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Posts Tagged ‘Shift scheduling’

Adjusting the shift schedule during absences or vacations

Shifts

During spring break and other common vacation periods, staff and volunteers may need to adjust the time they serve at your agency. You want to ensure that your calendar is up-to-date with all changes and the following iCarol features are there to assist.

Unregister from a shift

If a volunteer or staff member has already signed up for or been assigned to a shift, but realizes that they cannot serve the shift, they can un-register from the shift. To do so, the volunteer or staff member will use the shifts area of iCarol to navigate to the day of their shift, and will click on their name in the list of shifts. A pink box will appear to the right, and in that box, there is an “Unregister” button which they should click.

Unregister

Clicking this button will remove the person’s name from the shift, and it will revert to an “Open” shift so someone else can sign up for it.

Shift Substitution

This feature is similar to the “Unregister a shift” feature, but goes an extra step and facilitates the coverage for shift assignment changes. If a volunteer or staff member has already signed up for or been assigned to a shift, but realizes that they cannot serve the shift, they can ask for a substitution. To do so, the volunteer or staff member will use the shifts area of iCarol to navigate to the day of their shift, and will click on their name in the list of shifts. A pink box will appear to the right, and in that box, there is an “Ask for Substitution” button which they should click.

Unregister

Clicking this button will send an email to all users indicating that the volunteer or staff person is looking for a substitute, and will highlight the shift in yellow so it is easily spotted. If someone would like to substitute, they would navigate to this shift in the Shifts area of iCarol, and click the Accept button.

Shift substitution

Whether or not you allow un-registration or shift substitutions, and how soon before the start of a shift a person can unregister or ask for a substitution, are settings Admin’s can control via the Shifts tab in Admin Tools.

Exceptions to Repeating Assignments

If you have members that are assigned to the same shift over a period of time, the repeating assignment is a great tool to use. This tool allows you to collectively schedule those repeating assignments and it also handles exceptions, such as to remove the person from the shift during a particular time span when they will be on vacation. To do so, use the shifts area of iCarol to navigate to the first shift within a repeating shift assignment that they would like to unregister for and click on their name. A pink box will appear to the right, and in that box, there is a link labelled “Repeating assignment” which they should click.

Exceptions to repeat assignments

This will cause the following box to pop-up:

Repeating Assignment Tool

Firstly, the volunteer or staff person should click the radio button next to “Remove”. Next, using the drop-down boxes, they should indicate what time frame (every, every other, each month’s first, etc.) and what day of the week they would like to be removed from. The date next to “between” will be defaulted to the date of the shift the volunteer or staff person is adjusting. The volunteer or staff person should adjust the date next to “and”, or check the box next to “no end date” to remove themselves from every shift into the future. Finally, they should click the “Make these changes” button.

If you have any questions about these tools, please do not hesitate to submit a case to the support team via the online case management tool, found in the Help menu in iCarol.

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4 staffing strategies to help you weather the storm

blizzard snow storm

Ample staffing at your non-profit helpline is always a top challenge, but bad weather brings with it a whole new set of staffing hurdles. Snowy and icy conditions* can especially spell trouble for seamless shift coverage. Particularly powerful storms not only disrupt travel for days, but they have the potential to impact essential infrastructure like electricity and running water. These weather events take strategy and pre-planning to work through them successfully.

Depending on the severity of the storm, you may have no special plan at all except to tell your specialists that they are expected to be there for their shift or find a substitute to cover for them. In many snow storms, travel is possible so long as precautions are taken, such as driving at slower speeds and being extra vigilant. Call centers in urban settings may also benefit from having volunteers living within walking distance or taking public transportation.

But sometimes travel conditions can become extremely hazardous or even impossible. What then? Here are some methods we’ve commonly seen:

  • The show must go on – Shifts go on as scheduled no matter what. Workers who can’t make it in must give ample notice and find substitutes who are able to travel. iCarol’s shift scheduling tools support you and your staff throughout this process; automatic substitute request emails greatly improve the visibility of your needs and the chances of pick-ups from others.
    • Pros: Little to no prior planning or change to your normal operations.

