It’s been a long time since you could assume that the majority of your team is at it from 9 to 5. The “global village” means that work doesn’t end when the sun sets or markets close in your time zone, and the rise of flexible working patterns made it even more complex to coordinate employee schedules.
The best employee scheduling strategies consider employee preferences as well as employer needs and consumer demands, but the enormous number of moving parts – operational needs, budget, regulations and compliance – can make it all very difficult to manage.
COVID-19 has only exacerbated the situation in many industries. Employees who are high risk may be unable to work, or can only take shifts with little contact with the public or when only a skeleton staff is present. Workers grappling with unpredictable childcare needs and unreliable transport can cause even more last-minute changes than usual.
Scheduling conflicts can cause bad feeling in a company, but it doesn’t have to be that way. New advances in tech and better communication between employees and managers help enterprises get employee scheduling right, which improves employee experience and in turn pushes up employee retention and satisfaction.
The exigencies of COVID-19 pushed new trends in employee scheduling, which may be worth continuing even when the pandemic fades into memory. Here are a few scheduling trends from 2020 that are worthy of sticking around.
Scheduling is becoming more flexible
Scheduling that is more flexible is also more complex, but flexibility is crucial for a happy, motivated workforce under pandemic conditions. Employees with more flexible scheduling arrangements report higher wellbeing, more engagement, and more effectiveness at work than those stuck in inflexible scheduling.
For example, mothers working remotely with flexible, efficient schedules that match their availability are three times more likely to have positive wellbeing than those with inflexible, inefficient scheduling.
Although employees may be coping, everyone has their own challenges. “In driving new mindsets and behaviors (such as adapting to a new virtual-working model) at scale, it’s important to engage employees in a continual two-way dialogue that takes into consideration their specific needs, allows them to configure their own journeys,” says Jonathan Emmett, associate partner at McKinsey. Even people who love their jobs need accommodation for whatever else is going on in their lives.
Self-scheduling software invites employees to choose their own shifts, make last-minute changes, book vacation days, and check their schedules independently and remotely. This helps employees to feel more in control, which is especially important during such unstable and uncertain times, increasing employee engagement and satisfaction.
AI is bringing intelligence to scheduling
AI is stepping into many more HR use cases. Now managers can use AI tools to predict changes in consumer demand, and plan ahead to meet altering workforce needs.
For example, surging customer numbers in the winter holiday shopping season can require more retail assistants; a sunny day could tempt more diners to a cafe in the park, needing the addition of more waiters; rolling out a new product version might prompt you to increase customer service agents to answer user questions, etc.
With AI and machine learning, HR teams can analyze employee strengths and weaknesses to understand which employees work best together. With these insights, you can construct the strongest possible on-schedule teams for every situation and place the right person on duty at the right time.
Employees expect remote and mobile scheduling
Managing employee scheduling manually, even with an Excel spreadsheet, has long been a joke, but today, employees and HR managers simply can’t live without remote and mobile access to cloud-based scheduling tools that sync automatically to allow use anywhere.
The COVID-19-driven shift to WFH only underlined the importance of cloud-based systems for scheduling. We live our lives on our phones, from ordering dinner to taking out a mortgage, so it’s understandable to assume that scheduling software would include a mobile app.
“You want to make it easy for your staff to access their schedules from anywhere. This isn’t possible with desktop software,” writes tech expert Neil Patel in his scheduling tool drill-down. Beyond mobile-friendliness, he continues, “The best tools will also have shift swapping, employee self-service tools, HR features, labor cost management, leave management, attendance tracking, team messaging, overtime control, time clocks, etc.”
In today’s dynamic work environments, HR needs the ability to respond to scheduling changes on the fly, ensuring that they don’t cause your entire month-long schedule to fall apart, and requesting that someone else to step in without breaking your own rules or creating a sense of injustice among your workforce.
Employers are upping the ante in communication
Employee scheduling flows more smoothly with excellent communication that increases trust relationships, creating a virtuous circle where efficient scheduling itself raises trust.
Employee trust is high at the moment, with “my employer” as the most trusted institution and 73% of workers agreeing they trust businesses to protect them by adapting scheduling and sick-leave policies as necessary. But you can’t take this for granted.
Employers need to keep up and even improve employee communications. “Given the present state of low trust, business will have to fill a further void, that of credible information,” says Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman Holdings. “For CCOs, it is time for you to initiate regular briefings for employees by your chief scientist or medical officer, to provide trustworthy content that can be shared with employee families or community.”
Enterprises should continue communicating around scheduling, asking how employee needs may have changed (e.g. working parents may prefer a night shift now) and accommodating them as much as possible.
Encourage employees to share their concerns; create more channels for communication between employees and managers and among employees themselves; and open up the conversation around mental health and anxiety, to reinforce trust and improve your understanding of factors that may influence scheduling.
Not all scheduling changes prompted by COVID-19 should fade away
Employee scheduling has never been easy, and with more moving parts, increasing globalization, and the new stresses of COVID-19, it’s only gotten more complex. But necessity is the mother of invention, and so we’ve seen new tech and trends emerge of using AI for intelligent scheduling, supporting scheduling on the hoof, enabling flexible scheduling, and building communication into schedule planning.
Holding onto these new best practices after the crisis of coronavirus has passed can make companies stronger and more resilient in the long term.
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