How to solve scheduling problems to meet guest demand

Flexible scheduling can increase employee engagement and make fluctuating seasons less stressful. Photo credit: mohamed_hassan/Pixabay (fist bump over work table)

Matching employee coverage to vacillating customer demand in the hospitality industry has always been tough to get right, especially for businesses that rely on a particular season for most of their revenue, such as ski resorts and summer retreats.

Scheduling seasonal employees remains even trickier right now as we all still navigate our way through the pandemic. Demand continues to be uncertain. With too few employees scheduled, customers will be unhappy; schedule too many, and your bottom line takes a hit.
 
Fortunately, today’s challenges also represent an opportunity to build a more flexible scheduling model that can set your operation apart from the competition, increase employee engagement and make fluctuating seasons much less stressful. We’re talking about flexible scheduling, or self-scheduling.
 
To make flexible scheduling work to your best advantage, you first have to set the stage with these three steps:

  • Start recruiting early. Hiring the right people can take a long time. If your high season is summer, you’ll want your seasonal crew on board by April.
  • Treat seasonal hires as real employees. Your temporary workers are just as valuable as year-round employees. Wise employers treat temporary employees the same as permanent workers and take the same policy approaches toward them.
  • Train them well. Busy seasons equate to high stress. Don’t let the idea of a shorter work span tempt you to spend less time training seasonal employees than you would year-round help.

Flexible Scheduling

Once you have your team on board and trained, you can start setting up your flexible schedule. In this staffing model, a manager establishes a framework—a schedule that will accommodate for minimal, or essential, shift coverage. As customer demand climbs, shifts can be added.
 
It’s best to establish the baseline schedule at least a week in advance, so employees can see what shifts are available. Then if demand increases, supervisors can quickly communicate with the team and make extra shifts available. The key here is communication in real-time, or as real-time as possible. Whether you rely on text messaging, email or a mobile scheduling app, some level of communications technology is necessary.
 
After the schedule is set, instead of assigning everyone shifts, employees can select the shifts they want to work; any unfilled shifts can be assigned after everyone’s had a chance to choose. Employees also can request shifts and swap with one another. This approach creates more engaged employees because they know they can work when they want and have some ownership in their work schedule. It also results in fewer no-shows.
 
Managing flexible scheduling manually can be challenging and slow. One of the most effective ways to implement the practice is to use hourly workforce management software that allows managers to develop the shift schedule and share it to employees’ mobile devices. To get started on the right foot, be sure to:

  • First identify the type of schedule you’re using, such as full shifts or split shifts.
  • Be willing to revamp. It’s possible that the way you currently schedule works fine, and all you need to do is introduce the ability for employees to choose their shifts. Or you might decide that your current practice won’t translate well to flexible scheduling. If that’s the case, you need to adopt a different type of schedule (split shifts or flexible start/stop times, for example).
  • Create and communicate standard operating procedures to employees that will help you manage a flexible schedule. For example, what do you do when no one chooses a shift, or someone chooses back-to-back shifts?
  • Get feedback from your team. Listen to what’s working and what’s not and be willing to make adjustments.

Seasonal operations that adopt flexible scheduling report that they resolve scheduling conflicts and issues 20 percent faster using this model. What’s more, flexible self-scheduling enables supervisors to more effectively manage unpredictable flow of demand and gives employees more flexibility and autonomy in their lives. And we all know that flexibility is key to business survival and revival during these uncertain times.
 
Chad Halvorson is the founder and chief experience officer of When I Work.