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On-call scheduling can be difficult to do well and without causing issues for your team. In this article, we discuss the various timetables that may work for your employees and the steps you can take to make the schedule as efficient and effective as possible.
On-call scheduling involves creating a list of the team members who are available to handle emergencies and other issues at certain times throughout the day and night.
Having someone on call is especially important for businesses that serve customers, users, or patients in different time zones.
It’s also valuable for businesses that are open and available outside the regular 9-to-5 work schedule (including businesses that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year).
One of the most common examples of on-call scheduling is that of the medical profession. There, they use an on-call schedule to ensure that a specialist is available — though not necessarily at the hospital at all times — to deal with emergencies should the need arise.
Nurses may work around the clock and provide care within their abilities for those who need it, but there may be certain cases that they can’t handle on their own.
In those cases, they would contact the on-call specialist who would give advice, provide guidance, or come to the hospital to perform any necessary procedures.
While on-call schedules are extremely common for doctors and hospitals, other industries use them as well.
IT technicians may be called out at all hours of the day and night to deal with major bugs, capacity issues, or product downtime on the systems they maintain.
Most businesses that provide this type of service (or businesses that have an IT department) create an on-call schedule where team members take turns being the first contact when issues arise after regular work hours.
On-call scheduling created with both the regular workweek and the weekend in mind puts one set of employees at the top of the contact list Monday through Friday and another set of employees at the top of the contact list on Saturday and Sunday.
For example, during work hours Monday through Friday, the first person to contact with questions or problems is Mike. After 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday the first person to contact is Abby. Thursday and Friday, Ken tops the list.
Then, come Saturday and Sunday, the on-call specialists are Rebekah and Jim respectively.
This type of week/weekend schedule is especially useful if employees are to be available after hours because it provides a break for individuals who work those irregular shifts.
A rotating on-call schedule is similar to the week/weekend schedule but allows for more frequent change — by the hour, the day, the week, or the month.
These types of schedules are useful for preventing team members from becoming overloaded, overwhelmed, and burnt out by being available outside of work and at a moment’s notice.
For example, you might set up the following schedule for Karen:
The schedule rotates from week to week so that Karen isn’t always on call during the same times.
Semimonthly on-call scheduling moves team members through the specific availability set up by your business every other week (or twice a month).
For example, Karen might be on call from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday during the first week of May. Then, she’ll be on call from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Wednesday during the second week of May.
After that, the schedule repeats for the third and fourth weeks of the month.
Follow-the-sun on-call scheduling functions in such a way that a certain team member is always available based on the time zone in which they work.
These types of on-call arrangements are perfect for remote teams with individuals who live in different geographic areas.
In this schedule, an employee who lives on the east coast would start their workday being on call first. Several hours later, an employee who lives in the Central time zone would take over during the first few hours of their workday.
This pattern would follow through the Mountain and Pacific time zones (and even further, if necessary) so that someone can field calls whenever necessary.
With the primary/secondary method of scheduling, you take one of the first four schedules on this list and build into it a specific primary contact and a specific secondary contact.
If the primary contact misses a call or is working on another problem at the time, the secondary contact would take over and deal with the issue.
Many consider this a process within the scheduling practice rather than a specific type of schedule, but it can be a useful variable to introduce to make things run smoothly.
Another process variable — not a schedule in and of itself — that can help make any rotating, semimonthly, or follow-the-sun rota better is expert availability.
Like the primary/secondary process, expert availability provides another layer of contact should other individuals on the list not be able to handle a certain issue or problem.
IT support is a perfect example.
If the primary and secondary contacts can’t deal successfully with an issue — because it involves a restricted part of the system — they can contact someone with the proper permissions who can provide access, guidance, or a direct repair of the problem.
Contacting this last person would, of course, be a last resort if the primary and secondary contacts exhaust all other attempts at a resolution.
If you’re planning on introducing on-call scheduling for the first time in your business, take the time to meet with your employees first to get their input.
On-call schedules can be disruptive, and your team may prefer an alternate arrangement to the one you initially had in mind.
If you can accommodate their needs and still satisfy the demands of your business, try the alternate version first and avoid forcing your employees into a situation they can’t handle.
Before creating your first on-call schedule, take some time to define what “on call” means for your business so that it’s easy for employees to understand their responsibilities.
As an example, for a cable repair business, the on-call designation may mean being the primary contact during regular business hours.
For a hospital, it may mean being the primary contact for related emergencies at all hours during the weekend.
Being on call can be stressful and can take its toll on the satisfaction, engagement, and effectiveness of your employees. It’s imperative that you provide plenty of support for those who take on the job.
One of the best ways to do this is to foster a company culture where members of the team take care of one another and are willing to help in times of need.
Resist the urge to build your schedule around one, two, or three employees and ask them to shoulder the bulk of the on-call time.
Instead, spread the responsibility to all employees so that you don’t overwork a few.
While you want to delegate the responsibility as much as possible, it’s important to consider the capabilities of each employee as well. Some team members may not be able to handle everything that comes their way.
To overcome this speedbump, you can schedule a less experienced employee as the primary contact along with a more experienced employee as the secondary contact.
On-call scheduling — and regular scheduling, for that matter — can be difficult if you try to do it all by yourself.
But, with the right app, you’ll be better prepared to create both regular and on-call schedules that work for everyone involved.
Inch is that app.
With Inch, you get robust features, including:
Plus, Inch is available anywhere, anytime, and on any device your employees might use.
All of this together in one integrated suite of tools makes Inch the best solution to all your on-call scheduling and workforce management needs.
For more free resources to help you manage your business better, organize and schedule your team, and track and calculate labor costs, visit TryInch.com today.
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