To ensure your business runs smoothly in the front of house, the back of house needs to run like a well-oiled machine. That means that all employees need to know when they are scheduled and adhere to that schedule. But this doesn’t just happen, it takes an investment of time and energy for business owners to find and implement the best employee scheduling app instead of using a run-of-the-mill shiftboard built with pen and paper.
What is an Employee Scheduling App?
By now you know there are a number of workforce management tools out there to help build your work schedule. But what is this new technology that is helping businesses and their employees get on the same page around schedules? At its core, an employee scheduling app is an online tool that allows businesses to seamlessly schedule employees and communicate that schedule out to their workforce. There can be many additional features that sweeten the deal for businesses and employees alike, but let’s start with the core definition.
One important aspect to consider is the impact online employee scheduling will have on an organization. In the past, the scheduling status quo included pen and paper schedules or complex spreadsheets, depending on the size of the business. But as technology improves at the speed of light, it’s clear that antiquated methods of scheduling simply aren’t going to make the cut in a number of companies and staff scheduling apps are the modern way to run a business. While schedule templates are a thing of the past, there are much better scheduling software alternatives that pack in more features that modern businesses simply can’t afford to miss out on.
How Exactly Do Employee Scheduling Apps Make Organization Easier?
Businesses need to be able to map out a number of things: who will be working when, how many overtime hours are in budget when necessary, and how many employees need to be scheduled based on robust forecasting–to name just a few. Without employee scheduling software, this can seem like an insurmountable task and even the most organized manager can make mistakes from time to time.
When it comes to staff scheduling, there are certainly different needs based on time of year (a retail store will always need more staff during the winter holidays). Managers need to be aware of weather, availability, labor costs, seasonal factors, and more to make schedules that work for both employees and the business. Employees need to know their work schedule.
On the other hand, during certain times of the year businesses might have the same employee schedules week in and week out. This should not mean recreating the wheel every time. Having the ability to copy over the schedule from the week before (or schedule several weeks at a time) is a game changer that can save managers hours each week. This allows businesses to improve their organization skills, as a number of tasks around scheduling (think creating and distributing it) are automated.
What Do Employee Scheduling Apps Contribute to Productivity?
Another side of employee scheduling software that can’t be ignored is the potential to boost productivity–both on the employer and employee sides. In a nutshell, they allow for better use of time, as well as peace of mind.
When it comes to managers, taking hours each week to weigh all factors, availability, and budget to create a schedule simply isn’t a good use of time. Not when there are employee scheduling apps that can get managers out of the back office more often. After all, most managers were selected because of their ability to train and empower employees, not their ability to wrangle unnecessarily complex spreadsheets. Shift planning, while a critical part of the job, can be automated with easy software, so your team can focus on excellent customer service.
And this doesn’t stop with an employee scheduling tool. There are so many other technologies that integrate with employee scheduling apps, such as payroll software and point of sale systems, along with other employee management tools, like an ATS for hiring. Time and attendance tools are also integrated, so you’ll have a clear view into who’s showing up to their shifts on time. When staff members know that the schedules they create are automatically linking with the additional systems that they work with each week, they can focus on the parts of their job that are impossible to automate. Not to mention, they can save additional time, since they won’t have to manually update information on all the platforms and technologies they’re working with to make sure they are all accurate.
To put it simply, managers should have more time to manage employees and get face time with customers. When managers are relieved of some of their time consuming back office tasks, like staff scheduling and attendance tracking, they have more opportunities to move the business forward.
On the employee side, using an employee scheduling app empowers staff to always know when and where they’re scheduled. No guessing games, no having to call to clarify when they’re scheduled next. This can lead to a massive boost in employee morale, as employees feel like they know what to expect in terms of scheduling. All businesses should be striving toward an optimal working environment for employees and implementing staff scheduling software is one piece of that puzzle.
In addition, a number of cities have passed legislation around hourly employee scheduling. For example, Seattle requires retail and food service businesses with over 500 hourly employees worldwide to give notice of schedules at least 14 days in advance. This helps employees schedule childcare, medical appointments, and other things that are required for optimal work-life balance. As more cities begin to pass similar laws regulating scheduling practices, businesses will need to have an effective workforce management solution in place to not only comply with laws, but also provide employees with a work environment that encourages retention.
Features of the Best Employee Scheduling Apps
Now that we’ve got the basics of employee scheduling apps down, it’s time to move on to those add-on features we alluded to previously. After all, creating and distributing schedules is a great perk for businesses of all sizes, but it really is the additional features that increase the impact of the best employee scheduling apps. Let’s go over each of these features to understand what they add to the scheduling solution.
What Is the Best Employee Scheduling App, and Why Is it the Best?
