As a business manager, you have a lot of responsibilities: plan projects, create and execute marketing, coordinate deliveries, organize employees, and ensure the smooth operation of your company. But unlike other jobs of similar complexity, you don’t have support departments to back you up. It’s all you.
Without a doubt, one of the more difficult management tasks is scheduling your employees. Trying to create the perfect work schedule is often like trying to herd a kindle of kittens.
Fortunately, there are tools available that can help with this process. Some can even act as your own personal HR department and provide input to simplify schedule creation.
So what were the best schedule maker tools for businesses in 2018 that you can look forward to trying in 2019? This article will answer that question.
Free Schedule Maker Tools
1. Pen & Paper
We start out with the most basic schedule maker of all: pen and paper. As basic as the pen-and-paper option is, it is the most difficult to use and really does nothing to make your life easier.
Yes, this method has been the go-to schedule maker for…well, a really long time. But that doesn’t mean it’s your best option. In fact, the pen-and-paper method is likely what gave scheduling the rotten reputation it currently holds.
For one thing, it’s not easy to distribute. Yes, you can post it in the break room or outside your office, but what’s to ensure that your employees will look at it with enough time to notify you of conflicts?
For another thing, a pen-and-paper schedule isn’t the easiest thing to change…and you know you’re going to need to make changes. Sure, you can have a form you fill in, but that’s still a significant amount of work that could be done away with by using more modern methods.
2. Word-Processing Software
With the advent and spread of computers in the late 20th century, word processors like Microsoft Word and WordPerfect replaced pen and paper as the default schedule maker for many businesses. But that doesn’t mean it’s a better tool for the job — just a more modern tool.
Many of the same problems still make the process difficult. You still have to create a form that is conducive to scheduling and easy for your employees to read. And have you ever tried to format something on a word processor and make it behave like you want it to? Sometimes, pen and paper is less frustrating.
Changes to the schedule might be a bit easier to make with a word processor because you don’t have to make a completely new form each time. But there’s still quite a bit of work involved in moving things around and getting shifts and employees where they should be.
You also still face the same challenges of distribution that make pen and paper so difficult. Sure, you now have the option of emailing your schedule to all employees simultaneously. But who’s to say that every employee will be able to open the schedule?
And who’s to say every employee even uses email? Some don’t these days, replacing it with social media.
3. Cloud-Based Word Processors
Cloud-based word processors, like Google Docs, are the 21st-century evolution of a 20th-century product. They are a step up from word processors of the past, but only a relatively small one. While these word processors solve one of the major issues involved in creating and distributing a schedule, many of the other issues remain.
The main advantage of using a cloud-based word processor as a schedule maker is the ease of distribution. You create your schedule online through your preferred internet browser, save it in the cloud, and then grant access to all employees by sending them a link.
Anyone can view the schedule anytime they want, making this method an extremely efficient way to get the schedule into everyone’s hands. This makes for a more productive team.
Ease of distribution aside, the difficulties that plagued the regular word processor still remain. You still have to struggle with formatting. And while making changes is somewhat streamlined because employees can leave notes regarding conflicts and trades, you still have to contend with making those changes work.
Unlike word processors that start you out with a blank page, spreadsheet software, like Microsoft Excel, gives you rows and columns as your default format.
This in itself is a big step up from both pen and paper and word processors because you no longer have to work so hard to create the columns that designate days and the boxes that designate shifts.
Spreadsheet software does this for you and makes the alteration and movement of those important pieces much, much easier. But while spreadsheet software is much more flexible as a schedule maker for businesses, it still suffers from a number of problems.
For one thing, spreadsheet software is still plagued by the distribution problems that both pen and paper and word processors struggle with. Should you print and post, hand out, or email everyone a copy? And once changes are needed (which they inevitably will be), which copy is the most recent?
It can be hard for employees to keep track. That introduces a confusion factor that can make the process all the more difficult.
5. Cloud-Based Spreadsheet Software
As with the word processors, using a spreadsheet app like Google Sheets online (i.e., in the cloud) streamlines the distribution process. That said, many other problems still remain.
It’s important to remember that spreadsheets were designed with database management and accounting in mind. The tools and the solutions they offer are geared toward those activities, not toward scheduling.
So while spreadsheets can be made to work for scheduling employees, they aren’t as powerful or as useful as other schedule makers.
6. Calendar Software
Calendar software, like Microsoft Outlook, can be an excellent replacement for pen and paper, word processors, spreadsheets, and their cloud-based counterparts. Calendar software is much more amenable to scheduling because it was created with that in mind.
