The Best Ways to Schedule Contact Centre Agents

A picture of an old clock next to a calendar

Scheduling your agents can be a real headache, especially as there is so much to keep track of.

We asked our panel what was working well in their contact centres right now.

Use staggered start times

We use staggered start times that are communicated 5 weeks in advance.

This has given us a lot more flexibility and, due to the notice period and restricting this to within the hour, the agents are happy with the results.

With thanks to Rachel

Let a random agent make the summer schedule

In the summer months (June–August), we let a random agent make the schedule for the next month for the whole team.

We find that the selected agent goes to a lot of effort to make all of the other agents happy.

With thanks to George

Use split shifts

We’ve just started using split shifts – AM inbound and PM outbound – for some staff.

Early results are good and we are thinking of offering it to others to fit gaps in service levels.

With thanks to Jeff

Offer rewards to your more flexible staff

We have a high percentage of staff who are unwilling to change – we inherited a lot of set shifts with little flexibility.

But, for people who are flexible, we offer a reward like a team lunch. We find that letting them all go at the same time is also good for team bonding.

With thanks to Johanna

Have a weekly reserve list of agents

We have a weekly reserve list of agents, a group which have agreed to cover critical shifts at short notice. This is particularly good for sickness cover.

With thanks to Kerry

Allow your agents to swap their own shifts on the WFM

We currently offer shift swaps within our contact centre which agents can do via the WFM.

It is within their control, which puts the power back in the agents’ hands and is good for morale.

With thanks to Johanna

Use a combination of scheduling techniques

I use a combination of full-time, part-time, set shifts and rotas, which covers all angles and meets the needs of individuals who may have specific requirements.

This is vital when staffing 24/7.

With thanks to Julie

Give your staff contracts which allow you to change their start times

All staff have contracts that can be changed to any start time (we are a 24-hour police control room).

We need to give 5 days’ notice, otherwise we have to pay a premium to the staff.

With thanks to Rob

Alter your WFM system to take agent preferences into account

We are trying a strategy whereby the agents set preferences within our workforce management system.

Each agent can set up to 5 preferences, and the system tries to match the requirement to their shift.

With thanks to David

Primarily use part-time agents

We primarily use part-time agents. We’ve found it very successful to have staff who work full-time at other jobs and who work for us from 6–9pm.

They fill the evening call gap, have a strong work ethic and have proven to be one of our most dedicated groups of employees.


Add Reserve Time into your schedules

We use Reserve Time: 1.5 hours tagged onto an agent’s daily schedule. Our Real Time team then can call on this extra time if required.

This works very well, as agents know when they might be required to stay and can plan better. For Real Time, it also speeds up how quickly we can secure extra hours.

With thanks to Patrick

Give your agents a choice of rotational pattern

We have recently given everyone the choice, within a rotational pattern, where our agents can opt for either a 1-hour lunch, or a 30-minute lunch which allows them to go home early.

Likewise on Saturdays, as we are not so busy in the afternoon, we have introduced short shifts (again completely optional), where the agents can choose to work longer shifts in the week.

With thanks to Sue

Plan your schedules using WFM and spreadsheets

We use WFM for shorter-term scheduling, and good old spreadsheets for longer-term planning.

With thanks to Steve

For more on the topic of scheduling in the contact centre, read our articles:

Author: Megan Jones

Published On: 30th Oct 2013 - Last modified: 27th Oct 2020
Read more about - Workforce Planning, ,

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  • Some great ideas there.

    As we know that employee engagement is one of the key influencers to the customer experience it is heartening to see that the agents preferences and lifestyle are taken into account in a lot of the tips. The key things for me are…..

    – certainty – the agent knows when they are working with reasonable predictability (unless they make a choice to work more random “filler” patterns)
    – autonomy – the agent feels like they have an influence on their schedule whether through preferences, swaps or slides
    – transparency – they see enough to think the process is fair.

    Dougie Cameron 31 Oct at 12:55
  • Hi, Im in the early stages of setting up a contact centre.
    Through research I have found that typical full-time working hours in centres are 37-40hrs pw spread over 5 days. Would anyone agree with that?
    Also, does anyone find frequent breaks can add to productivity due to the monotonous nature of the role?

    Sam 6 Jan at 13:18
  • Yes a typical full time role would be 37.5 hours per week, but many contact centre roles vary from this to meet the needs of extended opening hours.

    Take a look at these articles that may provide more insight.

    In terms of breaks, I’m not sure that more frequent breaks are a great idea. Instead try to get as much variety into the work as possible.

    jonty pearce 6 Jan at 18:30