The balancing act: how to distribute work fairly in your team

Avoid underutilization and overallocation with these tips for effective workload management.‍

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Summary: attention to team capacity, regular workload reviews, and an understanding of your team’s strengths and skill gaps help you allocate tasks in an equitable manner, ensuring that no one is overworked or left behind while keeping your projects on track and improving your bottom line. 

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Here’s a conundrum you might be familiar with: 

A project task falls through the cracks, and you call on your star team member to fix it. You’re hesitant at first because they already have a full workload, but they’re the only one you trust to do it right—and do it fast. You know this overreliance isn’t ideal, and it happens only when absolutely necessary. 

But over time, you find it happening again and again!

When distributing workloads, it’s easy to lean a little too heavily on high performers, leaving them to carry the weight of the whole team while others are underutilized. 

By taking a people-first approach, you can allocate tasks based on capacity, not just capability, ensuring everyone on the team pulls their weight.

This article shares eight ways resource managers and people planners like you effectively balance team workloads and improve workload distribution ⚖️ (with a little help from Float). 

1. Use 1:1s to gauge workloads

Team members are more likely to express dissatisfaction with their workloads in private settings than in larger group meetings. But you’ll only get candid feedback if you create a psychologically safe environment, where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts on the distribution of work.

State your purpose upfront

Let your team members know that the purpose of the conversation is to ensure they’re supported, and not to evaluate or criticize. 

Make it clear that your discussion is about improving their well-being–whether that’s by reducing their workloads or finding colleagues to support them on projects. 

Ask the right questions 

Use open-ended questions to encourage detailed responses rather than simple yes or no answers. 

Here are some questions you can ask 👇

  • How do you feel about your current workload?
  • What projects do you need support on?
  • I noticed you have reported feeling down for the past few weeks; can you tell me more about it?
  • Are you doing work you’re interested in?
  • What would you like to work on next?

Follow up for more information 

Be prepared to ask follow-up questions based on their responses to dig deeper into specific issues they might be facing.

If a team member mentions finding a project particularly overwhelming because of its tight timeline, a good follow-up question would be, “Can you tell me more about which aspects of the project are most challenging for you?” or, “Are there particular tasks or due dates we could adjust to make it more manageable?”

2. Determine team members’ baseline capacity

When assigning work, consider your team members’ baseline capacity to ensure tasks are distributed fairly.

Actual capacity is the time available for project tasks after accounting for other activities, like:

  • Meetings and sharing updates or responding to messages
  • Planned absences like PTO 
  • Unexpected events, like sick leave

If you don’t factor in these elements, you might expect your team members to be always be fully available for project work, leading to overfilled schedules with no flexibility. This, in turn, causes frequent context-switching, stress, and even burnout.

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Headshot of Michael Luchen, Director of Product at Float

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Michael Luchen

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Director of Product at Float

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It’s important to understand your organization’s baseline capacity when planning projects. Think of administrative and management tasks that team members might have to do. For example, if the design lead has to do admin work for an hour or two a day and then meet with team members for another hour, that should be allocated on their schedule. 

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Use a resource management tool to calculate baseline capacity

Manually calculating each person’s capacity is hardly the best use of your time, especially if you’re in charge of a large team. Instead, use a resource management tool with scheduling and capacity management capabilities (we recommend Float, and so does G2 😉).

With Float, you can set up work hours and days for each team member, and plan time off for the entire year in advance.

Page showing custom workdays in Float
Got team members with shorter work days? Float lets you set custom work hours, which gives you an accurate idea of team capacity.  

When sick days or unexpected absences happen, they’re recorded in the system so you can track how they impact workloads in real time.

You can also adjust workloads based on real-time data, ensuring fair distribution even when things don’t go according to plan.

You can move allocations and project phases with just a click of a button

Pro tip: sync your calendar with your resource management tool

Add recurring meetings and other tasks to your Google Calendar or Outlook Calendar, then sync it with Float for the most accurate picture of each team member’s available time.

3. Monitor and adjust workloads in meetings

Workloads change depending on resource demand, but capacity planning meetings help you stay on top of the ebbs and flows of work and align on how your resources are scheduled. 

Choose a regular cadence for meeting 

Regular meetings help you catch changes in workloads early—these could be set up at any interval that works for your team. For example, the capacity management team at global agency Scholz & Friends meets weekly to discuss allocations and develop a workload distribution plan.  

Use a resource management tool that shows team schedules and capacity 

When discussing allocations, capacity, and workloads, you need a single source of truth that presents it all in a digestible way. A dedicated resource management tool is ideal for this purpose, serving as a central point to monitor team workloads and identify where adjustments are needed.

For example, during their weekly meetings, the Scholz & Friends team uses Float to view their team members’ schedules. This allows them to manage workloads effectively and make informed decisions about allocations.

Maike Jahnens the head of financial operations and capacity management at Scholz & Friends Commerce looking at Float schedule
Float’s visual schedule helps the capacity management team at Scholz and Friends see individual workloads and fix any imbalances

Invite the right people

The people in your meetings should be stakeholders who have direct input on workloads and the people who allocate work. These might include team members, their managers, project managers, creative directors, and account managers.

