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Workforce scheduling: What it is and how to hone it

A successful workforce scheduling strategy can increase team efficiency and productivity. Learn how to optimize your workforce schedules in our guide.

Por Hannah Wren, Staff Writer

Última actualización en April 19, 2024

What is workforce scheduling?

Workforce scheduling is the process of optimizing employee schedules to meet organizational demand. A workforce manager will analyze forecasting records, historical data, seasonality, and employee skill levels to create schedules that don’t underutilize or overwork individuals.

Imagine you’re a basketball coach, and your starting point guard sprains their ankle, leaving a major gap on your team. But there’s a game to play, and you must do some quick thinking and player skill assessments to put together a winning roster.

Workforce scheduling is a lot like building a team roster, and gaps are inevitable. Managers take vacation time, experienced team members get sick or injured, and inexperienced employees need training before they can lead a team. Even organizations with strong workforce management (WFM) fall victim to poor scheduling or absences, leaving teams with skill gaps.

To support your workforce and create your winning team, learn how to strengthen, hone, and optimize your workforce scheduling with our guide.

More in this guide:

Industries that need workforce scheduling

Common industries that depend on workforce scheduling are:

Whether a business uses call center workforce management techniques, retail workforce management processes, or another type of strategy, accurate and manageable schedules are crucial for success in these customer-centric, wage-dependent industries.

A flowchart helps businesses identify their need for workforce scheduling.

The benefits of workforce scheduling automation

Workforce scheduling can be a time-consuming process. Unforeseen injuries, illnesses, and other incidents can throw schedules into disarray, especially if managers can’t pick up the pieces in time. Workforce scheduling automation can simplify planning, improve employee satisfaction, and lead to several other advantages that directly impact organizational productivity.

A bulleted list of the top eight workforce scheduling benefits is accompanied by an illustration of a woman with a headset reaching for a piece of fruit on a tree.

Utilizes workforce forecasting

Workforce scheduling is easier when you have a blueprint to work from. By using workforce management metrics and historical data, workforce forecasting allows organizations to predict labor needs and optimize schedules.

Forecasting also helps managers make informed decisions about complex shifts, employees who work well together, and potential skill gaps. Software like Zendesk WFM uses real-time data to deliver dependable forecasts, helping managers optimize team schedules.

Optimizes and simplifies schedules

Simplified schedules are stronger schedules. Workforce scheduling automation allows teams to make data-driven decisions about team staffing, which can increase service and support effectiveness. Automation features also optimize schedules based on employee availability, customer service skills or needs, and lull or peak periods. Managers can manually adjust schedules, but automation keeps the process streamlined and efficient.

Increases productivity

Businesses use analytics, trends, and automation to gain insights into team activity. Workforce scheduling automation leverages historical data and current forecasts to schedule the right people at the right time, transforming teams into productive, well-oiled machines.

Decreases costs

Workforce scheduling automation analyzes historical data and makes scheduling suggestions based on past workforce gaps. This stops teams from overscheduling shifts during slow periods, which helps organizations meet customer needs while staying within budget.

Improves employee retention

Detailed, accurate schedules allow agents to begin their days with clarity supported by a well-distributed workforce, greatly influencing the employee experience (EX). Automated scheduling that considers time-off and shift requests can also improve employee engagement, which reduces turnover across teams.

Prioritizes transparency

Workforce scheduling automation offers greater schedule transparency. With a clear schedule, employees know what to expect and can communicate any barriers, frustrations, or needs.

Saves teams time

Scheduling automation can save teams time in more than one way. Features like templates and data analysis help managers efficiently compile future schedules, improve trend identification, and track demand patterns. Automation software also minimizes the need for manual tasks, speeding up the scheduling process.

Establishes compliance

The laws and regulations that govern businesses differ from state to state and country to country. Whether you must adhere to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules, follow antitrust requirements, or abide by other compliance laws, workforce scheduling automation can ensure companies follow compliance laws for labor use, shift breaks, finances, and licensing.

Workforce schedules: 11 tips for optimization

With so many moving parts, workforce scheduling isn’t a perfect art. However, there are several ways to optimize the process, such as using a workforce planning template. Consider these 11 tips to streamline your workforce schedules.

Eleven icons represent workforce scheduling optimization tips.

1. Involve the whole team

Optimized workforce schedules can only occur when every team member is on board. Workforce scheduling is a dynamic process from start to finish. Team members need to be involved in case of schedule changes that affect operating procedures.

2. Consider business needs

Design every workforce schedule to meet your business’s needs and encourage business development. From long-term organizational goals to seasonal support requirements, a schedule should create effective teams and streamlined shifts. Trend identification can help organizations identify when more or less support is needed and optimize schedules accordingly.

