The short version: workload management is a multi-step process where you plan, schedule, and distribute work across your team. Effective workload management optimizes how work is assigned and helps keep teams happy and projects on track.
Whether you’re a resource manager, project lead, or traffic manager, a huge part of your job is ensuring your team members are not drowning in work—but also that they are not twiddling their thumbs with nothing to do.
This balancing act makes workload management an interesting challenge with a lot of moving parts... as we know quite well from talking to our customers 😅
In this guide, we’ll quickly cover the basics of workload management and then get to the actionable stuff: we’ll share a few effective workload management strategies we sourced from our customers, so you can distribute tasks and responsibilities fairly.
What is workload management?
Workload management, also known as workload planning, is the process of planning and scheduling tasks and responsibilities, and assigning them to individuals or teams to ensure work is completed efficiently and within specified timeframes.
Workload management involves proper resource allocation by assessing the volume and complexity of work, prioritizing tasks according to impact, and monitoring progress to maintain team performance and prevent burnout. It also takes into account your people’s capacity and skills to make sure no one is overwhelmed, over- or under-utilized. The results of good work management are optimal production and efficiency.
Here’s a practical application → let’s say your design and advertising agency has four ongoing projects, from brand identity creation to website design and social media graphics.
To manage your team’s workload:
- You assign specific tasks to your design team, clarifying their schedule, and ensuring everyone has work they can handle
- Throughout the projects, you make sure to have regular check-ins where you check the workloads are still balanced
- If one designer completes their tasks early in Project B, you can easily re-allocate them to assist in fine-tuning some elements of Project A or contribute creative ideas to Project C
The right tool for you workload management job
Rated #1 for resource management on G2, Float gives you the most accurate view of your team’s capacity so you can confidently plan and schedule project work.Get a free trial →
Why is team workload management important?
Workload management helps you prioritize tasks more efficiently, improve the balance of work across your team, and create more accurate project schedules. Which is to say: it helps you answer questions like Is anyone over- or under-worked?, Are our due dates realistic?, How can we prevent burnout?, and Do we need additional resources?
As a result, your team has the capacity and confidence to deliver quality work.
Team workload management:
- Improves the accuracy of project schedules (and avoids schedule chaos—you know what we’re talking about 😉)
- Ensures fair task distribution among team members so that everyone is assigned tasks that match their skills, promoting growth and balance
- Boosts employee retention by reducing overwork
- Fosters a healthier work-life balance, enhancing job satisfaction and morale (and reducing pressure)
- Helps team members focus on their tasks, resulting in improved quality and attention to detail in project deliverables
How to manage workloads effectively: strategy & tips sourced from customers & PMs
Workload management isn’t a linear process: it’s a continuous cycle of planning, tracking, assessing, and (re)adjusting to achieve project success. This is because team workloads always change, requiring constant balancing and adjustments.
To help you stay on top of it all, we collected some thoughts, processes, and tips from real-world project managers and people planners who use Float. Here are some scenarios they’ve encountered, and what they had to say about them👇🏿
1. Map out all projects in a central tool to get an accurate picture of team workload
💡 The team at Impression believes that understanding all ongoing agency activities is vital. Project managers plan and schedule tasks of all sizes and complexities through Float. This includes major projects, development sprints, and small one-hour tasks for website maintenance or fixes.
How to do it → list all ongoing and potential projects in one place to understand how much work your team can handle, both now and soon. This includes tasks that may not relate directly to main projects but still take up your team’s time, like interviewing new hires or leading team meetings (it might seem obvious, but based on experience: it’s really easy to overlook these types of tasks).
A good place to record your team’s tasks is in a dedicated workload management tool. Unlike project management software, workload & resource management software solutions include capacity management features that help you plan by tracking:
- Work hours
- Time off (PTO and sick leave)
2. Check team capacity to determine true bandwidth
💡 The team of accountants, lawyers, and tax specialists from Accounts and Legal deliver work under strict deadlines and between many client calls—and that’s before any of the urgent tasks that inevitably pop up. Their Manager, Clara Tooth, mentioned that sometimes, resources that seem to have the capacity to take on work are actually close to being overbooked; so looking at capacity ongoingly through monthly planning sessions and daily standup calls helps prevent overbooking before it even happens.
