Account for Availability

Author: Gurpreet Banwait

Scheduling is a challenging task. You try to build the schedule in a fair manner that supports the needs of your business. However, what invariably happens is that as soon as you send out the schedule, your staff asks for changes to be made because of something that may have come up in their lives. In addition, with new legislation proposed or in place in many states mandating that schedules be provided sooner (typically 2 weeks), this will likely lead to even more changes being made once the schedule is published. Depending on the sophistication of your staff, you may give them the opportunity to drop shifts they don’t want and have others pick them up, or you may allow them to switch shifts amongst each other. The challenge is that if there are specific qualifications or credentials required to do the job, this may end up increasing your costs. Of course, managing this manually using a spreadsheet complicates it even more. One approach to limiting the changes is to incorporate staff availability before the schedule is built.

Collecting staff availability can be done by creating a simple company process. If you are using a manual process, create an availability form and have them fill it out in advance. Once this form is submitted, you can review the availability of the employee and assign shifts accordingly. Of course, depending on the size of your workforce, this could complicate your manual process further. The key info you want to include in the availability form is: Employee Name, Availability, Preferences and Notes. You will need to remind the staff that the availability form should be updated as their schedule changes.

If you are using spreadsheets to manage the process, this can complicate the building of schedules. Using an automated tool will make the process of collecting and then incorporating this into the building of schedules no more additional effort. For example, when looking for a scheduling solution ask:

  • How will staff be able to specify their availability? Do they need to fill out a paper form or can it be done online?
  • How will staff modify their availability
  • How will the scheduler use this availability when trying to fill shifts
  • If the scheduler has to manually enter in the availability into the system for it to be considered.
  • How the availability can be overridden in cases where someone who has indicated they are not available, but still can be scheduled in rare circumstances? This is especially important if someone calls-off and you need to find a replacement.

Having a solution that allows staff to manage their own availability online without having to fill out paper forms is ideal as it saves the scheduler time when creating the schedule. The goal should be to find a solution that reduces the effort required to prepare the schedule and ideally create it many weeks in advance allowing your staff to organize their personal lives around their work lives.