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Say you operate a restaurant and you’re making a schedule for the week. Your job is to allocate your workforce in such a way to maximize productivity while ensuring labor costs don’t exceed sales. You also have to comply with regulations regarding minimum wage, overtime, and local worker “Bill of Rights” measures that have been enacted in some cities. And don’t forget about vacation and sick days!
If you operate a business with more than one location, you multiply the amount of times you have to do these calculations. If you manage a distributed workforce that needs to be able to operate remotely—such as caterers or movers—you also need to factor in travel time.
This is to say nothing of the fact that your schedule needs to be fair and reasonable for your employees. Scheduling optimization reinforces work-life balance. Offering your employees the ability to set their own schedule or pick up, drop, and swap shifts can give you a competitive advantage when it comes to hiring and retention.
For these reasons and many more, businesses across all industries—from healthcare and retail to food service and construction—are investing in employee scheduling software. Scheduling software is an online tool that allows you to build schedules and automate time tracking while keeping you in compliance with the law and offering your workforce more scheduling flexibility and access.
Many different vendors offer scheduling software under the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. We’ll take a closer look at some of the most popular options to see which is best for your specific business needs. But first, let’s gain a better understanding of how scheduling software works.
Employee scheduling software is able to perform many different functions related to the allocation and management of your workforce. Most small and mid-sized businesses contract with an employee scheduling software vendor to provide this service, as building your own scheduling software is an expensive and time-consuming process.
Here is how to go about acquiring, setting up, and using your software:
Employee scheduling software is actually very cheap. Vendors typically charge a monthly fee based on the number of people in your company using the software and the number of locations you need scheduling for. Average prices amount to a couple of dollars per employee per month. Note that certain additional features may cost extra. In addition, some vendors require a minimum monthly payment.
If you already use payroll software or a professional employer organization (PEO), check with them before contracting with a scheduling software provider, as they may bundle scheduling software with their services.
When you sign up with an employee scheduling software provider, you get access to your company’s own portal, which you can enter online. From there, you can go about uploading your employees’ data, including names, contact information, job title or type, training and qualifications, and their availability (making note of shift preferences and time-off requests).
Some vendors allow you to upload data from a third-party source, such as an Excel spreadsheet or point of sale system. Workers should also be able to input information about themselves when they access the system. Note that you can self-host your scheduling software, but most providers will offer cloud-hosting services.
The user-interface (UI) of almost any employee scheduling software is a module that can be configured to look like a daily, weekly, or monthly calendar. Empty cells in the calendar represent time slots which you can populate with members of your workforce. There are multiple approaches to filling out this calendar: You can create a shift and then add employees to staff the shift, set recurring shifts, copy over an old shift, or upload a schedule from a third-party source (like an Excel spreadsheet).
Some scheduling software allow you to build out the framework of a schedule, and then auto-populate the best solutions based on your recommendation. For example, you could tell your scheduling software you need three salespeople at your store on Wednesdays and it could allocate your workforce in the most efficient way to fill that need.
Another nifty feature is the ability to assign a shift to a specific location. This could come in handy if you operate multiple locations or manage a distributed workforce. Some employee scheduling software platforms integrate with mapping software so your employees can see where they are working that day and get directions.
All employees should have access to the scheduling software so they can view their schedule, clock in and out, and request time off and sick days. You can adjust their permissions so they can perform additional functions, such as adding time preferences, bidding on open shifts, or requesting shift swaps. You could even allow your employees to set their own schedules. Employees can also opt to receive scheduling updates from the platform via email or text.
One of the biggest benefits of employee scheduling software is that it can draw insights from the way you are scheduling your workforce. For example, your scheduling software could see how many salespeople worked last Friday and what profits were, and use that information to determine which salespeople should work this Friday. Note that this type of functionality may cost extra and requires application programming interface (API) integration with your POS software, payroll platform, or HR software.
As with any third-party service you use with your business, make sure your employee scheduling software provider offers robust support. Not being able to set the work schedule could literally be a work-stoppage issue. Ideally, you’ll want to have access to your software vendor on a 24/7 basis and through multiple channels of communication (phone, text, email, live chat). It’s an added bonus if your software provider offers how-to videos and online training sessions.
Your scheduling software should have a mobile app or an interface that translates to mobile so that employees can access their schedule and time tracking tools on the go.
All of the aforementioned capabilities of employee scheduling software translate to increased productivity and efficiency for your business. The main benefits include:
Scheduling is one of those many tasks that take you away from your core responsibilities as a small business owner. Employee scheduling software can automate much of the scheduling process, giving you more time to focus on other tasks to help grow your business.
Scheduling software mitigates your chances of making a scheduling error—like scheduling someone who is on PTO—because your staff also has access to the platform and can request scheduling changes and edits. This collaborative approach to scheduling keeps everyone informed and ensures that mistakes are kept to a minimum.
Most employee scheduling software platforms understand labor laws and can inform the user if your scheduling practices are in violation of these regulations. This could help you avoid hefty fines while also protecting your employees from being taken advantage of.