In other words, capacity planning is critical to team workload management. It helps you ask the How much time does the team *really* have to work on tasks? question, and see if an employee can take on a new project or if their schedule is already full.
Again, this is where a tool that shows who’s around and available becomes crucial to managing workloads across the entire team:
As a project manager, you have to work with your team’s actual (not expected) capacity. If you expect that someone has 40 hours to give to your project every week, but in reality they only have 25, that sets up your project for failure.
3. Understand the true workload behind each task
💡 Emily Feliciano, the Creative Resource Manager at Atlassian, observed that “One designer might handle ten tickets, which could involve minor adjustments like image resizing. On the other hand, another designer might have just one complex ticket, possibly spanning three months. When observing their boards, it might seem like Designer A is overloaded with ten tickets, creating the impression of having too much to handle, while Designer B appears to have minimal work.”
Raise your hand if you’ve ever jumped into a project only to find your team feeling overwhelmed and understaffed 🙋🏽♀️ It’s not uncommon to get a little overzealous and take on a project without understanding the entire scope. Numerous tasks don’t necessarily mean a heavy workload, and few don’t always mean a light one. This is because a single task might involve substantial work, mental effort, or time commitment.
To understand the actual workload involved in a task, you can:
Good workload management starts with good work plan templates
Need help creating full-fledged work plans? Our team at Float has got you covered → you can go right ahead and use our handy work plan templates.
4. Look for workload imbalances and make adjustments to resource allocation
💡 Here is the workload management process the capacity planning team at Scholz & Friends uses: once a week, they hold an online capacity planning meeting with all the agency’s account managers and creative directors. One of them shares the Float dashboard on their screen, and they all go through projects together to see team workloads, schedules, and availability. They ask questions like What tasks are scheduled?, Who has time to work?, Who has the right skills for this project?, and Is there too much for one person?
If (...when!) they notice someone has too much work on their plate, they discuss changing tasks or due dates to help. And because they are a large team spread across eight offices, if they can’t move project schedules they request a team member with similar skills and time from other Scholz and Friends offices. For example, they might have someone from Berlin help the Hamburg team. If all team members across offices are at full capacity, they then opt for hiring a freelancer.
How to get started → At regular intervals, for example, during weekly resource planning meetings, look out for people who are over- and under-utilized. It’s particularly important to watch out for people who might have less work than others. For instance, a senior designer might be spending a significant amount of time doing basic layout adjustments or simple text edits, which are tasks more suited for a junior designer or someone with less experience. This helps ensure everyone is engaged in fulfilling work and that no one stays without work for too long.
If you discover a workload imbalance (...which you most likely will), here are a few steps you can take immediately:
- Talk to your coworkers about team workload management, encouraging open conversations about how work is divided. They might have ideas on how tasks can be redistributed or prioritized.
- Redistribute tasks among team members with skills and availability to ensure everyone has a fair workload. Make sure to consider how new allocations affect the existing ones.
- Check if certain tasks can be given lower priority or delayed to lighten the load for team members with too much work.
- Adjust project deadlines if possible to give more time for work to be completed
- Look for extra resources you can assign work to or people whose allocations can be deprioritized. If you can’t get more help internally, you might need to get approval for a freelancer or submit a request for a new hire.
🔥 Pro tip: if you’re using Float, a tally of available hours per person is listed next to their name on the schedule, and the totals for the team are displayed at the top. If it’s red, it means they’re already in overtime.
Senior Capacity and Freelance Manager
You have the list of everyone over offices; you know their skills, who speaks English, or Spanish, you can see that very quickly and help out if someone is in need of a specific skill set. And if you see that somebody is booked a lot, but somebody else is not booked, maybe skills are missing. [So we ask] how can we help to develop more skills? What does the person need to learn?
