How to Handle Schedule Conflicts

Everyone faces schedule conflicts at work at some point. They may be caused by tight deadlines on a new project, an error in schedule plans, or a team member calling in sick on a busy day. 

Schedule conflicts are disruptive and annoying and can result in total project failure or the delivery of subpar work. It is crucial to set up good workflow management and internal systems to minimize their occurrence or deal with them as they crop up. 

This article sheds some light on the five common scheduling conflicts in the workplace, how to handle them, and the best software to minimize them. 

What are scheduling conflicts?

A scheduling conflict in the workplace is when you have two tasks or events vying for your time and attention simultaneously. It is also a situation in which a team member is assigned two tasks or double shifts at the same time. 

Regardless of how it occurs, a work schedule conflict demands that one person be in two places at once, which isn't possible. This calls for a change to the schedule or an extra hand to help with the tasks or events. 

Take this as an example: your team usually has stand-up meetings at ten every Monday, but this week there's a client meeting scheduled to take place on the other side of town at the same time. 

Or, in another scenario, you underestimate how much time a task would take to complete and now have another task due, leading to more dependencies and eventual project delay if you don't get help or work faster.

What are the different types of scheduling conflicts?

There are five common schedule conflicts in the workplace:

  1. Overlapping events: This happens when the end of one event overlaps with the start of another. For example, you may have a team meeting from 11 am to 12:00 and a client meeting from 12:30 to 1:00 pm. To make it to both of these events, you would have to miss the end of the team meeting or reschedule the client meeting for later. 
  2. Booking unavailable time slots: This occurs when you schedule a time-sensitive task or event at a time already dedicated to other work. For example, you might assign a new task to a team member who's working on something else. This team member would have to decide which task is more important to work on or communicate with you to let you know they're unavailable at the set time.
  3. Booking unavailable team members: This happens when you schedule tasks or events with team members who are unavailable — for example, inviting a team member who's away on a work trip to lead the next team meeting. If you don't notice this error in time, the meeting may be delayed or canceled because there's no leader. If you notice the discrepancy early enough, you have the time to find someone else to lead the meeting. This scenario underscores the importance of encouraging communication and confirmation of assigned work within your team or organization.
  4. Double-booking: This happens when you schedule two tasks or events in the same time slot. Say, for example, you assigned two tasks set for the same time to one team member. They would have to complete both tasks faster, risking errors and lack of focus due to multitasking — and are likely to fail to complete either of them in time. 
  5. Last-minute callouts: This may be the most commonly reported work schedule conflict. Last-minute callouts happen when an employee or team member backs out from an assigned task or event at the last minute due to a sick day, need to travel, or some other unavoidable reason. The best way to solve this type of schedule conflict is to find another team member with a similar skill set quickly. 

Tips for preventing scheduling conflicts

Our top tips for preventing scheduling conflicts in the workplace ensure that the occurrence of schedule conflicts in your teams is significantly reduced.

  • Allow free slack when schedule planning: Create free slack time in your project plans to allow time to tackle schedule conflicts and delays when they occur. Free slack time gives you a chance to find solutions depending on the type of schedule conflict you're facing. 
  • Encourage team communication and collaboration: Encourage team members to let managers know immediately when they spot calendar conflicts. Set up a process through which they can notify their managers, submit a form, or even find replacements for themselves before reaching out to the managers. When there is a process in place, schedule conflicts are easily managed before they become big issues. 
  • Use a centralized work schedule: Use a centralized work schedule that displays what all team members are up to at any given time. When everyone on the team can see who's working on what, there's reduced possibility of a schedule conflict. You can use one for important projects and even the day-to-day operations of your team. Remind your team members to check this work schedule often and let them know that they are responsible for communicating any schedule conflict that relates to them and their projects. 
  • Use good project management software: Using robust project management software is the best way to avoid schedule conflicts in your teams and projects. It eliminates confusion, even when there are multiple managers working on a project, by providing a clear view of each employee's workload at department and team levels. Good project management software also helps you communicate about project-related issues, encouraging transparency and proactiveness in the entire team. 