In smaller teams (fewer than 20 people), everyone can attend, but in larger teams, it’s more practical to involve only managers. For example, Scholz & Friends, with 200 team members, run meetings with just their account managers and creative directors. In contrast, the full service agency Show + Tell, with a smaller team of about 20+ people, has everyone attend their monthly meeting to review allocations.

Encourage negotiations over resources

You might face workload distribution issues if different project managers need the same team member(s) for their projects. This might result in overloading some team members or overlooking other qualified team members for the task. Open discussions allow the managers to see all the available resources in one place.

For example, the Scholz & Friends team holds regular discussions for project managers to request specific team members and align on what resources to allocate to each project. This way, workloads remain balanced, and the best-suited team members are chosen for each task.

Reallocate work if necessary 

Once you have all the necessary information, the next step is to start making adjustments as needed.

Look for individuals who are consistently overloaded, and others who have the capacity to take on more work. Identify future instances where workloads may become uneven, like an upcoming holiday disrupting allocations. If there’s resource availability, redistribute tasks to maintain balance. 

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With a visual workload management tool like Float, you can quickly spot patterns of uneven workloads by identifying red flags like low or high utilization rates, consistent overtime, schedule conflicts, and long periods without PTO.

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4. Involve your team in planning workloads 

Your team members are the ones doing the work, so it’s essential to make workload changes with their input. They’re not just resources: they’re individuals with unique work styles, paces, and interests. Understanding these aspects will help you make better decisions for them (and, in turn, for your organization). 

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Emily Feliciano, Senior Creative Resource Manager at Atlassian

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Emily Feliciano

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Creative Resource Manager at Atlassian

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The important thing to remember is that we are dealing with unquantifiable entities, such as humans. Although planning is rooted in data, time, dollars, and equations, it’s much more about the impact on each individual work experience.

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Speak to team members before reallocating work

To the best of your ability, consult with your team members before moving them away or to projects to ensure they align with their interests and skills. 

Imagine you have a top performer handling four complex, time-consuming projects. You decide to reassign one of these projects to a team member with more availability—your high performer might not express their disappointment, but they could end up demoralized by the decision.

A better way to handle this situation would be to ask questions like: 

  • What projects energize you?
  • What do you see yourself doing less of in the next six months?
  • What do you see yourself doing more of in the next six months?
  • Which of your current projects could you delegate to someone else?

High-performing individuals might not always want to give up work, but you can ease it out of their hands by encouraging them to give away their legos

Consider personal preferences or situations

Situations like being a new parent or caring for a sick family member might mean that you need to balance out workloads differently for particular team members. 

When assigning work to people, try looking at the individual’s unique circumstances. 

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Emily Feliciano, Senior Creative Resource Manager at Atlassian

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Emily Feliciano

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Creative Resource Manager at Atlassian

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When I’m planning our team’s capacity, I know some people have kids they like to be home and have dinner with after work. When I’m considering a project that might require late night work or unexpected weekend work, I try to ensure that we aren’t constantly stacking work on them.

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5. Consider the task complexity

Calculate workloads based on the complexity and effort required, not simply the number of tasks. If you don’t consider complexity and mental effort while planning work, you might inadvertently distribute workloads unevenly—and potentially miss the signs that a team member is overloaded and needs support. 

Talk to team members 

The best way to understand how to allocate complex tasks is to speak to your team. They can give you the most accurate idea of the effort and time needed to work on projects. 

Use historical data 

Analyze data in your resource management software to gauge how long similar projects have taken. If you use time tracking in Float, you can look at the Reports tabs and compare actual and scheduled time to see if tasks regularly take longer than planned. If they do, that’s a cue that you need to adjust the amount of time allocated to those projects.

Dashboard in Float showing logged vs actual time
Comparing actual and scheduled time can show you if you’re a bit too optimistic about the effort and time it takes to complete projects 

6. Clearly define roles and responsibilities 

When problems arise, high performers often step up to fix them. Over time, their team members—and you as their manager—might even come to expect them to pick up the slack. The problem is this heavy workload will eventually take a toll. 

Additional tasks can impact their work and take away time for personal development. Or, worse, it could disrupt their work-life balance, affecting their well-being. 

Clearly outline duties and responsibilities

Some team members might find themselves completing critical tasks assigned to others to keep the project on track. Constantly picking up after other team members can be exhausting.

To avoid a few team members being overburdened by ad hoc tasks, ​​consider:

  • 👥 Clearly outlining what is expected for each role by defining the scope of their responsibilities, deadlines, and any specific deliverables that need to be achieved
  • 📃 Ensuring all team members are aware of their own roles and the roles of others through a project kickoff meeting, or role-specific documentation like a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed) matrix
  • 🤝 Scheduling regular meetings to review progress and address any role-related issues

Intervene when necessary 

Use your resource or project management tool to note cases of tasks not being completed or taking too long, and step in to fix it. You can:

  • Identify team members who have pending tasks constantly 
  • Speak to them privately to understand the root cause of delay 
  • Offer support with time management, e.g. share suggestions on how to plan their week or prioritize projects
  • Clarify expectations and let them know task completion is a requirement 

7. Avoid rewarding good performance with more work 

Performance punishment–rewarding the top performers with more tasks and responsibility–is often the reward for work done well. 

