Between managing day-to-day tasks, putting out unexpected fires, and making plans to hit revenue goals, small business owners have plenty on their plate. As if they weren’t busy enough, many are also handling HR tasks. One 2016 ADP study found that 70% of small businesses manage HR duties like time tracking and payroll on their own. Of these ad hoc HR managers, more than half are the business owners themselves.
Anything that boosts efficiency ultimately frees up time to focus on growing your business. Managing employee schedules may feel like a chore, but free employee scheduling software can make life a little easier. We scoured the market and took a deep dive into the best platforms out there.
Best for: Restaurants and retail shops that operate out of one single location—or homebase.
For a no-fuss, free employee scheduling software, check out Homebase. They have higher-level membership plans that will cost you, but the free version is ideal if your business operates out of a single location. Their mobile app simplifies the process even more.
- It’s free for single-site small businesses: Your ability to create work schedules is unlimited if your business has just one location. That means the size of your employee base never comes into play.
- Tweak and adjust as needed: Homebase is super user-friendly and lets you easily assign shifts into an open calendar that you can modify at any time. Share it with your team in a click and you’re good to go. From there, employees can request time off and even swap shifts, all within the app.
- Take advantage of free time tracking: The app includes a free time clock that allows you to track hours, as well as labor costs. Lean on their built-in timesheets to tally up hours and sort out overtime. From there, you can export them directly to your payroll provider.
- Stay connected to your team with in-app messaging: Sync up and use group chats or individual messages to keep your team connected and in the loop. You can see which employees have seen your messages—and who’s looked at the most recent schedule. Users are also able to see who’s available to work on any given day.
- Not great for small businesses with multiple locations: This free software will cost you if you have more than one work site.
- Additional perks are only available with a paid membership: The only way to unlock extra Homebase benefits is to shell out for one of its higher-level memberships, which will set you back either $14 or $70 per location per month, depending on which level you chose. These perks include health and safety screening, budgeting and labor cost controls, document storage, access to HR advisors and more.
Best for: Long-term scheduling for unlimited employees and locations.
This free staff scheduling software brings teams together in one virtual place, even if you have multiple locations. Plus, Sling is a standout option if you want the flexibility of long-term scheduling.
- It makes shift scheduling easy: The Sling app acts as a holding place for employee time-off requests and availability. This eliminates shift conflicts like accidentally double-booking a shift or assigning an employee who’s unavailable.
- It builds in employee accountability: You can delegate tasks to your team right from the app, then track their status so you’ll always know when things are (or aren’t) getting done.
- One-on-one communication is free of charge: Individual messaging is included in Sling’s free membership.
- The basic membership doesn’t include timesheets: This means you also can’t track overtime. Mobile time clocks are off the table, as well.
- You can’t save shift templates: This may make building shifts more burdensome than it needs to be. Sling’s free membership also doesn’t allow employees to swap shifts.
- Private and group messaging are out: The only way to open these up is to upgrade to a paid plan. Rates start at $2 per user per month for a Premium membership; $4 for the top-level Business plan.
Best for: Single-department businesses that operate out of one location with a small team.
OpenSimSim is a fan favorite as far as free employee scheduling software goes. It’s relatively easy to use—and if you’re working with a small team of scheduled employees, this no-frills software will likely get the job done for free.
- It streamlines scheduling within specific departments: OpenSimSim keeps things organized by scheduling teams of employees within specific departments. This makes it ideal for scheduling, say, front-of-house employees in a retail setting. The software is free if used for a single department.
- You can manage time-off requests and availability within the app: Employees can easily list these details in the app. You also have the power to manage time cards this way.
- In-app messaging is free: This includes group and private messaging, read receipts, image sharing, and more. Turning on the push notifications can help prevent important communications from falling through the cracks.
- Mobile time clocks aren’t included: Instead of employees being able to clock in and out from the app, they have to use a kiosk. OpenSimSim can turn your iPad or Android tablet into a time clock station that employees can use on site.
- Single-department use could drag down efficiency: If you’re managing multiple departments, you’ll have to upgrade to a paid membership to schedule your employees.
- The free membership is somewhat limited in capability: Integrating data with your point of sale (POS) system isn’t free. OpenSimSim’s free membership also won’t allow you to manage overtime or do any sort of advanced reporting. (It’s called a basic membership because it’s pretty, well, basic.) Advanced plans begin at $12.99 per location per month and go up from there.
4. When I Work
Best for: Businesses that have one team of up to 75 users in one location.
With a reputation for having a robust free employee scheduling platform, When I Work is fast, easy, and loaded with shortcuts to help you manage schedules quickly so you can move onto more important things.
When I Work Pros:
- Instantly see your team’s availability: Users can initiate time-off requests and post their availability right from the app. And unlike some other free platforms, When I Work allows employees to trade shifts.
- Create schedule templates: Some employee scheduling programs count this as an upgraded perk, but When I Work throws it in for free.
- Allows you to post open shifts: Instead of assigning out a specific shift, you can post it as an open shift and allow employees to pick it up. This adds another level of flexibility when filling in your schedule.
When I Work Cons:
- You can only schedule in the short term: When I Work’s free membership caps you at 10 days of scheduling. Managing multiple schedules and locations are also out.
- It may feel a bit generic: Don’t expect access to customized integrations, labor reports, shift bidding, or automatic scheduling. These all come at a cost. Pricing is set at $1.50 per user per month for a Basic plan, then goes up to $2.25 for a Pro plan.
Best for: Single-location businesses that have five employees or less.
For a straightforward, free employee scheduling software, Findmyshift is an especially attractive option for micro-teams. Their pricier bundles throw in extra perks, like scheduling templates, real-time reporting, and payroll calculation.
- Simple interface that doesn’t overload you: Findmyshift’s drag-and-drop scheduling lets you establish and share employee schedules up to a week in advance. Shift reminders are part of the free package, as well.
- The app has a built-in time clock: You can also manage your timesheets right from your phone.
- Team communication isn’t included: You have to purchase text message credits, and there are some limitations here. For starters, messages can’t exceed 160 characters. You’re likely better off sending direct texts yourself through your phone’s messaging app.
- You could outgrow this platform: If you’re looking to grow your business (and we’re guessing you are), Findmyshift’s free platform will be unworkable if your employee base grows beyond five people. In that case, the software charges $35 per month per team for their Business plan. You can also opt for a slightly cheaper version that excludes payroll calculation.
The Bottom Line
Landing on the best free employee scheduling software for your business comes down to pinpointing your unique needs. Maybe having the ability to swap shifts would be a game changer for you. Others might prioritize streamlined in-app communication.
Once you identify your pain points, the right scheduling platform should fill in those gaps. Lucky for you, there are lots of free options right at your fingertips.
- ADP’s Ad Hoc Human Resource Management Study, 2016