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Creating an effective on-call schedule for your team can be challenging and time-consuming. It can be tough to make sure employees’ workloads are distributed fairly and they have enough rest time between regular and on-call shifts. Finding a balance between team member availability, skills, and seniority is difficult, too.
With a well-planned schedule, your team will be prepared to handle emergencies and unexpected issues outside of regular business hours. An effective schedule can also boost morale, prevent burnout, and improve customer relations.
In this guide, we look at how on-call scheduling works and share 11 top tips for creating one to meet your organization’s needs.
What Is On-Call Scheduling?
An on-call schedule sets out which employees will be available to deal with emergencies outside of business hours.
When a worker is on call, they’ll typically need to respond to a request to work at short notice. This could potentially be at any time of the day or night.
You may need an on-call schedule if you have to have 24/7 assistance available to your customers, or if your business relies on keeping certain key equipment running at all times.
Industries that often require this type of schedule include:
- Home security
- Healthcare or emergency services
- Service industries—additional staff may be needed during busy periods.
On-call workers normally need to be available over the phone or through messaging apps. They may also need to respond within a certain timeframe.
As an employer, you might be required to pay your workers a higher rate of compensation when they’re on call.
Choosing the Right Scheduling Model
There are many different types of work schedules you could use to build your on-call schedule. The most common types of on call schedules include:
Rotating scheduled employees
With an on-call rotation schedule, your workers take turns responding to emergencies. This avoids relying on the same employees to take on the responsibility for on-call work.
For example, you may have a group of employees on call for one week. These workers will then return to their regular shifts the following week, and another group will be on call. A rotating schedule may change on a daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis.
The type of scheduling establishes a primary point of contact for emergency calls. A secondary contact will step in if the primary contact isn’t available or can’t fix the problem. This model is particularly useful if several emergencies often arise at the same time within your business.
You may decide to pair two employees together and alternate the roles of primary and secondary points of contact. For instance, one employee would be the primary contact one week, and the other the following week.
Under this model, you divide your employees into two on-call groups. One will be on call during the week, and the other at weekends.
The follow-the-sun model sets your workers’ schedules based on their locations. Employees are typically on call during daylight hours in their region. This system may be appropriate for global businesses, with employees based in different parts of the world.
This type of scheduling allows you to provide specialist support in particularly difficult situations. It allows your regular on-call duty workers to escalate a problem to a designated expert when they’re unable to solve it themselves.
On-call experts are often your most experienced workers or those with specialist qualifications. They’ll typically handle problems that may be too complicated for other, less-skilled workers to fix. They may, for example, work with machinery or tools that require specialist knowledge. This could include someone like a plumber or an on-call engineer.
11 Tips for Creating an On-Call Schedule
The best scheduling method for your business will depend on your team size and the industry you work in. However, there are certain tips that can help all businesses create on-call schedules that work for employees and customers.
Determine your cover needs and on-call budget
When you’re drawing up an on-call schedule, the first step is to decide when you may need cover and how much you’re likely to need.
Once you have a clear idea of your needs, you can draw up a schedule and allocate a budget for on-call support.
Decide what constitutes an emergency
As a business owner, you’ll want to provide your customers or clients with the best your company can offer. However, it’s also important to consider the well-being of your on-call employees.
Agreeing on the definition of an emergency situation will prevent your workers from frequently being disturbed at inconvenient hours, like in the middle of the night.
Develop a clear definition of “on-call”
Working with your employees to determine what exactly it means for them to be “on-call” can help you avoid misunderstandings in the future.
Here are some examples of what ground rules you should clarify in your definition.
- How often your employees need to be on call.
- The start and end times of their shifts.
- The types of situations they may need to respond to.
- The communication methods on-call employees need to use—for example, being available by phone or email.
- Expected response times.
- On-call pay rate.
It may also be helpful to remind your employees of the reasons they need to be on call from time to time.
Factor in employee preferences
On-call working is more likely to be successful when it takes employees’ wishes and needs into account.
For example, workers with children may find it difficult to be on call during school vacations. Other employees may have religious beliefs that mean they can’t be on call on certain days. On the other hand, some team members may welcome the opportunity to work on-call shifts whenever possible, as it can allow them to earn extra money.
It’s also important to honor your employees’ time off requests when creating your on-call schedule.
This kind of flexibility can greatly benefit employer-employee relations. It shows that you value your workers as people with lives outside of work. In return, your employees are more likely to accommodate your requests for them to work different shift patterns.
Consider your employees’ individual strengths
As a people manager, you have an understanding of your employees’ strengths and weaknesses. For example, some of your workers may have first-rate technical skills, while others can build a great rapport with customers.
Using this knowledge will make you an effective on-call scheduler. Considering your employees’ unique attributes will help you dispatch the most suitable employees to your on-call jobs.
Make sure your employees have enough time off for a good work-life balance
In addition to honoring your employees’ time off requests when creating your on-call schedule, ensure that the schedule allows your team members to take sufficient time off and have paid holidays.
Shift-planning software can give you an overview of your employees’ working patterns. Having this information available at a glance can allow you to spot employees who are working long or difficult schedules.
Similarly, you can also check in on employees’ work-life balance during regular one-on-one conversations and adjust your schedule as needed to prevent overworking and potential burnout.
Employees who are exhausted from working unsociable hours or many night shifts in a row may look for employment elsewhere. Having an effective on-call strategy is crucial for your company’s retention strategy.