While it’s reasonable to ask top performers to go above and beyond occasionally, don’t make it a habit. Constantly piling on work can lead to overwork, burnout, and resentment, especially if there’s no corresponding increase in compensation.

Evaluate other ways of using the team member’s time

Before assigning additional tasks to your top performers, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Is there a project this person is genuinely interested in? Assigning projects that align with their interests boosts motivation and job satisfaction.
  • Is there a growth opportunity they want to explore? Providing opportunities for professional development can be more rewarding than additional tasks. 
  • Is there a course or an L&D activity they might be interested in? Encourage them to engage in courses or training that enhance their skill sets and career prospects.
  • Can they train others to take on work and free up their time? Let them mentor and train other team members, especially new hires. This distributes the workload more evenly and fosters collaboration and teamwork.
  • Should they take a break? Ensure they’re not missing out on taking time off. Time to rest and recharge is needed to stay healthy and productive.

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Jason Fisher

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Co-Founder and Global Studio Director at Flight Story

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If people prefer a mix of tasks, we schedule and manage their jobs and projects so they gain exposure to various aspects of their roles and different parts of the business.

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8. Upskill your team for more capable hands

Uneven workloads are often an indicator of a skill shortage. If only a few people can do some tasks well, they might always be assigned more work. Actively ensure the entire team upskills to improve productivity

Use utilization rate to track skill gaps 

A consistently low utilization rate might indicate a team member is being passed over because they lack certain skills for specific tasks—especially if someone in a similar role is overutilized.

Comfort Agemo, Senior Capacity and Freelance Manager at Scholz & Friends, uses Float to analyze resource utilization levels. When she notices a team member is repeatedly passed over during allocations, she investigates to identify the cause, often finding a need for upskilling.

Low utilization rates might have various causes, so speak with project managers or team leads to understand the underlying reasons 🔎

Offer learning opportunities

Pair less experienced team members with highly skilled colleagues on projects. Allow them to switch between projects to gain diverse experiences and encourage them to pursue new skills.

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David Hecker

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COO at RenderHeads

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If I know someone is interested in a certain area, I pair them with the person who currently has the knowledge so they can learn from them. This gives me two options for that role in the future instead of just one that I have to keep reallocating across projects. 

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The importance of proper workload distribution for people planners

We’ve explained how to distribute work the right way; as extra motivation, here are the benefits you’ll gain from doing it 😉

  • 📈 Encourage optimal resource utilization: if only a few people shoulder the bulk of the work, productive hours are wasted, and those overloaded become less effective. Utilization is maximized when work is evenly distributed among all team members. 
  • ❤️‍🩹 Prevent employee burnout: equitable workload distribution ensures no one is overburdened, helping to prevent burnout. Team members are given only what they can handle, reducing stress and overload. 
  • ⚒️ Maintain steady productivity: uneven workloads threaten productivity. Overloaded team members often have to context switch, while underutilized team members’ hours waste away. Balanced workloads help maintain steady team performance by ensuring everyone can work at optimal capacity.
  • ⚖️ Promote equity and fairness: equal distribution of workloads ensures that compensation aligns with workloads and everyone is allocated just the right amount of work
  • 🧑‍💼 Retain top-performing talent: if high performers are overworked and underpaid, they may seek better compensation elsewhere. Ensuring even workloads keeps people satisfied and fairly compensated, reducing turnover.

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Balance your team's workload with Float

With Float, you can easily plan projects and resources, making sure schedules align with your team’s capacity. Workloads can be adjusted automatically so no one gets overwhelmed. Plus, the time tracking feature helps you keep an eye on utilization and scheduled time, ensuring everyone’s workload stays balanced. 

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FAQs

Some FAQs about workload distribution

What is workload distribution?

Workload distribution is the process of allocating and dividing tasks and responsibilities among team members based on their capacity and skills.

What role does technology play in workload distribution?

Technology, specifically resource management software, provides features that make it easy to track workloads, spot over- and underutilization, and adjust workloads in real time. 

  • Resource management software is your centralized dashboard for tracking resource allocations, ensuring optimal use of people’s time and preventing overload or underutilization
  • Teams can see project statuses and updates in one place, reducing the need for frequent check-ins and improving overall communication
  • Automation of workload management tasks, such as scheduling and allocation software, saves significant time, reducing administrative overhead and improving productivity
  • Seamless integration with project management tools like Asana and Trello allows for efficient data transfer and consolidated reporting, enhancing project management

What are the consequences of poor workload distribution?

Poor workload distribution can have several detrimental consequences:

  • Decreased team productivity and missed deadlines due to some members being overwhelmed while others are underutilized
  • Increased employee stress, burnout, and reduced job satisfaction when workloads are unbalanced and inequitable
  • Resentment and conflicts among team members when tasks are not distributed fairly, leading to a hostile work environment
  • Higher employee turnover as overworked individuals seek better working conditions and a healthier work-life balance elsewhere