible.

Staff can access the schedule via their phone or other mobile device using an app, so that cuts down a huge amount of time in and of itself because the scheduler no longer needs to distribute the schedule, or communicate it, and changes can be made easily. Staff can view the changes as soon as they are made.

Customised Demo

Book a customised demo of the EasyRoster Software and see how it can work for your unique business. It’s never been this easy or convenient to test drive software.

Cons of digital staff scheduling

As with all things, there are also disadvantages to using workforce scheduling software; it’s more expensive than using paper and pencil or an Excel spreadsheet, and if you choose the wrong tool, your expenses will rise and there won’t be much benefit of going digital.

[Find out which features are essential when deciding on the best shift scheduling software].

It’s important to understand that many workforce scheduling tools are developed by programmers who don’t much understand the various field service processes, so be sure to look for software that is geared towards your particular industry, like EasyRoster who caters specifically to the security, cleaning, facilities and labour broking industries.

Another thing to look for, is whether the tool allows for multiple location scheduling – because if your business sells man-hours to a few different locations, the system will need to cater for that (another benefit of EasyRoster).

One of the negatives of going digital is that you first have to do your homework; in fact, it is vital to put in the hours it takes to understand which tool is going to be best for your business.


There are four primary steps to staff scheduling:

  • Creating a staff schedule template
  • Assigning shifts to employees
  • Managing changes efficiently
  • Reviewing lessons learned and making ongoing process improvements

While some companies can get away with manual staff scheduling, as in paper and pencil or using an Excel spreadsheet, if you have more than about 20 employees, or your scheduling is complex, like multi-site allocations, you should consider workforce management software, the benefits of which are:

  • Saves costs
  • Speeds up the scheduling process
  • Automates the most time consuming tasks
  • Boosts productivity
  • Increases employee satisfaction
  • Reduces frustration
  • Provides insightful data for better business decisions

Customised Demo

Book a customised demo of the EasyRoster Software and see how it can work for your unique business. It’s never been this easy or convenient to test drive software.

Daniel Brits

Daniel Brits

I am the Business Development Manager of a division within Adapt IT that focuses on providing companies who use or require Workforce Management Software to assist them in running their operations as efficiently as possible. I have worked with clients in over 15 countries and have provided training sessions to groups of people for the past 10 years.