While we think you should come to your own conclusions about which employee scheduling app is best, there are a number of characteristics that the most impactful apps have. First, they are flexible. Whether your business has just one location or dozens, you’ll want a workforce schedule solution that can both grow with your business and also facilitate changes on the fly.
A number of smaller businesses make use of Excel, Google Sheets, and Microsoft Word in an attempt to manage scheduling and time tracking. The best employee scheduling apps are a cut above and offer features and functionalities that allow for automation that saves managers and employees valuable time. In addition, top employee scheduling apps offer deep integrations with technologies and platforms a business already utilizes (such as a time clock provider or point of sale system). This allows a business to simplify operations and spend less time on operational tasks.
The versatility of shift planning software cannot be downplayed. After all, can you automatically track breaks and tips, then export to payroll with a spreadsheet? Not even the most advanced spreadsheet could accomplish all this. And when you take into account the ability to monitor compliance with specific labor laws, it starts to look downright careless to use anything besides an employee scheduling app. Let’s get into the specifics for what businesses need to take into account when weighing their technology provider options.
What Are the Features of the Best Employee Scheduling Apps?
Below are the features that make or break the employee scheduling process:
Comprehensive labor forecasts: First and foremost, your schedule needs to ensure the right number of employees is scheduled each shift to keep things running smoothly. Having too many employees scheduled wastes resources and too few creates a bad experience for employees and customers alike. Therefore, the best employee scheduling apps take into account many different data points to determine the correct number of employees.
Some businesses might need to get incredibly granular, such as charting scheduling along with weather or sales totals from previous years. The best employee scheduling apps will enable businesses to schedulestaff to match a specific percentage of sales. Overall, managers need to be able to see the big picture of the staff levels they are forecasted to need and schedule them in accordance with budget. This is all possible by linking your point of sale system and payroll tool with your employee scheduling app of choice.
Up-to-date employee availability: In order to keep employees happy and decrease no-shows, employees need to be able to take time off and businesses need to be able to take specific schedule requests into account. While a business might not be able to honor each and every request, being aware of them helps build a schedule that works on both ends. And as availability changes and time-off requests roll in, the best employee scheduling apps will update automatically so that the next schedule will take this new information into account. For example, if there are open shifts available, managers should be aware of which employees are able to fill in and not just approve the first person who requests to work.
Shift swaps: No schedule will ever be perfect due to sickness and emergencies that are bound to arise. Luckily employees can lean on their coworkers to help them out, but managing shift trading has been a complicated process in the past. Previously, it required one or more phone calls to determine if the employee that wanted to cover the other had the hours available to fill in. The last thing a business wants is to approve a shift swap and realize that they must now pay a full day of overtime to the employee filling in, since they didn’t realize the employee who took the other’s spot was already at their maximum hours for the week. This is easily avoidable with a workforce management tool that automatically tracks hours and understands when overtime will kick in.
Drag and drop team scheduling: Schedules can seem daunting when there are dozens or even hundreds of employees to take into account. Visualizing the process can make it much easier to plan out. Some ways to do this include filtering schedules by employee roles, time period, or clicking into specific employees. This drag and drop method can provide a visual representation that simultaneously calculates labor costs, allowing a manager to make sure the schedule they create is within budget before they send it out to employees. If your work schedule doesn’t change much week to week, you can use schedule templates to save even more time. And if your business runs multiple locations, you’ll also be able to see all of your labor costs and overtime risks across all locations in one place.
Team communication: Speaking of sending out schedules to employees, team communication more broadly is a feature that businesses simply can’t live without. After all, what good is a schedule if employees don’t receive it in a timely manner on the device that they prefer? That’s why the best employee scheduling apps send alerts in real time to employees when the schedule and any relevant updates to it are published. Workers will also receive a notification with any available shift trades, which gives your team greater flexibility with their work schedules and reduces no-shows and late arrivals. The free Homebase app is available for iPhone and Android.
This also works in the opposite direction. Managers need to know when time-off and shift swap requests come in. Not to mention, they need to get notified when potential conflicts arise–like when a shift swap would lead to overtime pay that is out of budget. This two way communication helps managers plan accordingly and make updates to the schedule as needed. Whether employees and employers prefer to do this by email, text, or via a mobile app, all are possible using the most robust employee scheduling tools.
Change schedules on the go: On the same note as communication, all online devices should enable scheduling. A manager or employee might like to use their smartphone, app, or desktop to make changes to their schedule–and in this modern era of schedule management, they should be able to not only use all of these platforms, but also have a cohesive and positive user experience. While old school schedule management used to require a computer or a paper and pen, now managers and employees can have a versatile experience that fits with the fast pace of modern business.
