Boost productivity and clarity with work schedules

Caeleigh MacNeil contributor headshotCaeleigh MacNeilNovember 17th, 20219 min read
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Summary

A work schedule is a document that helps you plan and organize your team’s time. When done right, a work schedule plays to your team’s strengths, enables each team member to be their most productive self, and provides clarity around who’s available for requests and questions. Read on to learn about different types of work schedules and how to create one for your team.

Your team is the most important part of any project. Their work—and their time—is essential to tackle project objectives and spur business growth. And when you effectively manage your team’s time, you can empower each person to do their best work. 

That’s where work schedules come in. When done right, a work schedule makes the most of your team’s bandwidth and ensures that your project or business has the resources it needs to succeed.

What is a work schedule? 

A work schedule is a document that helps you plan and organize your team’s time. It details the specific days and hours team members will be working—so employees know when they’re expected to be available, and your team has clarity on who’s working when.

The needs of your team determine the type of work schedule you use. For example, a web engineering team may use a more flexible full-time schedule that allows employees to set their own hours, while a customer service team may work in rotating shifts to provide 24-hour support. 

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How a work schedule can help your team

A work schedule can empower your team to accomplish their best work. Here’s how: 

Boost productivity

Different people may be productive at different times—for example, some may find their flow state during the morning hours, while others may work better in the evening. A work schedule lets you tap into your team members’ preferred hours so they can work when they’re most productive. 

Play to your team’s strengths

Different team members often have different skill sets. For example, one person may be extroverted and good at communicating with customers, while another may excel at behind-the-scenes coordination. Keeping these differences in mind while scheduling can ensure that your team’s strengths are well-balanced for each shift.  

Create clarity

Sharing a work schedule with your team lets everyone know who’s working, when. That way, team members always know who’s available to help at any given time. And when people are off the clock, the whole team knows it—so employees are empowered to disconnect completely. 

Save time

Creating a work schedule may take more time up front, but your future self will thank you. Once you’ve established a consistent scheduling process—along with guidelines for requesting time off—you’ll spend less time dealing with logistics and last-minute adjustments. 

Keep tabs on costs

If your team members are paid hourly, which is more common in the US,  a work schedule is an easy way to streamline  costs and stay within your project budget. It helps you manage the work hours of employees or contractors and avoid costly overscheduling. You can also prevent under-scheduling and ensure that you’re never left short-handed. 

Stay compliant

Depending on how many hours team members work, they may be entitled to certain benefits, such as minimum rest breaks, meal breaks or overtime pay. Using a work schedule to manage employee hours can help you stay compliant with national, federal and state laws and regulations, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in the US or working time requirements in Europe. Make sure to check with your legal counsel before proposing a new work schedule. 

Types of work schedules

There are many different ways to create a work schedule. The schedule type you choose depends on your team’s needs, your project and company objectives, and your unique organizational culture. Always check with your internal legal and HR teams before implementing any changes to work scheduling, since there may be local or national legal constraints and procedural requirements. Here are some employee scheduling options to consider: 

Basic work schedules

These basic schedule types are differentiated purely by the number of hours worked. In the following sections, we’ll give you some examples of how to customize full-time or part-time schedules to add additional flexibility or cover specific business needs—but for now, here’s a quick overview: 

  • Full-time work schedule: Full-time schedules include roughly 40 or more hours each week—though individual countries may define full-time work differently. 

  • Part-time work schedule: Part-time schedules include (you guessed it) less hours than full-time schedules. This leaves a lot of wiggle room—for example, a part-time employee could work two hours per week or 25 hours per week. 

Flexible work schedules

Flexible schedules provide room for team members to work when they’re most productive and tailor their hours to their personal schedules. This can improve work-life balance, boost flow state, and provide essential focus time for individuals who work better in the early morning and evenings. Flexible work schedules may not be available depending on your employee contracts—check in with your legal and HR departments to ensure you can implement these schedules and how to do so before moving forward.

