Staffing Management

Prepare for the worst: A staff coverage checklist

By Dan Whitehead

May. 20, 2021

As a manager, one of your most important responsibilities is creating a schedule for your business. Overstaffing is expensive, but having too few employees working means you risk giving your customers a subpar experience—and creating more stress for your staff. Even when your schedule is perfectly calibrated, sometimes employees call out at the last minute and you still end up short-staffed.

When dealing with staff coverage, your best option is to plan for the worst: employees are human, and everyone has emergencies spring up. The best way to keep staff coverage issues from having a negative impact on your business is to put processes in place that reduce last minute problems as much as possible and mitigate their impact when they do occur.

Here’s a staff coverage checklist that will help you head off issues before they happen and be prepared when they do.

1. Look at past trends to predict staff coverage needs

Your best way to predict future traffic is to look at past trends and extrapolate from there. The first step in preparing for the worst is to have adequate coverage scheduled to begin with, so make sure you know how busy your business gets on a given day, week, or season.

Do you have a clear idea of what your busiest days of the week are and months out of the year? Do you see more foot traffic in the morning or evening? Do you get more calls after 5 pm? One way to find out is to compare sales numbers and look for trends in the data or use a foot traffic analysis tool.

You can also check in with your staff who regularly work on the sales floor and might have a closer view of customer comings and goings. Another option is to use a predictive analysis tool to understand future customer demand.

Predict staffing requirements
Using Workforce’s powerful predictive analytics tools can help you anticipate staffing needs before they arise.

2. Start your schedule on a busy day

When you design your weekly schedule, it might seem natural to start it at the beginning of the calendar week, on Sunday or Monday. But when you think about coverage and staffing logistics, it actually makes sense to start your schedule on a busy day. For example, if your busiest periods are Thursday through Saturday, create your schedule starting on Thursday and then build it out from there.

Designing your schedule around your peak business days allows you to make sure those busiest shifts are fully staffed first, without risking overtime hours or understaffing because of projections you made based on less busy days.

3. Make the schedule as far in advance as possible

The farther in advance you create your schedule and share it with your team, the more time they have to see it and plan accordingly. It’s especially helpful for employees who have other commitments, like parents who handle childcare or student employees who need to study and attend classes.

Depending on where you are doing business, advance scheduling may even be a legal requirement. More and more states are implementing predictive scheduling laws which commit employers to giving employees their work schedule up to two weeks in advance. There are benefits to the business as well. Making and posting the schedule in advance gives your employees more time to trade shifts and find their own coverage, which takes the burden off of you.

If all else fails, the earlier you know that employees won’t be able to work a scheduled shift, the more time that gives you to find an alternate solution.

4. Make it easy to consult the schedule online

The easier it is for your team to consult the schedule, the more likely they are to check it regularly and early. Having it available online is especially useful for part-time staff who might not come into your business more than a few times per week and might not get a chance to see the schedule hanging on a bulletin board until several days after it’s made.

You can email schedules to your team or use scheduling software that allows you to post schedules and make them available to everyone at once.

An employee schedule on the Workforce app
When you create shift schedules using Workforce, every employee will be able to see their full schedule on their mobile device in real-time.

5. Have an easy way for the whole team to communicate

Make sure you have a convenient way to communicate with your whole team at once and for your employees to communicate with each other.

Having an easy way for you to contact your entire staff in one place can help you find last-minute coverage and communicate unexpected schedule changes, and it can help them swap shifts and know who’s available if they need to find their own replacement. You can use Google Groups or a text thread for this or a workforce management app with communications features.

6. Cross-train your employees

If your team members are trained to cover multiple different jobs, you have more flexibility when you’re creating your weekly schedule, and you also have more options for coverage if someone calls out. Cross-train your employees so they know as many different tasks that your business requires as possible. This could be anything, from working the cash register to answering a specific type of customer query to mixing your bar’s signature drink.

As a bonus, cross-training your team allows them to gain new skills and gives them more options to grow within your business.

7. Allow shift swapping

Once you’ve created the schedule, changing it is a headache. Allowing your team to swap shifts can take some of the burden off of you while still giving them as much flexibility and autonomy as possible. Having employees trade shifts and look for coverage for shifts they don’t want will reduce the risk of last-minute problems —and employees who want more shifts can easily pick them up from their colleagues.

If you allow your employees to swap shifts, make sure there’s a clear approval process, and collect requests in writing so you don’t lose track of them. Otherwise, you might end up having to pay overtime you hadn’t budgeted for.

Workforce allows vacant shifts to be offered to available employees quickly and easily.
Approving and reassigning swapped shifts is quick and easy using Workforce.

8. Create an availability chart

An availability chart is a visual tool that can help you see at a glance which employees are available on what days. One option is to make a weekly calendar that you hang in your office or keep on your computer with the names of each team member who is available on a given day. Or you can work backwards and create an exclusion chart, where you only put the names of employees who are definitely not available on certain days.

An availability chart can help you see at a glance who is available to cover a shift and avoid wasting time contacting team members who are not. For example, if one of your employees only covers opening shifts or weekends, calling them to close on a Tuesday is a waste of your time.

9. Establish an emergency window

Set a specific time period each day in which employees should let you know if they have an emergency and cannot cover their scheduled shift. Last-minute problems are annoying but occasionally inevitable.

One way to mitigate their impact is to create clear guidelines around how and when employees should get in touch with you. For example, you might require that they get in touch by X time the morning of their shift or X number of hours before their shift starts. And you can request they let you know by phone, email, or text message—whatever is most convenient for you and ensures you’ll have as much warning as possible to find a solution.

10. Ask staff to request time off well in advance

Take a look at your workplace’s time-off policies and make sure you have a system in place for staff to request time off well in advance. Don’t forget to include clear guidelines on how requests should be made (in person, through an app, or by filling out a form, for example). The farther in advance you can evaluate time-off requests, the more you can plan ahead to make sure all of your business’s needs are covered.

11. Hire part-time team members to cover staff coverage gaps

Consider hiring reliable part-time employees who can help you with coverage and can occasionally take on extra shifts to fill in last-minute gaps in your schedule. Part-time staffers often have other commitments outside of your business, like another job, school, or childcare responsibilities, so make sure you know if/when they are available for coverage, and add that information to your availability chart.

Use the right tools to manage staff coverage

Now that you have the best possible processes in place to manage staff coverage, the next step is getting the tools you need to help you put them into place. The best tools will help you automate most of the scheduling process and flag any issues, like overtime or schedule conflicts, so you don’t have to find them manually.

That’s why features include automatic advanced scheduling, analytics, attendance, and labor compliance—an all in one workforce management solution.

Schedule, engage, and pay your staff in one system with