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Masooma Memon

What is Workforce Scheduling & How to Optimize It

Workforce scheduling has a massive impact on the operations of your business, so why settle for less than best? Dig into the details and optimize for success.

Workforce scheduling is the backbone of streamlined business operations.

It facilitates timely project delivery and optimal resource utilization — all while making sure employees are working on tasks that match their skillsets and interests. 

The catch? Old-school, manual resource management demands extensive time investment and siloed planning.

It also heavily relies on spreadsheet-based timesheets and employee skills inventory, which adds more work to your plate, making it hard to collaborate with stakeholders and team members.

The good news: you can overcome all these challenges and make your scheduling process quick and efficient by digitalizing resource management.

In this guide, we’ll give you the steps to streamline workforce scheduling. But before that, let’s look at the fundamentals including reasons why you should consider investing time into resource calendar planning in the first place.  

What is workforce scheduling?

Workforce scheduling is the process of planning when and what your staff will work on. In some instances where fieldwork is involved, it also includes deciding where employees will work.

The aim is simple: workforce or resource scheduling chalks employees’ schedules far out into the future — say a quarter.

Benefits of optimizing workforce scheduling

On the surface, it may seem like planning your workforce’s schedules is a rather redundant task. 

In truth: committing time to it is one of the best decisions you can make — simply because the benefits of resource management make it worth the investment.

In fact, its benefits pool into different aspects of business growth including improved employee retention, client satisfaction, and project management.

Here’s how resource scheduling helps:

1. Increased project success

Having the most skilled people scheduled to work on a project improves project success rate.

At the same time, by appropriately estimating the duration of each job, you allot enough time to complete tasks without rushing them. This makes room for creativity, reduces fatigue among employees, and guarantees the quality of the deliverables.

Most of all, by scheduling enough time for different tasks, you can complete projects by their defined timelines — improving not only project success rate but also stakeholder satisfaction.

Learn more: The Low-Down on Effective Project Management 

2. Reduced resource clashes

A well-planned resource calendar considers employees’ availability and upcoming holidays.

It also factors in the work on every employee’s plate to make sure no one is scheduled to work on more projects than they can handle.

This guarantees optimal resource allocation, reducing the odds of scheduling clashes while ensuring you use resources to their optimal capacity.

Dig deeper: What is Capacity Management & How to Do it 

3. Improved employee satisfaction

Employees working on projects that leverage their best skills tend to be satisfied since their organization allows them to refine their skills and grow.

What’s more, since an efficient workforce scheduling process makes sure no assignments fall into employees’ time off, it can contribute to reducing burnout. 

Over time, learning opportunities at work paired with optimal utilization improve employee performance. In turn, all these factors contribute to better reducing turnover.

Dig deeper: What is Utilization Rate? Know Where You're Earning or Burning Money

4. Less resource wastage

By strategically scheduling your workforce, you can make sure no one is under-utilized to prevent resource wastage.

Similarly, by optimally planning routes and schedules for your on-site staff, you can save on fuel costs and minimize commute costs.

Read more: Improving Resource Efficiency: The Ultimate Guide for 2024 

Workforce scheduling challenges

Although resource scheduling comes with a ton of undeniable benefits, nailing it can be tough.

The reason is simple: there’s a lot that goes into creating an optimal workforce scheduling system including balancing employee availability, capacity planning, meeting business needs, and a lot more.

Let’s look at these challenges below:

1. Collaborating with leadership

Packed to-do lists mean stakeholders can’t make space for workforce scheduling in their calendars.

In reality, their input in resource planning is essential to get their buy-in early on and prevent jeopardizing employee schedules down the line.

Collaborating with the C-suite is also essential for understanding the business goals and needs so you can plan resources to meet strategic objectives.

No wonder, 73% of HR leaders said collaborating with business leaders for workforce planning was their top priority in 2023. 

2. Tracking employee skillsets and interests

Efficient workforce scheduling involves assigning the right people to the right projects.

That is: allocating resources to tasks they’re interested in and have the necessary skillset to efficiently complete the job. This ensures employees are satisfied (and growing) in their roles and projects are completed to the satisfaction of stakeholders.

However, keeping tabs on a workforce’s interests can be tough — particularly if you try to manually update your employee skills spreadsheets with their changing strengths, shortcomings, and passions.

The work only gets harder as employees’ interests and skill sets change over time. 