  • Flex time: This option establishes “core hours” when team members should be in the office or online and available—for example, from 11am to 3pm. Outside those core hours, your team can work according to their own schedule. For example, you might decide to work from 7am to 3pm, whereas another team member might work from 10am to 6pm. 

  • Annualized hours: Useful if your team has significant ebbs and flows in demand, annualized hours give employees a specific total of hours each year—typically with some core hours each work week. For example, an engineering team might put in extra hours in the weeks leading up to a big launch, then work less hours the week following. 

  • Compressed work schedule: A compressed schedule allows team members to condense their hours into fewer days. For example, you could work four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days. 

  • Freelance work schedule: Freelancers are contractors rather than employees, and can typically work on a schedule that fits their own needs. Often, freelancers are paid at the completion of a project rather than for the number of hours they work. 

Flexible schedules are particularly common for remote teams. In fact, according to the Anatomy of Work Index, 35% of employees say a flexible approach to working hours is critical towards improving remote work-life balance.

Shift work schedules

Shift work schedules offer a more structured approach. They’re most often used by teams with unusual hours—for example, a customer service team that provides 24-hour support, or a culinary team that needs to prepare meals in the early morning hours. Similar to flexible schedules, always check with your internal teams about what’s available based on your employee contracts and local laws. 

  • Rotating shift schedule: This type of shift schedule allows businesses to operate 24 hours per day, with employees working in rotations. For example, some team members might work during the day while others might work early morning or night shifts. 

  • Split shift schedule: This schedule type separates an employee’s shift into two parts. For example, a team member might clock in for a work shift in the morning, clock out, then return for another shift in the evening. 

  • On-call work schedule: When an employee is on-call, they’re available to work if they’re needed. They’ll typically still work their normal shift, then remain on-call once they leave in case a shift is short-staffed or if there’s an emergency. On-call shifts usually rotate between team members on certain days of the week, so no one person has to be on alert all the time. 

It is always good practice to consult with employees about any work schedule changes and give advance notice. In many countries, this is required. Additionally, outside the US, employment contracts typically specify the days and hours team members will be working. Always check with your internal Human Resources and Legal teams before making any changes.

8 steps to create a work schedule

Follow these steps to create a tailor-made work schedule that sets your team up for success.   

1. Identify requirements and resources

Before you start scheduling, figure out the scope of work your team will be responsible for—plus the resources you have to work with. That way, you can schedule your team’s time in a way that will realistically accomplish your project objectives.

If your team is made up of salaried employees, identify how many people are on your team, the hours they typically work, and any upcoming leave or vacation time. If you’re relying on hourly team members or contractors, consult your project budget to determine how many hours you can afford to pay employees or contractors each week. 

2. Determine when your team should be working

Depending on your business or project needs, you may need team members to be available at specific times. Ask yourself these questions to determine what type of schedule makes the most sense for your team:

  • Does your team operate within business hours in a single time zone, or does your team span different time zones? If the latter, you may need to schedule meetings during specific times to accommodate time differences—for example, some team members may need to be online at 8am Pacific Time to meet with colleagues in Europe. 

  • Do you need someone on-call outside regular business hours? For example, a team of software developers may designate an on-call person in case the company website or server goes down. 

  • Does your team operate outside normal business hours? For example, a 24-hour customer service team may use a rotating shift schedule to provide continuous customer support. 

  • What type of work demand do you expect at different times of day, year, or month? For example, a B2B company might slow down sales around the holidays, while a culinary business may ramp up every day at dinner time. 

  • Does your team need to meet in-person, or can you work asynchronously? And if you need facetime, what are the ideal hours to meet? If you opt for a more flexible schedule option, these questions can help you determine “core hours” for your team. 

Read: 3 ways to collaborate remotely with your team

3. List the requirements for each shift

Now that you’ve identified when your team should be available, think about the staffing requirements for each shift. That way, you can create an ideal balance of leadership and expertise each day. To get started, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Can team members work independently, or would it help to have someone in a leadership position available to supervise or answer questions? For example, a team of nurses should always have a doctor on shift to triage more serious illnesses.