      Cons: The absence of any back up plan can spell trouble, so you should have some alternative options in mind just in case. Your volunteers may have the best intentions of making it in, but the reality is that Mother Nature can easily stop us in our tracks and there’s only so much a person can realistically do when faced with heavy accumulations and impassable roads. You won’t want to be faced with the scenario where the previous shift is stuck with no relief. Take a moment to also consider the consequences of a potential road accident and injury to your volunteer when traveling in dangerous conditions, and the emotional and potentially litigious repercussions of demanding that volunteers travel in unsafe conditions. Further, when a State of Emergency is declared, it often requires that road travelers have their vehicle outfitted with special equipment, and drivers disobeying the order may even be fined.
  • Transfer your calls – In some instances there may be a partner agency, satellite office of your program, or a back-up center in an area unaffected or less affected by the weather, and they can take the lead on operations for a period of time. Our Call Report form sharing functionality makes it easy for you to pass your service delivery on to other centers, while they use your preferred form(s) to log the interactions they’re taking on your behalf. This also ensures your data collection and the resulting reporting can be seamless regardless of who is actually providing the service.
    • Pros: Less direct impact on you, your volunteers, and staff during the event. Being able to simply forward your service to someone else is very convenient.

      Cons: This does come with a few sacrifices. First, your service delivery is being entrusted to others for a period of time. Necessary MOU’s and other contracts should be in place well in advance to ensure that same or acceptable level of service will be provided by the back up center. Consider any financial compensation that must be paid out as well. And you’ll want to have understandings about proper data collection, call handling policies, and more.
  • Work from home – Technology has made it easier than ever to turn any setting into a call center, even your workers’ homes. Calls could get forwarded to that worker’s personal phone or a phone loaned to them from the office. Chats or texts can be taken from virtually anywhere as well. Special tip for iCarol users who might employ this method: You must either turn off ‘Restriction’ (the feature that makes it so your workers can’t see call reports from a personal computer outside the office) or give your staff and volunteers permissions to install the iCarol Certification Tool on their computer. You can read more about this here.
    • Pros: You’re unlikely to get much push back from your volunteers or staff about this plan; the idea of staying warm, cozy, and off the roads will send many a helpline worker to their happy place. Plus, you won’t have to worry about people physically making it in to the call center for their shift. Worried about productivity? The term is referred to as “shirking from home” — the concern that your employees won’t actually get anything done and left to their own devices will shirk their responsibilities. The good news is, numerous studies have discovered that this is a generally unfounded fear. A Stanford University study of call center workers found home work resulted in a 13% performance increase, people took fewer breaks and sick days, and 4% more calls per minute handled thanks in part to a quieter and more convenient working environment. Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction, and their attrition rate was cut in half. These days there are plenty of communication methods available making it so that remote workers won’t feel disconnected. Keep in mind that with iCarol your supervisors can remotely silent monitor chat and text conversations, leave feedback on logged interactions, put out News alerts, send instant messages to your workers via Internal Chat, send emails and SMS messages, and more. Technology has made us more connected with one another than ever before, even if we’re physically separated by many miles.

      Cons: Most modern phone systems have many remote controls that allow you to sign in remotely and forward calls as needed, but some might require you to be on-site to activate the call transfers. If there are no remote capabilities for controlling where the calls are landing, then that means someone has to make it into the office to flip the switches, possibly rendering the work-from-home scenario moot. You’ll also want to consider home office digital security, and whether or not having employees work off-site violates the terms of any of your contracts. There’s also the matter of assuring your volunteers and staff have a suitable work environment free from distraction or disruptive noise or potential confidentiality violations. They also won’t be able to take advantage of some of the infrastructure that may be available at your center, like battery backups or generators in case of a power outage.
  • Camping out – Marshmallows optional. When the forecast calls for dangerous weather and snow accumulations that might make travel impossible, make a decision ahead of time to suspend the usual schedule, and instead have a crew arrive prior to hazardous road conditions developing. This crew will stay for a period of time until travel is safe again and shifts can resume.
    • Pros: Again, you’ll be free from having to worry about workers traveling or one shift getting stuck because relief didn’t arrive. The whole idea here is that they know they’ll be stuck for awhile, and they’re (hopefully) okay with that. This is a policy you could develop long before winter weather strikes, so that you aren’t faced with a chaotic scramble for a solution just before a blizzard hits. You may even cultivate your list of willing participants ahead of time as well. Being able to make these decisions in advance without the storm bearing down on you is certainly a benefit, simply activate the plan when needed.

      Cons: Directors, Managers, and other decision-makers will want to stay in close contact and clearly communicate expectations, especially concerning staff arrival time and decisions about when normal operations should resume. Volunteer or staff health and well-being is a concern. Does your call center have adequate facilities to keep them comfortable for an extended stay of 24 hours or more? Think about bathrooms, bathing and personal hygiene, and food access and preparation. Mentally and emotionally, how will your staff deal with being at the office for a long period of time? They’ll need to have regular breaks and take time for uninterrupted sleep, which means this plan usually requires at least two participants. You’ll also want to review labor laws in your area to be sure your policy doesn’t violate ordinances relating to a worker’s right to ample breaks, and whether or not additional financial compensation is required.