3. Keeping tabs on employee availability

As with tracking employee interests, keeping tabs on their availability (particularly manually) is a pretty tough nut to crack. 

After all, you’re likely managing a medium to large workforce, and remembering when every employee is due an off is nearly impossible without an efficient system.

In fact, a poor hold on employee availability increases the likelihood of inaccurate resource scheduling.

For example, you might end up assigning an employee to a high-priority project, only to realize they shared they’ll be starting their maternity leave around the time the project kicks off.

Naturally, this negatively impacts employee experience and can potentially stall project progress if you don’t have backup resources available.

What’s more, by over-assigning work to your staff (read: assigning work above their capacity), you can increase the risk of burnout and eventually, employee turnover. 

4. Scheduling a hybrid workforce’s calendars

Remote or hybrid work is yet another challenge, particularly for teams who are in the habit of manually planning their workplace schedules.

On-site resource schedules are rarely accessible.

And there’s an extent to the collaboration that Excel-powered work schedules facilitate among team members and across functions.  

Not to mention, traditional workforce scheduling isn’t efficient. It limits automation and doesn’t give you access to fresh project data (needed for resource scheduling), or offer a full overview of the schedule you create. 

5. Balancing multiple variables workplace scheduling depends on

Creating, managing, and optimizing your staff’s schedules involves balancing several changing factors such as: 

  • Anticipated workload changes
  • The size of your workforce
  • Work time regulations
  • Employee availability
  • Upcoming holidays
  • Budget constraints
  • Business needs

Project/HR managers need to make sure they match skills appropriately to projects and balance meeting work demand with resource supply.

At the same time, they must avoid over- and under-scheduling, resource clashes, and hiring contractors per seasonal workload changes — all while staying within the defined budget.

How to optimize workforce scheduling in your organization

No matter how many hours of work go into creating a well laid out workforce schedule, the plan won’t be effective if it’s on a handful of spreadsheets.

 Essentially, traditional resource management:

  • Takes extensive time since it dependence on manual inputs
  • Doesn’t give you access to carefully collated project data in one place
  • And doesn’t offer team collaboration or real-time updates

That’s why we recommend digitalizing your resource scheduling to make the entire workforce planning process easy and accessible.

Think about it: using the right resource scheduling software means you can:

  • Easily get a birds-eye view of each employee’s availability and schedule
  • Share your workforce schedule with stakeholders and project team members
  • Get access to project data such as the hours it takes to complete a specific task for optimal planning

Since all your workforce schedule sits in the cloud — thanks to the software you use — you and other folks you allow can access it anywhere, anytime. This eliminates the stress of managing hybrid and remote resource management.

But that’s not all. Digitalizing also lets you track employee time and workload capacity.

Let’s look at the steps you can take to optimize your workforce scheduling:

Step 1: Invest time into workplace scheduling

To begin with, understand the importance of workplace scheduling.

Optimal resource scheduling has the potential to improve various business functions including project management and employee retention. 

It makes everyone’s lives easier too. For example: 

  • Leadership and HR know they’ve the right talent to meet business objectives
  • Project managers don’t have to micromanage staff to meet last-minute deadlines
  • Employees get clarity of their upcoming workload

So if you already aren’t putting in sufficient time to create staff schedules, consider revisiting the benefits of workplace scheduling that we covered above.

Don’t have a dedicated schedule manager? Project and team managers can easily take on this role if HR is at maximum capacity.

HR managers can also collaborate with team managers to create workplace schedules. Once you have a solid system in place, you can also involve employees in the process for a bottom-up approach to resource allocation

Step 2: Introduce workforce management software

Resource management software makes workforce scheduling easy by giving you an overview of:

  • Old project data
  • Employee availability
  • Workforce schedules
  • Projects in your pipeline

Let’s say you’re creating workforce schedules, but they aren’t as accurate. There’s almost always some resource clash and employees are rushing to meet deadlines. 

Thankfully, a resource management tool can solve these concerns.

For one, the software gives you data on how long each project task takes. This way, you can use the information to give each task a realistic duration for completion.

And two, your resource scheduling software shows you employee availability and schedules. At one glance, you can find the right people for each task and project and assign work based on availability. 

Take Runn, for example. It gives you an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop interface to create resource schedules quickly.

By adding tags to the employee inventory you create in the software, you can also find people with the right skills within minutes. Simply filter people by skill and roles and you’ll immediately see available resources:

In short, make sure you digitalize the process to save time and use the data it surfaces to guide your workforce scheduling decisions. 