5. Look out for signs of team overload
💡 Our Lead Frontend Engineer, Haakon Jack, relies on a mix of signals to determine when someone is overloaded, such as:
- Keeping tabs on who’s merging what into GitHub, and how often
- Team members self-reporting when they have too much work to do
- PM and managers reaching out if they’ve noticed interruptions in delivery or communication
As soon as some of these signs become apparent, Haakon takes action by redistributing work, reprioritizing, and deferring and delaying projects. Obviously, we all want to keep our commitments, so changing a deadline is a last resort—but shipping an incomplete or subpar project isn’t really an option, either, and sometimes there’s no choice but to push things back.
Know what you can deliver, and negotiate with your team and customers; if you have the capacity, jump in and help get something across the line—but don’t forget to balance your own commitments with this work, or you might be the very next person who feels overloaded.
6. How to prioritize and multi-task with unexpected scope bloat
💡 Matt Smith is a producer at Storm & Shelter, a content production company, who manages several projects involving both internal and external team members. We asked him a few questions about the very common dangers of scope bloat, and here are his tips:
Have you ever encountered a situation where you needed to assign a task to someone at the last minute? If so, how did you handle assigning unexpected tasks?
Last-minute requests are bound to happen, and it’s tough to decide whether to shuffle your schedule to accommodate them. But fear not! Good ol’ communication comes to the rescue (again). If possible, gather the key folks involved and brainstorm some potential solutions. It’s not one person’s burden to solve: involving the team in devising the plan will give you more ideas and more buy-in. Remember, it’s a collective effort.
When a specific team member needs to be shared among multiple projects, what measures do you take to prevent that resource from becoming overwhelmed?
First of all, each person on your team is more than just a resource—treating people solely as assets to be arranged and used has a very real human cost. Take, for example, someone working a grueling 12-hour day on set. It’s unrealistic to expect them to be firing on all cylinders the very next morning. That’s why it’s important to avoid scheduling highly demanding tasks for them during that time. The shorthand of "resource management" to describe teams and individuals is unhelpful. Instead, let’s shift our perspective and fully embrace the fact they have their own needs and limitations. By acknowledging that we are all human, we can foster a more supportive and understanding way of scheduling our teams.
How do you avoid overwhelming a team member who is frequently requested for tasks?
Context-switching really takes a toll on productivity. Our team constantly juggles numerous projects, resulting in fragmented tasks and frequent interruptions. It affects our efficiency and puts a heavy burden on our mental load, leading to quick burnout. To tackle the issue, we’ve implemented a strategy of limiting the number of projects a team member can be scheduled on any given day. On top of that, we actively encourage our team to communicate when they need focused time to tackle their task list without any distractions.
Picking the right workload management software to plan your team’s time
Keeping tabs on your team’s workload and availability is an ongoing process. And it can also be extremely time-consuming if done manually!
The right toolkit can help you:
- Track your team’s utilization and capacity (in the same place you plan work)
- Manage your team’s capacity
- Plan future projects and keep track of current tasks in real time
- Forecast resources and plan more accurately
- Spread project workloads evenly across your team’s calendars
- Reassign tasks if someone is away or their workload is getting too heavy.
We think Float is the best option—and so do more than 4,500 of our customers, including AirBnb, Atlassian, and Deloitte—but we recommend that you take a look at this list of the best resource management software we curated for you, complete with feature and pricing comparisons.
Plan your team’s workload with the #1 rated resource management software
More than 4,500 of the world’s top teams choose Float to manage their team’s workload. Want to join them?Try for free →
Some FAQs about workload management
How do you prioritize tasks in workload management?
During workload distribution, tasks can be prioritized based on urgency, importance, deadlines, and dependencies. Management techniques such as the Eisenhower Matrix or ABC prioritization can help in categorizing important tasks effectively.
How do you allocate resources in workload management?
Resources are allocated based on factors such as skills, availability, and workload capacity. Project management tools and resource management software integrations can streamline the identification of available resources and assign them to project tasks accordingly.
What are the consequences of poor workload management?
Poor project planning and workload management can lead to decreased team productivity, missed deadlines, increased stress levels, burnout among team members, and compromised workflows.
In other words: don’t do it!