Times, days, weeks, months, and even years are already present and can be manipulated with ease. In addition, creating shifts, which on most calendars would be like tasks or appointments, is as easy as clicking a time slot and labeling it accordingly.
So while calendar software is a large step in the right direction, it still shouldn’t be classified as the best schedule maker for businesses. Calendar software like Microsoft Outlook was made for the use of a single individual. Because of that, it can be a bit difficult when you have to schedule more employees than you can count on one hand.
In addition, calendar software wasn’t created with overlapping shifts and other complicated scheduling practices in mind. Remember, it was intended for one person who could only be in one place at a time.
Calendar software also faces the same distribution challenges that make native word processors and spreadsheet programs obsolete. That’s not to say that you can’t make them work. It’s just that there are better solutions out there for employee scheduling.
7. Cloud-Based Calendar Software
Online calendar software, like Google Calendar, builds on the relative ease of offline calendar software as a schedule maker. These programs then take schedule creation to the next level by giving your schedule the power of cloud-based distribution.
Much like Google Docs and Google Sheets, Google Calendars are created online. You can then give permission to read or edit the document accordingly. Employees can view that schedule anytime, anywhere.
This makes collecting and making changes simpler because employees can leave notes in the document informing you of conflicts. You will, of course, have to go back in and make the necessary changes, but you might also consider giving trusted employees permission to edit the schedule. That way, they can move their shifts to avoid conflicts and take some of the burden off your shoulders.
As great as these tools may sound, they were still not designed with multiple employees, overlapping shifts, and business scheduling in mind.
Shifty is a simple app for small businesses and individuals that lets you schedule multiple employees amongst multiple shifts. With an intuitive drag-and-drop interface, you can quickly and easily manage just one person or all your staff. You can even assign duties and tasks so your employees know what needs to be done during slow times.
This app is much more conducive to scheduling multiple shifts and multiple employees when compared to word processor and spreadsheet apps. For one thing, it’s meant for scheduling (as opposed to writing or database maintenance), so the view, interface, formatting, and all of its tools make that task easier.
It does, however, suffer from the same distribution problems as the previous two apps. Schedules are distributed via email. That means you have to make sure everyone receives it even if they don’t have an email account.
Plus, you have to verify that everyone understands when changes are made because slightly different copies of the same schedule will exist. That distribution speedbump can make things more complicated than they need to be, but the time you’ll save just putting your schedule together will likely be significant.
As helpful as Shifty is, its functionality is basic at best. Shifty won’t notify you when you’ve double-booked one of your employees. It won’t keep track of time-off requests, and it won’t offer suggestions to make the scheduling process easier.
Like the previous entries in this list, Doodle is a simple scheduling app that can keep track of when your employees work. This app doesn’t offer many features, so multiple shifts and other complicated scheduling may exceed its abilities.
But for a small business with only a few employees, this may be a nice transition from pen and paper (or spreadsheet) toward a more advanced — and better-suited — scheduling app.
The cloud-based interface of Doodle makes it easy to get the schedule into your employees’ hands quickly and easily — just text them the link — and to make updates and changes that everyone can see.
When you create a schedule, you create a master document that everyone can view. When you need to make changes, you do so to the master copy. That way, when employees view the schedule link, they are always seeing the most up-to-date version.
As with the apps that precede it on this list, Doodle doesn’t provide suggestions, it doesn’t display overlapping shifts, and it doesn’t notify you when you’ve double-booked an employee or scheduled them during a requested time off.
For those things, you need something much more powerful.
Sling is a schedule maker designed specifically with you, the busy manager, in mind. It combines the simplicity of a calendar view and the easy distribution of cloud-based technology with a whole host of other features that can make scheduling the easiest job you’ve got.
That makes Sling the best schedule maker for your business.
Sling is packed with intuitive tools — like employee and task color coding, recurring shifts, and time-off notices. Sling even allows for notifying employees about no-shows and available shifts with advanced communication features and push notifications sent directly to their phones.
On top of all the tools dedicated to the scheduling process itself, Sling also acts as your own scheduling personal assistant. Sling will keep an eye on your work and notify you when you’ve unintentionally overlapped shifts or double-booked an employee.
This cuts down on the work you have to do after you create the schedule, such as making changes and sorting everything out. Sling makes it easy to get the schedule right the first time.
These features (and many more) make Sling the best schedule maker for businesses of all sizes. It frees you up to focus on more important tasks, like building company culture, keeping your employees engaged, and building the best business possible.
For more free resources to help you manage your business better, organize and schedule your team, and track and calculate labor costs, visit GetSling.com today.