An investment in employee scheduling software is an investment in your workforce. Employees want their schedules managed efficiently and transparently, and with as little confusion as possible. When workers have access to and influence over their work schedules, they tend to be more satisfied, and less likely to leave.
If you’re looking for all of the aforementioned benefits, here are our recommendations for the best scheduling software platforms. Note that all options listed offer a free trial.
When I Work is free for up to 75 employees, and as far as free scheduling platforms go, it offers quite a varied feature set. Users can build a schedule on When I Work’s simple and responsive UI, manage time off, allow shift exchanges, send group messages to staff, and use When I Work’s mobile app. When I Work also allows for off-site scheduling by assigning shifts at specific locations or addresses.
The free version of the app does not offer time or attendance tracking, and you cannot set schedules more than 10 days into the future. There is also limited integration with POS vendors. If you need these features, or if you operate a business with more than 75 employees, you should look into When I Work’s Scheduling Basic plan, which costs $1.50 per employee per month.
Note that When I Work does not offer 24/7 support.
Humanity is an employee scheduling software platform with all the bells and whistles. Among its features are an intuitive scheduling interface, time clock, leave management system, and messaging platform. Users can also manage time-off requests, integrate with POS and payroll software to create reports and forecast schedules, and receive access to Humanity’s training programs to learn more about how to use the software.
Humanity offers three pricing plans. The Classic plan is suitable for most businesses. It costs $3 per employee per month and provides access to time tracking tools, the Humanity training platform, and allows for integrations with third-party software. There is also an Enterprise plan that features API access, custom branding, and a dedicated account manager. If you’re interested in the Enterprise plan, you can contact Humanity for a quote. All plans come with 24/7 support.
Ximble offers most of the functionality you would want in a scheduling platform at a very good price. With the $2 per employee per month Core plan, you and your employees will have access to time tracking, time-off management, shift trading, a messaging platform, and timesheet reviews. Ximble can also integrate with payroll software to monitor labor costs and produce reports.
Another benefit of Ximble is the ability to send your employees notifications about upcoming shifts via the Ximble mobile app. If you opt for the $4 per employee per month Advanced plan, you will get additional scheduling automation and integration features, API access, and clock-in facial recognition software.
Ximble support is available 24/5 Monday through Friday.
Deputy brands itself as the ultimate employee management solution for hourly and shift-based workers, and its platform backs that up. We recommend the Premium plan, which starts at $3 per employee per month. Schedules are created via a drag-and-drop menu and can be organized by age, experience, or wage cost. Once Deputy learns your scheduling preferences, it can automate future schedules. Deputy also offers time tracking, messaging, clock-in via facial recognition, and functions for managing performance and assigning tasks.
Other features include shift swapping and integration with payroll software, API access, and a news feed that can be used to share company updates. Deputy has an enterprise solution that offers further customization, such as location and department level procedures and signal-based scheduling features that can update schedules based on real-time factors like weather and traffic.
Deputy offers 24/7 support.
Shiftboard has scheduling and management capabilities designed for medium and large-sized businesses. On the Shiftboard platform you can create rules-based schedules, message your employees to discuss scheduling issues, track clock-in and clock-out times, and create reports using shift data, workforce statistics, team information, financial records, timekeeper information, and more.
Shiftboard also has features that allow for job applicant and onboarding tracking, and can integrate with payroll, HR, and POS software. The Basic plan, which offers scheduling services for up to 20, costs $3 per employee per month. The Advanced plan costs $6 per employee per month and boasts additional features like advanced reporting, API access, and website branding. The Enterprise plan features additional compliance and applicant tracking features. Contact Shiftboard for a free quote.
HotSchedules specializes in scheduling solutions for the restaurant, hospitality and retail industries. There are three different plans depending on the size of your business. The Independent plan starts at $2 per employee per month and can accommodate up to 30 employees in a single location. Among the features included are a drag-and-drop scheduling interface, shift swapping, time-off management, and overtime alerts.
The $4 per employee per month Advanced plan can accommodate businesses with over 30 employees or businesses with multiple locations. Included in this plan are a time clock that can be accessed from the HotSchedules mobile app, payroll integration, advanced reporting, compliance alerts, and messaging functionality. Similar to other scheduling software providers, you can reach out to HotSchedules for a free quote on their enterprise solution (perks include POS integration and increased scheduling automation).
Looking at all of the options we have provided, you may notice that there is considerable overlap in the type of features offered with different employee scheduling software providers. The fact is most scheduling software can perform similar functions, albeit at different prices and with different levels of specificity. In the end, the key differentiator for you, small business owner, is personal preference.
We recommend signing up for a couple of different free trials to see which scheduling interfaces you find easiest to use. You may also prioritize one or two specific features, such as an intuitive time-off system, and opt for the software that performs this function best. Invest the time now to pick an employee scheduling software platform that meets your business’s needs and you’ll be surprised at how much your own schedule opens up later on.