In some industries, maintaining an on-call schedule is an unavoidable part of doing business. Whether your business needs to handle emergencies or serves clients across many different time zones, some staff must be ready to respond around the clock.
Because of this, many businesses that require on-call staff find that creating a workable schedule is a major source of discontent for both managers and employees. And being on-call can be a greater source of fatigue and stress than working regular shifts.
In this article, we’ll try to take some of the angst out of the on-call scheduling process by working through key considerations, common scheduling systems, and tips for maintaining employee morale.
Table Of Contents
On-Call Schedule Considerations
Effective on-call scheduling requires you to pay attention to many different factors, some of which you have limited or no control over. Failure to place due weight on any single consideration can have costly consequences, in terms of money and employee satisfaction.
Let’s look at these factors below.
Relevant Employment Laws
Whenever you’re scheduling employees, you should always be aware of the relevant employment laws.
In addition to federal regulations, many states have their own laws that include provisions regarding on-call hours. These provisions often require businesses to provide things like advance notice to employees and may be even stricter than federal guidelines.
For example, the Department of Labor only requires that employees be paid for time spent on-call at your business’s location, not time on-call at home. However, some localities have additional requirements that may require you to pay for on-call time at home.
Failing to abide by all labor laws can lead to fines, so brush up on any that apply to your business.
Like everything else in business, your on-call scheduling is constrained by your budget.
This can be an especially tricky issue to manage for businesses that are adding an on-call schedule after only working regular hours before. Even if it’s a “good problem” you encounter because your business is expanding, it still requires careful handling.
If you don’t expand your workforce, you may find that requiring some to be on-call will mean paying overtime. But, of course, hiring additional staff comes with its own cost.
Be extra conscientious about payroll budgets if you’re adding an on-call schedule.
Volume Of Calls
Your company’s need for on-call staff depends on how much work actually needs to be done outside regular business hours. You want to be able to comfortably handle the burden without requiring any more staff to be on-call than necessary.
Keep in mind this isn’t a one-and-done calculation. You should track and analyze the number of calls that come in during on-call hours and adjust accordingly on a regular basis.
If you find that you can reduce the number of staff you’re keeping on-call without compromising customer service, don’t hesitate to do it. On the other hand, if the volume of calls is increasing, you may need to expand your on-call roster to prevent your staff from getting spread too thin.
Employee Availability And Preferences
Letting your employees have a say in when they’re scheduled to be on-call may prevent you from having to look for new employees.
Thoroughly gather input from all team members for when they would prefer or not prefer to be on-call, including any unalterable commitments that would prevent them from being on-call at certain times.
It may not be possible to accommodate everyone’s preferences, but making an effort will go a long way toward maintaining high employee morale.
A good manager makes it a priority to learn the abilities of their team members and their individual strengths and weaknesses. Naturally, you’ll want to keep this information in mind when you’re making an on-call schedule.
Even when employees have the skills necessary to be on-call on paper, you also have to consider experience. If your staff must deal with emergencies, it might not be a good idea to schedule less seasoned employees to be on-call without any backup.
Types Of On-Call Schedules
Now that we’ve discussed the critical factors you need to weigh in developing an on-call schedule, we’ll briefly look at some popular on-call scheduling systems.
Follow The Sun
The “follow the sun” method determines which employees are on-call based on where they work.
The goal is to minimize employees having to respond to calls outside regular work hours. Obviously, this approach only works if you have a team distributed over a large geographic area.
Every Other Week
Also called a semi-monthly schedule, this approach schedules employees to be on-call during alternating weeks: one week on, one week off.
This approach puts one set of employees on-call during the regular Monday-Friday work week and assigns a different group on weekends. This method is useful if there is a need for employees to be on-call after hours.
A rotating schedule varies the hours that employees are on-call more frequently than other methods. For example, an individual employee might be on-call every Monday, but for a different period of time each week.
How To Maintain On-Call Employee Morale
You’ve analyzed all of the key considerations of on-call scheduling. You’ve looked at popular methodologies and settled on one that seems right for your business. But there are still some essential principles necessary to create a system that works for you and your employees.
A big part of stress-free on-call scheduling for your employees is setting clear expectations.
Start by letting them know when and how the on-call schedule can be published, making sure it’s easily accessible, and sticking to what you promised. Avoid sudden, last-minute changes to the schedule if at all possible.
In addition, make sure the responsibilities of staff members while they’re on-call are well defined and that they understand the difference between real emergencies and tasks that can wait until regular business hours.
When on-call, your employees will often be trying to handle unusual tasks with reduced resources. This makes good communication more critical than ever.
Ensure on-call staff can easily get up to speed on things that happened during regular hours so they aren’t forced to play catch-up.
Apps like Inch make it easy to keep everyone on the team in the loop with task-specific threads and user-defined groups so information gets to the people who need it without interruptions or clutter.
Don’t leave your on-call staff feeling isolated and abandoned. This is especially important with less experienced employees and if your on-call staff must field emergency calls.
If at all possible, ensure that there’s always a seasoned employee on-call staff can turn to for expert advice if they are stumped by particularly difficult situations.
Let’s face it, nobody really wants to be on-call. You’re probably not going to have employees eagerly volunteering for it, and even if you did, it’s not workable to rely solely on them. That’s why it’s important that you make an on-call schedule that’s fair and equitable.
Accounting for differing employee skill sets and experience levels may mean it’s inevitable that some employees are on-call more than others, but it’s essential that employees don’t feel the schedule is influenced by favoritism or bias.
On-Point On-Call Scheduling With Inch
If your company needs to maintain an on-call schedule, it’s important to do it right. Haphazard or unfair practices can create a toxic culture in your company. But the on-call schedule doesn’t have to be a source of conflict.
Doing on-call scheduling right means carefully balancing your on-call workload needs with the resources at your disposal. And once the schedule is set, it requires making sure that on-call staff can communicate about tasks, have clarity on their duties, and know there’s backup they can turn to for tough calls.
Inch makes it easy to create, publish, and access your on-call schedule. But Inch is much more than just a scheduling tool. Inch has advanced task management, notification, and communication features to keep on-call staff connected and make sure balls don’t get dropped.
To learn more about how Inch can make your business run better whatever hours you work, visit TryInch.com today.