    How do you keep your helpline operating in spite of dangerous travel conditions for your volunteers and staff?Do you employ one of the strategies above, or do you handle winter storm scheduling some other way? We’d love to hear about it! Leave us a comment!

    * While this article refers specifically to blizzards and other winter weather conditions, these strategies could be employed during any disaster scenario, natural or man-made.

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    5 Ways to Improve Your Disaster Response

    September is considered the peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic, but disaster can strike all year ’round and in all regions. Earthquakes, wildfires, blizzards, tornados, floods, super storms – all areas have seen their share of destructive events.hurricane rita eye storm satellite

    Non-profit helplines play a large role in any community’s disaster plan. Local governments often partner with these helplines and advertise their contact information during disasters as a place to contact for non-emergency information and referral. Information about shelters, emergency food or water drops, road closures, and shelter-in-place tips, are just a few examples of the information that these helplines can relay to the public in a local emergency.

    The availability of such services in times of disaster is crucial – they serve as a way for residents to get much needed information and listening support, while also reducing the burden on local government and diverting non-emergency calls away from 9-1-1.

    Providing this service presents unique challenges to helpline staff, but iCarol offers a number of solutions to reduce the stress of being there for your community during emergencies.

    Benefit from Partnerships

    During a disaster helplines in a region often need to work together to coordinate response. Some disasters may force one or more local helplines to close entirely, or at a minimum a helpline may be short staffed. Using iCarol you can easily share responsibility for managing call/text/chat volume and resource maintenance by using our collaborative options.

    We’ve discussed in previous posts how you can build chat or text networks using iCarol, and such a collaboration would come in extra handy if your center needs to shut down or simply offload some traffic during a disaster. And most phone systems allow for the easy transfer or forwarding of calls.

    With Call Report sharing capabilities, forms used by one center can be set up for use by another helpline in the event calls, texts, or chats are being routed elsewhere. By setting up these shared forms, the original call center can be certain that the center answering calls is filling out all the necessary information and collecting the essential data as if the call was being handled by the original center. You’ll still be able to review the forms and collect statistics on those calls handled by your partner.

    route chat text calls

    Collaboration is not just limited to call reporting forms, however. Helplines can also share a database of community referrals and resources with other helplines so that in the event of an emergency, these helplines can access resources not just in their own community, but elsewhere in the region. Further, helplines can partner together to not only access this database to give referrals to help seeker, but can also share in the responsibility of editing these resources.

    Collect Essential Data

    In the event of a disaster, helplines will likely have specific data they wish to collect on those disaster-related calls, as well as needing a way to separate those calls, chats, or texts from others that may ring through to the center. It’s also very common for local governmental and other agencies to request this data from the helplines so they can monitor the needs of the community and respond accordingly for this and future events.

    The key to collecting data in iCarol is found within the customizable report forms you fill out for each client interaction. Using the robust form editing tools, staff can add necessary questions and other fields for data collection when needed, so as soon as the disaster-related calls come in they are ready to collect the necessary information on the form. Staff can also use this capability to create a simple checkbox where call takers can note that the call was related to the disaster event, which will help identify these calls during statistical reporting later.

    form data collection disaster response

    When it’s time to report on the helpline’s calls, staff can run various spreadsheets, reports, and charts. Results are available in real-time and can be filtered based on whether or not the call was related to the disaster, making it easy to run reports specific to the event, excluding unrelated calls.

    disaster reporting

    Offer Alternative Channels

    Offering alternative channels becomes especially important during a disaster. Phone lines may be down or it may be easier for people in need to text you during these trying times. Plus the mobility of texting means that someone can reach out to you from anywhere, even if they’ve been displaced from their home.

    With iCarol you have complete control over when your messaging service is available, so you can very quickly create a shift and open up your channels as needed. You could even have a special portal specifically for disaster that has its own special report form that collects all the necessary information. And remember with Messaging you can offer all the same referrals and run the same statistical reports as you would for phone calls.

    Increase Your Bandwidth

    An emergency in your community means your volume could increase, so reaching your volunteers and staff is important. Inside iCarol you can promptly send out an email blast or mass text to alert your staff and volunteers of information they need to know, or ask for additional staffing. Quickly adjust your shift calendar to accommodate more open spots and assign your workers to shifts on the fly.

    extra shifts

    If you’d like to specifically track disaster staffing, consider creating new shifts and naming them accordingly for easy reporting. Analyze the hours worked for use in future planning, or to apply for future grants or compensation that may be offered by local governments and other organizations.

