Effective job scheduling is one of the most important but least understood disciplines of business management. Assigning the correct employee to the right job at the right time is crucial for business success, especially for companies with a mobile workforce. So why don’t some managers give it more of their attention?

Sometimes it’s because they refuse to let go of their primitive tools – paper-based timetables, rosters and worksheets, or whiteboards – rather than invest in transparent, up-to-the-second and easy-to-use cloud-based technology. Sometimes the job of handling work and leave schedules isn’t seen as a priority or is given to someone who doesn’t fully understand the demands of the business or the relative merits of individual staff members.

Storm Electrical has 12 staff to service residential, commercial and industrial customers in south-eastern Queensland. Director Neil Dixon says the family-owned and run business prides itself on delivering friendly, on-time and professional service, which is why he says accurate job scheduling is crucial.

Getting it right, Dixon says, comes down to knowing your staff and practical knowledge. “It’s a learning curve that you only get through experience,” he says. “It’s about adapting to the circumstances. We just try to take the situations as they come and plan as best we can.”

Dixon says a number of factors decide which electrician is best suited to each job. “There are a variety of ways [to work it out],” he says. “It’s often next the cab off the rank but ideally it’s who is most suited to the particular type and scope of work.”

He prefers to give his staff at least a week’s notice for upcoming jobs. “That seems to work well for them,” he says.

Here are seven things that business managers can do straight away to improve employee morale and performance, reduce stress and help serve their customers better.

1. Assign the right worker for the job

Allocating a job to the best available employee might be the single most important thing managers do. This can be a difficult task when some staff are on leave or sick, but capable and reliable staff will ensure the job gets done quickly and effectively, and increase the chance a one-off client will turn into a regular customer. Giving specific work to staff who lack experience or whose technical skills are underdeveloped might give your business a bad name and potentially damage workplace morale.

2. Get to know the team

More than just knowing what professional talents your employees bring to work, it’s important to get a sense of who they are and what interests them. As well as making for a happier workplace, it will help build team spirit. It’s vital for staff wellbeing that managers have a sense of when and how staff prefer to work, and that their wishes will be accommodated whenever possible. Knowing the way individuals tick may also help determine who are likely to work well together, especially when they’re out in the field in front of your customers.

3. Build a flexible roster

Of all of the things that motivate a workforce, offering individuals flexibility is one of the most important. Allowing staff to leave early for family reasons, or rostering them off on specific days are not likely to hurt the business but will encourage employees to be more reliable and perform even better when they are at work. Just as important is having a repeatable and logical way for all staff to apply for leave, especially for annual holidays. A cloud-based document system, even Google Docs, will help keep everyone aware of who will and won’t be available.

4. Give plenty of notice

Posting rosters and job schedules at the last moment might give the manager more flexibility to accommodate late work but it does nothing to help staff plan their lives away from work. Managers should ideally give employees at least one week’s notice of their upcoming shifts. But there should always be a plan B …

5. Have a contingency plan

Things change all of the time; it’s the nature of business. How managers deal with change will be a measure of how effective they are at running the business and the staff roster. It’s important to have the tools to communicate changes quickly (see point 7) but also be conscious of the various skills your employees have – one of them might need to step into someone else’s shoes without affecting business performance or customer relationships.

6. Plan for the worst … and the best

Just as managers need to allow for illness or family dramas, they need to be able to ensure enough staff are rostered on when the telephone is running hot. This might be for certain hours, days or months, or around certain events, such as Easter or Christmas. For businesses that depend on seasonal work, there could be nothing worse than having to turn down jobs simply because not enough service staff are available. Again, clear-thinking managers will plan well in advance by creating a sharable document that indicates when the workload is expected to be particularly hectic, and they will communicate this to staff ahead of time.

7. Invest in the right technology

Mobile workforce management software, such as GeoOp, allows everyone in the business to see what is happening with every job, every customer and every staff member in real time. When the inevitable happens, and jobs are cancelled, postponed or switched around, managers can alert all employees of the changes straight to their mobile devices, with revised job and customer details available immediately.

Old-fashioned paper-based systems made it too easy for information to be misunderstood or job orders misplaced. Even worse were staff rosters on a whiteboard or pinned to a wall. Unless all staff were in the office at the right time, how could they know that the roster or schedule has changed, and how it affected them? Modern, reliable cloud-based systems go a long way to minimise business mistakes and serious misunderstandings with employees and customers.