Step 3: Break down projects into tasks

As a manager scheduling resources, start with revisiting business needs and subsequent project requirements.

Use the information to break down projects into milestones or phases — here’s your guide to creating a milestone schedule

Next, break each project phase into tasks for a full overview of the upcoming work and how many and what type of resources you need. 

Based on the task requirements, identify the best resources based on their skills, interests, availability, and seniority level.

The idea is simple: instead of working off of assumptions to understand business demand and resource supply, work based on the real requirements and availabilities. Again, a resource management software can simplify this for you — we’ll show you how in step 5. 

Step 4: Understand how long each task takes

If you were to manually track the time it takes to complete different tasks, you’d have to consistently prompt employees to track the hours they put into their work.

From there, you’ll need to collate the results and analyze the estimated duration of various tasks. This can take extensive time and effort.

Not to mention, traditional timesheets do little to control time wastage. Plus, they aren’t accessible if you, a team member, or a member of the leadership team is working remotely.

The alternate is to estimate how long tasks take to allot time to each in your workforce schedule.

But since the plan is to speed up and optimize resource management, you can take a straightforward, automated approach here. This is possible with your resource scheduling software keeping tabs on task duration.

Runn, for instance, comes with its time-tracking Chrome extension and also integrates with different time trackers. Employees simply need to hit record as they work.

Runn then auto-updates project timesheets. This way, you can:

  • See how much time is going into completing a project
  • Review whether the time spent is within the project scope and budget
  • And, go back to the timesheet to see how much time different tasks take on average

Don’t have previous project data? Compare actual data with your estimated schedules to see the discrepancy between the two to make informed workforce schedules moving forward.

Step 5: Create a resource inventory to fast-track work assignment

As with traditional timesheets, creating spreadsheet-based employee inventories is time and effort-intensive.

Keeping them up to date is harder still. Not to forget, paper inventories don’t allow for much collaboration.

Now to optimize this aspect of workforce scheduling, use Runn to create a skills inventory for a holistic view of employees’ skills and skill levels.

This makes resource allocation a breeze. Simply search for the skills you need in resources you want for a specific task/project and your skills inventory will pull up people with the relevant skill(s):

The best part? You can use this inventory for skills gap analysis. That is: use it to identify what skills are lacking in your workforce that you need to meet business goals. Then hire accordingly. 

Step 6: Always assign work by reviewing employee availability

Admittedly, this is easier said than done — particularly for large teams and multinational companies.

But when you use a resource scheduling software, you can easily see who is available.

For example, Runn gives you a heatmap-based visual representation of employee availability. You can use it for quick insight into individuals’ work capacity — hours assigned and hours remaining. 

Use this to assign work based on real data, rather than assumptions, which is key to avoiding scheduling conflicts

Key components of workforce scheduling software

There are a ton of resource scheduling tools you can explore.

As you review and shortlist them for your organization though, make sure they give you the following essential features for efficient workforce scheduling:

  • Gives you an overview of employee schedules, skills, and availability. This is a vital component to help you make realistic resource calendars that satisfy both employees and stakeholders. By matching tasks/projects to resource skills and availability, you also guarantee deliverables’ quality and meet deadlines.
  • Automates time, money, and milestone tracking. Information on how much each time a task takes and whether projects are completed within set timelines you set for them is essential for planning realistic workforce schedules. Without it, you’ll be working based on assumptions, which can lead to employees working overtime to meet deadlines.
  • Forecasts resource needs. This way, you can keep on top of skills gaps in your workforce. You can also use the info to keep on top of hiring new resources or part-time contractors to meet workload and business requirements.
  • Integrates with your tool stack. Review the integrations a workforce scheduling software offers so you can connect your toolkit and reduce switching between platforms.
  • Easy to use and intuitive. Last but not least, test drive the software to determine its ease of use. The lower the learner curve, the faster you and your team will be able to adopt its use.

In summary

From better employee retention to efficient project management and completion, workforce scheduling brings tons of benefits to the table.

But to make the most out of it, digitalize your resource management processes using a dedicated platform. This way, you can make efficient workplace schedules that ensure timely project delivery, and employee satisfaction, and reduce scheduling conflicts.

Looking for a workforce management software to streamline your processes? Book a demo for Runn today and we’ll show you how our tool can help.

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