3. Dedicate time during the workweek

Scheduling can be a chore, but it’s a necessity. Set aside dedicated work time throughout the week to plan and adjust workforce schedules. Consider blocking off time in your calendar if you’re struggling to set aside time to do this. Don’t hesitate to give yourself ample time, too—it takes practice to create optimized schedules with automation and workforce management software.

4. Use an AI-powered WFM software

To create the best schedules, you need the best tools. AI-powered workforce management tools can streamline scheduling by analyzing historical data and accounting for agent preferences.

Attendance and availability tracking tools help organizations personalize schedules, create targeted training opportunities, and evaluate employee well-being. As artificial intelligence grows, automation will continue to enhance operational efficiency and productivity, becoming a necessity rather than a commodity.

5. Create a workforce scheduling template

Workforce scheduling templates align your business needs with employee availability and skill sets. Templates can reduce the time it takes to schedule your teams and can be made manually or with a software program. Creating unique templates with different use cases can simplify the scheduling process during seasonal or workforce fluctuations.

6. Streamline the final schedule

It may seem like a no-brainer, but employees value easy-to-read schedules.

To streamline schedules, follow these tips:

  • Select and consistently use a clear font.

  • Use a readable font size.

  • Include employee-specific color codes.

If an employee needs more than 30 seconds to understand a schedule, it may be necessary to go back to the drawing board and try again.

7. Shift schedules, not employees

An essential part of workforce scheduling is to honor employee availability and shift preferences when possible. It’s best to plan schedules around your best team members or pair employees who work well together with those who need additional training. Use a tool like Zendesk to create flexible schedules that work around your teams rather than forcing employees into strict, unaccommodating shifts.

8. Finalize the schedule early

No one likes the last-minute scramble to fix an incomplete or inaccurate schedule. Be proactive and finalize schedules early, so employees have time to prepare for shifts, and you aren’t left to make avoidable day-of decisions. Early scheduling also allows for shift swapping, which helps organizations ensure enough workers are on hand during peak periods and workforce fluctuations.

9. Allow employee scheduling

Scheduling is complicated, especially when you need to keep individual employees’ preferences and time-off requests in mind. Consider allowing employees to self-schedule shifts, opening up a blank schedule for a set period before closing it to alterations. While managers must fill in scheduling gaps, self-scheduling allows employees to claim shifts and take responsibility for their work.

10. Prioritize task management

Self-sufficient teams may not always need manager-level leaders at every shift, but they do need specific tasks to focus on and complete. Task management helps teams prioritize assignments and complete long-term projects without being micromanaged. Support systems and applications help teams identify, create, and optimize task tickets so every team member knows what assignments must be completed each shift.

11. Set a labor budget

Set a labor budget and stick to it. Accurate budgets help organizations track cash flow, prepare for growth and emergencies, and identify business inefficiencies.

Consider setting your budget based on either:

  • A percentage of the payroll for the day

  • A flat rate based on daily spend

While it may seem feasible—and preferable—for your higher-paid, well-trained employees to work every shift, your labor budget may not allow for that type of spending. Keep your shift teams mixed with experienced and inexperienced employees working together to provide high-quality, on-budget service.

Features of workforce scheduling software

Four icons represent essential workforce scheduling software features.

Workforce scheduling software has evolved to simplify scheduling processes. Instead of relying on a mix of manual and mechanical solutions, intelligent automation (IA) completes complex tasks and centralizes forecasting and planning data.

To minimize planning confusion, consider these features when choosing a workforce scheduling software:

  • AI-powered forecasting: Intelligently generated staffing and industry forecasts use historical data and business algorithms to identify lull and peak periods.
  • Automated scheduling: Automated staff scheduling depends on agent availability, demand, and skill level, which can be identified in forecasts and employee profiles.
  • Real-time tracking: Visibility into current agent scheduling, attendance, and activity enhances planning and internal productivity.
  • Comprehensive reporting: Reporting offers high-level insights into team performance and activity, including low and high-operational efficiency areas.

While some software solutions may offer only a few of these features, Zendesk WFM gives customer service teams all these tools and more.

Frequently asked questions

Optimize customer service team scheduling with Zendesk WFM

Workforce scheduling is a skill—it’s not inherent for every manager, and it requires strategic thinking and compassion to do it well. Mastering workforce schedules requires reliable resources and workforce management tools that help you make informed, team-specific decisions.

Just as coaches hire athletic trainers to help strengthen teams, invest in tools that are essential for optimizing workforce schedules, such as AI-powered forecasting, automated scheduling, and real-time tracking. Workforce management software like Zendesk gives managers access to these tools and more, helping them prioritize the well-being of their teams.

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