    Worker hours stats

    iCarol can be reached from any internet connected device, so you could explore work-from-home options for disaster staffing. You may wish to temporarily turn off any restrictions in place for which computers can access iCarol, or grant certain staff the ability to certify their home computers.

    Provide Critical Information and Referral

    During any sort of emergency, information could develop rapidly and change throughout the event. As your resource managers receive information from the various community agencies or collect information released by your local government, they can respond quickly. Update resource records accordingly, or create new ones with just a few clicks. Use the iCarol News area to post the most up-to-date information; it’ll be front and center when your volunteers first sign on so they won’t miss the latest updates.

    Much like we mentioned earlier with alternative channels, a disaster could mean that even more people are seeking information in alternative ways. Help seekers likely want self-service options to find resources. This is where your Public Resource Directory comes in. Visitors to your website can use an embedded search of your live resource database right on your website to find what they need.

    You can even quickly add highlighted resources during a disaster event to point your visitors right to the information and resources they need. You can also set up advanced, guided searches that are both visually appealing and direct your community to the right resources

    Public Resource Directory

    Our API is another option for referral sharing, giving you and your developers access to your resource data so it can be used in whatever ways you see fit, such as creating a home built web directory, mobile apps, and more.

    Providing assistance to your community during a disaster is a lot of work, but having so many time-saving tools integrated in your helpline software will take some of the stress out of the event, and your seamless response will prove that your helpline is an invaluable resource in your community. And even if your center doesn’t use iCarol, I hope this blog has sparked some ideas for how your helpline can plan ahead and more easily provide services when your community needs it most.

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    Managing Shift Schedules During Vacation Periods

    Shifts

    During the summer, and other common vacation periods, staff and volunteers may need to adjust the time they serve at your agency. You want to ensure that your calendar is up-to-date with all changes and the following iCarol features are there to assist.

    Unregister from a shift

    If a volunteer or staff member has already signed up for or been assigned to a shift, but realizes that they cannot serve the shift, they can un-register from the shift. To do so, the volunteer or staff member will use the shifts area of iCarol to navigate to the day of their shift, and will click on their name in the list of shifts. A pink box will appear to the right, and in that box, there is an “Unregister” button which they should click.

    Unregister

    Clicking this button will remove the person’s name from the shift, and it will revert to an “Open” shift so someone else can sign up for it.

    Shift Substitution

    This feature is similar to the “Unregister a shift” feature, but goes an extra step and facilitates the coverage for shift assignment changes. If a volunteer or staff member has already signed up for or been assigned to a shift, but realizes that they cannot serve the shift, they can ask for a substitution. To do so, the volunteer or staff member will use the shifts area of iCarol to navigate to the day of their shift, and will click on their name in the list of shifts. A pink box will appear to the right, and in that box, there is an “Ask for Substitution” button which they should click.

    Unregister

    Clicking this button will send an email to all users indicating that the volunteer or staff person is looking for a substitute, and will highlight the shift in yellow so it is easily spotted. If someone would like to substitute, they would navigate to this shift in the Shifts area of iCarol, and click the Accept button.

    Shift substitution

    Whether or not you allow un-registration or shift substitutions, and how soon before the start of a shift a person can unregister or ask for a substitution, are settings Admin’s can control via the Shifts tab in Admin Tools.

    Exceptions to Repeating Assignments

    If you have members that are assigned to the same shift over a period of time, the repeating assignment is a great tool to use. This tool allows you to collectively schedule those repeating assignments and it also handles exceptions, such as to remove the person from the shift during a particular time span when they will be on vacation. To do so, use the shifts area of iCarol to navigate to the first shift within a repeating shift assignment that they would like to unregister for and click on their name. A pink box will appear to the right, and in that box, there is a link labelled “Repeating assignment” which they should click.

    Exceptions to repeat assignments

    This will cause the following box to pop-up:

    Repeating Assignment Tool

    Firstly, the volunteer or staff person should click the radio button next to “Remove”. Next, using the drop-down boxes, they should indicate what time frame (every, every other, each month’s first, etc.) and what day of the week they would like to be removed from. The date next to “between” will be defaulted to the date of the shift the volunteer or staff person is adjusting. The volunteer or staff person should adjust the date next to “and”, or check the box next to “no end date” to remove themselves from every shift into the future. Finally, they should click the “Make these changes” button.

    If you have any questions about these tools, please do not hesitate to submit a case to the support team via the online case management tool, found in the Help menu in iCarol.

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