Automated schedules: If there aren’t many external factors that you have to take into account before you schedule shifts, automation might be a good option. Not all workforce management tools will be able to completely automate the process, but it can help streamline operations by comparing roles and availability with business needs and producing a schedule for the manager to approve.
Shift notes: Lastly, some shifts need a bit more context. Say you run a gardening business and you need to inform employees about the specifics of the job at a certain property. Save these details to the schedule and automatically send them out to any employees that have shifts at that site. That way, they will understand that only certain trees should be trimmed. This goes back to communication: when employees and businesses are on the same page, everyone can work toward the same goal.
How Should You Decide on an Employee Scheduling App?
The features and functionalities we mentioned above should be some of the top criteria when deciding on a work schedule app. But what you can do with the app is just the beginning. Next you will have to get it set up in order to make use of it. The best employee scheduling apps have simple integrations that take into account your company’s specific needs. Check out user reviews on the to ensure the software is equipped with a user-friendly interface. Below we will go over how to pick the right scheduling tool and how to implement it smoothly.
What Integrations Are Useful in an Employee Scheduling App?
Three integrations that businesses of all sizes need to consider for an online employee scheduling software are: time clock, POS, and payroll. Why are these three particularly useful?
Time clock:Shift scheduling is the first step. Next comes adherence to that schedule: are team members clocking in on time? This is key for accurate tracking of hours and eventually payroll. The employee scheduling app needs to be able to communicate directly with the time clock to ensure the schedule is being followed and also to be able to approve shift swaps based on the most up to date information.
Payroll: Quickbooks is a common payroll provider that integrates with the top employee scheduling apps. This integration is especially useful for businesses because it allows them to sync hours worked that were scheduled through Homebase. Next, businesses can have a 24/7 look into labor costs and manage them on the go.
POS: Square is an example of a leading point of sales terminal that a number of businesses utilize to make easily manage inventory and accept payments. Businesses need the data from the POS to transfer data to allow for sales and labor cost management. For example, having the insight into historical sales trends can help businesses schedule the right amount of employees. High sales periods will call for more employees, while slow sales will allow businesses to comfortably schedule less employees and save on extra labor costs. By using a supported point of sale device, your workers will be able to clock in and out directly from the POS as well.
Lastly, for your workers, integration with their calendar (like Google Calendar) will ensure they receive notifications for upcoming shifts.
How Does Your Particular Type of Business or Industry Inform Your Choice of Employee Scheduling App?
No two businesses are exactly the same, so naturally choosing the right employee scheduling app is a very personal choice. Some softwares might cater more towards small and medium businesses, while others might target international chains. Making the right selection comes down to the features and functionalities that are make-or-break for a business.
An important question to ask is: what am I aiming to get out of an employee scheduling app? All technology providers will tout a seamless scheduling process, but whether or not this is feasible largely depends on the size and type of business. A local cupcake chain will have vastly different needs than a chain that is present on every Main Street in the United States. So make a robust list of what you need to get out of a scheduling app and use it as a gut-check as you research options.
Price point is another factor that will also come into play. But this comes back to features and functionalities. The correct workforce management tool will provide so much additional value that it will pay for itself time and time again.
Integrating Employee Scheduling Apps
Once you’ve decided on the correct employee scheduling app for your business, the next hurdle centers around implementing it properly. This requires you to sync it up with all the systems it needs to interact with that we’ve mentioned previously, such as your time clock, payroll provider, and POS. Aligning all of these tools will allow your employee scheduling app to harness all of the data it needs to function optimally. In general, software solutions working together will compound the amount of time you’ll save.
How do you integrate an employee scheduling app?
The answer to this question will vary widely depending on the scheduling tool you choose, but there is still a large amount of overlap. Your app will need a comprehensive information from the employer and employee sides to create an effective schedule, such as:
Employee information: in order to create schedules properly and alert employees about their upcoming shifts, your workforce management tool will need to know employee names, phone numbers, email, role, and employee pin (only required for certain POS).
Labor laws: The best employee scheduling apps will help you comply with local labor laws around overtime and breaks. Since you will have to enter the location of your business during set up, the most advanced tools can make suggestions based on laws in your area to make sure you comply with them automatically.
So there you have our recommendations for picking and implementing the best employee scheduling app for your business. The time you can save simply can’t be overstated. Businesses of all sizes see tangible results from implementing employee scheduling apps, so the time is now to determine what features and functionalities are key for your business and take action a scheduling tool in place that meets all your needs. What’s more, employee scheduling solutions like Homebase integrate with time clock software to make managing your team easier than ever.
Angelica Valentine Angelica Valentine is a content strategist and champion for small businesses. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Barnard College of Columbia University in New York City. When she isn't busy writing, this Oakland native can be found exploring music, food, and culture around the world.