  • What type of expertise is required? For example, an operations team might need people with different types of expertise between 9am and 5pm—like a receptionist, an office manager, and an IT specialist. 

  • Should team members with specific expertise be available at different times? For example, this could apply to a sales team that works with accounts across multiple global regions. One account manager may be online in the early morning to meet with clients in Europe, while another may work evening hours to sync with teams in Asia.  

4. Get to know your team

To make your work schedule as effective as it can be, it’s important to go beyond just requesting everyone’s availability. Ask each team member when they prefer to work and when they’re most productive—for example, first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. That way, you can ensure each person is working to their full potential, and avoid scheduling team meetings during team members’ preferred focus time. 

In addition, get to know each person’s preferred method of collaboration. For example, if team members value face-to-face meetings but also require undisturbed focus time, establishing a flexible schedule with core hours may be a good option. 

Read: 12 tips to be more productive today

5. Plan for changes

Life happens—people get sick, have family emergencies, and take well-deserved vacations. As such, it’s important to plan how you’ll make changes to your team’s work schedule when unexpected events occur. Consider the following when you create your team’s work schedule: 

  • Sick days: Decide what happens when someone needs a last-minute day off. For example, you may need to find a replacement or designate a point person to handle any urgent requests or questions. Or, you could allow team members to swap shifts with each other if needed. 

  • Planned time off: Create clear guidelines for how employees should request time off. Consider how far in advance they should let you know—for example, you may need more significant notice if someone will be out for a week or more, and less notice for single days off.

  • Backup availability: Document your team’s backup availability in advance and designate secondary points of contact for specific business or project needs. That way, you’ll have a reference when you need to cover open shifts due to sick days and planned time off. You can share continued coverage in a business continuity plan. 

Free business continuity template

6. Make your schedule

Now that you’ve ironed out requirements and team preferences, you can start building your team’s work schedule. The format and level of detail you include will depend on the schedule type you choose—for example, whether you’re planning rotating shifts or standard 9-5 coverage. However, here are some key components to include for all work schedule types: 

  • Each team member’s name

  • The dates and times they’re expected to work

  • The type of work each person is responsible for

  • Where they’ll be working from (for example, whether they’ll be in-office or remote)

Engineering team schedule example

Note that the above work schedule is purely included as an example and does not represent Asana’s work schedule policies. Once you’ve drafted your initial work schedule, be sure to check with your legal and human resources teams to discuss what steps you should take to ensure your schedule is compliant with any national, federal, and state regulations. 

7. Share your schedule

In order for a work schedule to be effective, it should be accessible to everyone on your team. Sharing your team’s work schedule creates the clarity needed for team members to work together efficiently. It lets people know who’s available for requests and questions at any given time, and creates boundaries for team members who are off the clock. 

There are a variety of tools you can use to create and share your work schedule, from simple Excel templates to more robust project management software. A tool like Asana makes sharing easy, and ensures that your team has access to the most up-to-date version of your schedule. With Asana, team members can easily update their availability and share notes in real-time. Plus, you can visualize your team's work schedule with different project views, including list, board, calendar, or timeline options.

8. Ask for feedback

The first work schedule you make doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, you can expect to continuously adjust and improve your team’s schedule, and collecting feedback is an essential part of that process. Establish a regular cadence for requesting input from your team—for example, at the end of each month or quarter. That way you can continue to tailor your team’s work schedule and empower each person to focus and collaborate to their full potential.  

Read: Don’t like giving feedback? These 20 tips are for you

Schedule with confidence

When done right, a work schedule plays to your team’s strengths and enables each team member to be their most productive self. When you share a work schedule across your team, everyone can clearly see which team members are available at any given time, who’s responsible for what, and who’s off the clock. And with so many work schedule types to choose from, you can create a tailor-made plan for your team that empowers them to tackle project objectives with clarity and confidence. 

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