Treat team members equally and fairly
Applying the same approach to scheduling all your on-call team members is essential to ensuring a happy and productive workplace. Make sure that you aren’t regularly scheduling the same employees to be on call or not assigning certain employees to on-call shifts.
Showing favoritism when assigning out-of-hours work could damage morale. Likewise, relying on the same employees to regularly be on call can lead to burnout and also affect your employees’ physical well-being.
Being open with your employees about how you have created your schedule is helpful. Explaining why you’ve chosen particular employees to be on call can increase transparency across your team and help prevent disagreements in the future.
Post schedules well in advance
Giving your workers adequate notice of their on-call hours can be crucial to their job satisfaction. It will help employees avoid conflicts with their non-work commitments, such as childcare or medical appointments.
Your team members may find it difficult to achieve a healthy work-life balance if they don’t receive proper notice of their schedules. Routinely working at short notice could also mean they miss important celebrations or struggle to spend time with family. This situation could lead to resentment, damage morale, and reduce employee engagement levels.
Offer an emergency support number for on-call workers
No matter how effective your on-call scheduling system is, unforeseen difficulties can arise.
For instance, your on-call workers may suffer their own emergencies and be unable to work. This could happen for several reasons, including illness or a vehicle breakdown. In extreme circumstances, your employees may find a dangerous or threatening situation when they arrive at an on-call job site.
It’s important to have a dedicated point of contact for your on-call staff. This could be through a phone number, a group messaging service, or a chat app built into your employee communication software solution.
Regularly review your approach to scheduling
For your on-call schedule to be a success, you’ll need to make sure that it can work in the long term. Seeking feedback from your employees and customers or clients can be an effective way of doing this.
Ask your workers how they’re finding the experience of being on call and consider if you need to make any changes to your schedule. For example, you could investigate alternative shift patterns for an employee if their on-call hours conflict with their life outside of work.
Seeking feedback from customers or clients is equally important. You can do this through surveys, polls, emails, or simple phone calls. Then, review the feedback and make appropriate changes to your on-call schedule to address any concerns.
For example, you can add more experienced members of staff to your on-call schedule. This helps ensure your team provides adequate support during an emergency. Or, you can introduce a primary/secondary on-call scheduling system. This way, your company can handle several incidents at once and customers won’t wait too long for a response.
Use scheduling software to build the best on-call schedule
Scheduling software can simplify the scheduling process and automate several tasks such as shift swapping, time-off requests, and communication. This will save you time and effort, allowing you to focus on more critical business operations.
Connecteam is an all-in-one employee management solution that includes a user-friendly scheduling app. The scheduling app is designed to help you create and manage your on-call schedule efficiently. You can easily create a rotating schedule, manage employee availability, and track attendance. Furthermore, Connecteam allows your team members to request time off and swap shifts with ease, making it simpler for everyone to manage their schedules.
Using scheduling software like Connecteam ensures that everyone on your team is aware of the schedule, reduces the likelihood of scheduling conflicts, and ensures that your team is always prepared for on-call responsibilities.
With Connecteam, you can:
- See employee shifts at a glance.
- Track overtime and breaks.
- Provide staff with reminders for on-call shifts.
- View time-off requests.
- Provide a description of employees’ responsibilities during each shift.
- Add checklists, forms, files, and more to shifts.
- Create open on-call shifts—which employees can assign themselves.
- Create an on-call rotation schedule.
Try Connecteam 14 days for free today and build a great on-call schedule for your team with ease!
Understanding the Law
It’s essential that you understand the laws surrounding on-call work if you require your employees to work in this way.
In the US, the major piece of legislation you will need to consider is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This covers pay and working conditions for employees who are covered under the act. They’re known as non-exempt employees.
Workers covered under the act tend to be those who earn under $35,568 per year. In many cases, this includes construction workers or those in service industries.
Under the terms of the FLSA, any time your workers spend on call at your premises will count toward their hours worked. You will normally need to pay them for their time during these hours. However, you may not need to pay your on-call workers if they’re free to leave your premises.
You may also need to pay your staff when they’re on call if there are any restrictions on what they can and can’t do during this time.
An employee’s time may be restricted if they’re frequently required to answer calls from your business while they’re at home. Additionally, being required to remain close to your business’s job sites or office could count as a restriction on your workers’ time. Staff members who need to remain near your business may not be able to use their personal time as they otherwise would.
You’ll also need to consider the question of overtime if your workers are covered by the FLSA. The act states that all non-exempt employees must be paid overtime if they work beyond the standard 40-hour workweek. This overtime must be at a rate of at least 1.5 times their usual compensation.
Labor laws vary by state, so you will also need to check the rules in your region.
Having on-call workers may be necessary if your line of work can involve emergencies at any time of day or night, or if your business requires additional staff during busy periods.
A well-organized on-call system can ensure that you deliver high-quality service to your customers or clients. It also improves employees’ work-life balance, improves their engagement, and reduces turnover.
There is no one size fits all approach to scheduling. For effective on-call scheduling, have an open conversation with your team members so you can understand their specific needs and availability and they know what you expect from them.
When creating the schedule, consider different scheduling patterns like call rotations and ensure your workers have enough time off between shifts. Treat team members equally when assigning shifts and regularly review and adjust your schedule based on feedback.
Lastly, use a dedicated employee scheduling app to ensure you always have the right workers for every job.