28 Ways to Optimise Agent Scheduling


Our panel reveals how to get the best out of your contact centre scheduling.

1. Recruit staff who are happy to work evening shifts

During the recruitment process, we actively look for staff who are willing and able to work our more unusual shifts (e.g. evenings and weekends).

We’ve been nicely surprised by how many people actually prefer weekend or evening shifts, as they allow them to go to their lectures or pursue other interests outside of work.

With thanks to Christina

2. Allow your highest performers to pick their own working hours

When creating the schedule, we give preference to our highest performers as a reward for all their hard work.

With thanks to Paul

3. Reward agents who stick to the schedule

We have seen good results with rewarding agents who stick to the schedule.

Staff who worked all their scheduled shifts in January and February received 3 days’ paid time off (1.5 days per month) that they could then take in July.

With thanks to Janet

4. Let them decide who takes holiday and when within their own teams

We let our agents know what times can be approved for a holiday, in terms of the number of hours and days in the week, then leave it up to them to decide within their team who takes what and when.

With thanks to Suzette

5. Employ a mix of full- and part-time agents

We recruit part-time employees at a ratio of 3 part-time agents to every one full-time agent.

We then schedule the part-time agents to fill the gaps left by the full-time agents.

With thanks to Mark

6. Ask your agents to email you their preferences

We encourage our agents to email us their schedule preferences.

Up until an agreed deadline, we accommodate their preferences alongside our needs.

With thanks to Cristina

7. Stagger start times and give breaks at fixed intervals

We have staggered start times.

When the agent hits 2 hours they get a 15-minute break, 4 hours is lunch and after 6 hours is another break. This works for us.

With thanks to Janet

8. Balance out long shifts on Mondays with shorter ones on Fridays

We have forced longer shifts and also try to keep a high head count on Mondays, as this reduces wait times for our customers who have had problems over the weekend.

However, we then give our agents shorter shifts later on the week, in order to keep their time account in check.

With thanks to Michel

9. Split shifts better suit home-working agents

We’ve found that split shifts are perceived as a pain for our office-based agents, while home workers seem to love them.

Taking this into account can lead to happier agents all round.

With thanks to Chris

10. Get your part-time staff to cover evening shifts

All of our full-time staff work during our core daytime hours, while all our part-timers cover the evening.

With thanks to Kelly

11. Motivate your agents by allowing them to choose their rest days

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We motivate our agents by letting them choose their rest days.

The catch is that they have to have a team win or meet their metrics targets in order to voice their preferences.

With thanks to Kristine Valerie

12. Home-working agents can help ease the pressure of peak call times

We have a small team of agents who work from home.

It helps quite a bit with the demand at peak call times – and takes the pressure off our in-house agents.

These agents know that they may be called upon to pick up in times when the centre is short. This seems to be a fair trade-off for working remotely and the agents don’t mind doing this.

With thanks to Janet

13. Allow your agents to choose their breaks

When putting your schedule together, try accommodating your agents’ preferences for when they take their lunch.

We’ve seen good results in our contact centre from incorporating this additional flexibility.

With thanks to Lorraine

14. Get team leaders onside to get the best out of automating WFM

I have found that there is still huge resistance to automating the WFM function in contact centres.

WFM teams have to get other stakeholders such as team leaders and operations managers onside if they want to succeed in creating schedules that meet both the customers’ and employees’ needs.

With thanks to James

15. Accommodate scheduling preferences based on the level of need

We have seen some success with accommodating scheduling preferences based on the level of need.

  • High-level – Single parents who need to pick up kids
  • Mid-level – Sports and volunteering commitments
  • Low-level – Social events

With thanks to Michel

16. Putting your agents on “sliding shifts” allows greater flexibility

We have flexible “sliding shifts” in our contact centre.

This means we have the ability to slide our agents’ shifts to 2 hours before or after their original start time, dependent on where the business requirement is.

With thanks to Bilal

17. Make your Saturdays an “overtime shift” with extra pay

We don’t have any issue covering our Saturday shift because it is classed as overtime – and our agents embrace the opportunity to boost their pay cheques.

With thanks to Janet

18. Split your agents into teams to share out the awkward shifts fairly

We split our agents into 4 teams.

Each team works one night per week, as well as a half-day on a Saturday once per month.

This way, all our awkward shifts are covered without too much hassle.

With thanks to Jim

19. Annualised hours can be very efficient

I’ve run annualised hours in a previous role and – if used correctly – found it to be very efficient and beneficial.

With thanks to Matt

20. Recruit based on flexible shift patterns to avoid time-consuming shift reviews

We now only recruit on totally flexible shift patterns that have been generated via our planning tool.

This removes the need of having to go through shift reviews every time we have changes in call arrival patterns.

With thanks to James

21. Stagger breaks so most of your staff are always on the floor

We stagger breaks to ensure that only so many agents are off the floor at any given time.

With thanks to Kris

22. 15-minute Power Sessions

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We have 15-minute power sessions scheduled throughout the day, where we ring a bell and all agents log on to try and clear the queue.

We find this helps encourage teamwork, as well as increases our service level and customer satisfaction.

With thanks to Gaby

23. Try to accommodate the things that are important to your agents

When scheduling your agents, try to factor in what is important to them.

Empower your agents to request holidays and swap shifts, as well as allow them to have 2 days off one after the other (so it feels like a weekend).

Taking their personal preferences into account can go a long way in maintaining a happy workforce.

With thanks to one of Call Centre Helper’s readers

24. “Work back” can allow agents to make up lost time in a beneficial way

We give our agents the option to “work back” time that they have lost by coming in late (optional or otherwise).

The time is added back into the schedule for the business to use when call volumes are particularly high.

With thanks to Bilal

25. Annualised hours can help manage staff efficiently during busier months

Annualised hours – using 10 hours maximum and 4 hours minimum – have allowed us to seasonally manage staff during our busier months.

Although our agents do have to work longer hours at certain points in the year, they also benefit from having 2 or 3 consecutive days off at other times (without having to take any official holiday).

With thanks to Nick

26. Staggering training within the schedule can prevent information overload

I think training should be staggered within the schedule, so you don’t have information overload.

Little and often is best – and easier to schedule!

With thanks to Mark

27. Remind agents of the benefits attached to more unusual shifts

We have found that explaining the benefits of more unusual shifts has helped with general uptake.

For example, your employees may not have considered that evening shifts will allow them to have a full week of lie-ins – or that they can have two consecutive days off in the week if they agree to work a full weekend.

With thanks to Michel

28. Find out what is important to your agents

I think it’s important to find an effective way to communicate with your agents about what matters to them.

Once you know what matters most, you can adapt the flexibility in your schedule accordingly.

With thanks to Clare

What do you do to optimise scheduling in your contact centre?

Published On: 15th Oct 2014 - Last modified: 9th Jul 2018
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3 Comments
  1. The problem with #4 is those without children are generally guilted into taking far less desirable holiday times.

    Larisa 16 Oct at 2:02 am
  2. Provide example shifts to HR as part of the recruitment process as it helps manage expectations up front.

    Craig Ide 16 Oct at 12:05 pm
  3. Arrange a forum that allows a handful of advisors to review a new shift proposal prior to its release.

    What works well is intentionally throwing in some worse case scenarios that can be changed to suit both staff needs and the business and get them on your side as “they’ve helped design the new shifts”.

    Graham B 27 Mar at 12:38 am
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