Tips for handling scheduling conflicts

If you are already facing work schedule conflicts in your teams, you need a system to handle them swiftly as they occur. Our top tips for preventing and handling schedule conflicts include:

  • Breathe and get a clear head: Instead of rushing into panic mode, take a few calming breaths to get into a better headspace. Remember that your reaction, warranted or not, affects your team members who are trying to do their jobs. When you're calm, you're more likely to think clearly and come up with the best solutions for the conflict at hand. You can see your available options, communicate clearly with the person taking over, and ensure a successful project finish. 
  • Reschedule non-urgent tasks: If you have other team members who are involved in less important or non-urgent tasks at the time of calendar conflict, enlist their help, and reschedule their other tasks for a later date. If the schedule conflict involves clients, they may be willing to work with the rescheduled dates if you give them a heads-up early.
  • Always have a backup: This may be the most important tip in this section — have a backup team member who can step in if there's a conflict. You may keep this backup list to yourself or openly name backup employees for each project in your schedule plans. Keep a list of employees with similar work skills on every project so you can quickly find replacements, even for last-minute callouts. 
  • Learn from your mistakes: Every schedule conflict is a chance to learn something new. If your team faces these issues often, it's a sign that you need to rework your workflow and internal processes. Resist blaming teammates without understanding the cause and offering a solution for the conflicts. When you tackle each conflict, incorporate the solution into your schedule planning for future projects. Look at how and why the schedule conflicts happen and institute safeguards and processes to prevent and handle them. 
How to Handle Schedule Conflicts 2
Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

Tools to help you schedule effectively

Scheduling conflicts in the workplace may lead to loss of productivity and revenue if not tackled strategically. Good tools and processes help to set you up for success. You must find the best fit for your team to schedule tasks and events and improve collaboration throughout the organization.

You can use simple scheduling software or, even better, go for project management software. These allow you to create schedules and timelines and offer more benefits, including in-app task-related conversations and dashboards that display where bottlenecks occur and if there are any calendar conflicts you may have missed. 

Wrike's conflicts monitor, for instance, displays calendar conflicts in a bright red color, calling your attention so you can fix the issue immediately. The conflicts monitor finds all clashes in your projects and displays them in a dashboard widget so you can always tell when there's a problem on the horizon.

You can also enable notifications to prompt your team when a new task is assigned. This way, they can immediately let you know if there's a calendar conflict or schedule conflict with another meeting.

How to prevent scheduling conflicts in the workplace

Prevent scheduling conflicts in the workplace by ensuring: 

  • Thorough schedule planning: Establish an organized project and schedule planning process to minimize the occurrence of schedule conflicts. Establish a system for team members to confirm assigned work and communicate any change in plans a set period before a task is to begin. Whether it's through daily stand-up meeting updates or simply sending an email, it's important to have a clear process every member of your team is aware of. 
  • Good communication: Encourage proactive communication, feedback, and transparency in your team to limit last-minute callouts or other schedule conflicts. Clear communication from managers also helps to reduce burnout and time spent on unimportant tasks. Instituting an open communication system puts power into the hands of your teams. 
  • Clear expectations: Set clear expectations regarding each project. Estimate each task (or user story)'s importance and set due dates with some free slack time to enable your team to meet these expectations. 

How to prevent scheduling conflicts with Wrike

Wrike's project management software helps prevent schedule conflicts by increasing visibility into projects, schedules, and timelines based on each team member's permissions. It also serves as a single source of truth, reducing the chances that a schedule conflict goes unnoticed. 

Using Wrike, you can create schedules and track employee workload easily. Assign tasks to teammates with clear descriptions and due dates, and create a process where team members communicate proactively about any schedule conflicts and take steps to solve them before involving their managers. 

You improve your chances of success when you empower employees to complete their work in good time and with some level of autonomy. Does your team frequently struggle with work schedule conflicts? Get started with a free Wrike trial today.

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