20 Free Employee Scheduling Software Tools | 2023
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The perfect work schedule is something many managers strive for. Unfortunately, few actually achieve it. This is despite the fact that technology makes it easier than ever to streamline the process and get it right the first time.
Whether you use online scheduling apps, have your own tools like Excel, or rely on the pen-and-paper method, there are some important points to keep in mind. These points range from building shifts around your best employees to planning for the worst to using the best tools for the job. This article will discuss 10 tips for creating the perfect work schedule for your team.
Before we can begin creating the perfect work schedule, it’s worth considering what the ideal finished product will look like. Let’s go over some of the things your business’s work schedule should do.
First and foremost, your work schedule needs to ensure that each shift is staffed appropriately for each position. You may not need a bartender at all for weekday lunch shifts, but perhaps you need three people behind the bar on Friday and Saturday nights. Alway get the numbers right.
In order to do this, be aware of events—either local or national—that might cause an unusual spike in customers. Sporting events, concerts, festivals, and theater performances are all things to make note of. Also, keep an eye on the reservation list. Weeknights might normally be slow, but you don’t want to get caught off-guard the one time there are several large party reservations on a Tuesday.
The second requirement of your work schedule is that it must be completely free of errors. It probably seems like we’re stating the obvious, but making a work schedule is not a simple process. It’s much easier to make a mistake than it is to make a perfect work schedule. Here are the three most common scheduling errors:
If you can steer clear of these three common mistakes, you’re on the right track. But what else needs to be done to make the perfect work schedule? Simply stated, the perfect work schedule is one that keeps you and your staff happy while maximizing efficiency and profits. So how is this holy grail of work schedules created? Start with the 10 tips listed below.
Knowing your team is perhaps the most basic part of creating a work schedule. So basic, in fact, that you may be wondering why we even bothered mentioning it. We bring it up for the simple fact that many managers do a substandard job of really knowing their employees. Some even skip this step completely. All they’re concerned with is making sure there are enough people to cover every shift. So why is knowing your team so important? Because it allows you to make choices to further the success of the business rather than just getting enough servers for the lunch rush.
Really knowing your team members gives you the freedom and the flexibility to mix and match skills, strengths, weaknesses, and personality types (just to name a few) to create the perfect shift for any situation. To make this process easier, we recommend making a list that includes:
That way, when you’re trying to put together the schedule, you can refer to your list to find the right employee to fill a hole in an otherwise great shift rather than trying to rely on your memory. Then, as you learn more about your employees, add to the list so you’ve got a complete picture of each and every team member. Even a basic list of your employee’s traits and skills can make the next step infinitely easier.
We all know who our best employees are. If you don’t, it’s time to make a list like we mentioned above. Consider traits like efficiency, personableness, experience, and how well they work with others. Once you have your list, build shifts around the employees best suited for that particular time.
This serves two purposes:
Communication is important for any business. But in the restaurant and retail industries, it can mean the difference between having enough employees to cover a shift and being short-staffed. Establishing a team-wide communication method makes it easy for you and your employees to know exactly where to look for your work schedule. There’s no more searching through email, instant message, and texting apps to find the newest work schedule or that time-off request you need. Everyone uses the same tool so everyone’s on the same page.
If you haven’t already, set up this team-wide communication method right away. With most people using smartphones these days, your best bet is to choose a method that makes use of this omni-present technology. Texting is one such method. Instant messaging is another.
Another great option is an app like Sling. Sling is a tool made specifically for restaurants so it takes all the guesswork out of this important step. Apps like Sling couple powerful scheduling tools with equally powerful communications tools. This allows you to improve internal communication through chatting and the sharing of messages, photos, videos, and links. In addition, you can communicate with a specific individual, a group, or all employees at the same time. These and other communication features make apps like Sling your best bet for team-wide communication.
The release of a new work schedule is always a nervous time for employees. Most will run to their own personal calendars to start planning their personal lives and to see if there are any major conflicts. Your employees need that time to adjust. On top of that, you need to give plenty of time for those conflicts, and the changes they bring, to be resolved. That’s why it’s so important to get the schedule out as quickly as possible.
We recommend finalizing and distributing the schedule at least two weeks before the end of the current schedule. This gives your employees plenty of time to:
The quickest way to distribute your schedule is with a cloud-based app. These apps allow you to produce one document, post it online, and grant access so your employees can view the schedule twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. That’s much faster than trying to hand out a printed copy to each and every team member. And as an added time-saving bonus, when you make changes to the online document, they are instantaneously visible to everyone involved. This makes resolving conflicts and making substitutions so much easier. It also cuts down on the confusion of having multiple copies of the schedule floating around.
At the most basic, honoring work preferences and time-off requests builds goodwill, increases employee satisfaction, and helps you retain good workers. It’s a pretty important part of the scheduling process, to say the least. It can also be an incredibly time-consuming part of the scheduling process.
But you can cut down on the time it takes to process all this information by keeping your employees’ work preferences and time-off requests in one place. It doesn’t matter if it’s a manilla folder, a quick note on your phone, or a document on your computer. What does matter is that you refer to the information often when creating your schedule.
One of the most efficient ways to do this is to use a cloud-based master document similar to the document you used to create and distribute your schedule. You can give your employees permission to add to this document and then ask them to submit their work and time-off preferences in this one location. It’s very much like having a time-off request box mounted on the wall in the break room, only this “box” is accessible anytime, anywhere.
After you establish how your employees submit their work preferences and time-off requests, it’s essential that you set up some rules to govern the process. You should address things like when employees can and can’t request time off, how far in advance the request needs to be made, and anything that is specific to your business. For example, because of the way your schedule is built, employees may only be able to take time off in blocks of five days or less. That should certainly be outlined in rules.
You’ll then need to set the rules that determine how you decide between overlapping requests that can become more and more common as holidays approach. You can tailor the rubric for settling time-off conflicts to fit each particular situation, but you should always consider things like seniority, reason for the request, what’s best for the business, and when the request was submitted. Establishing rules like these serves to make the resolution process transparent and clear to your employees. You can explain to employee A the specific reasons why you let employee B have the time off (seniority and employee B got her request in first), rather than letting employee A think there was some sort of favoritism involved. This keeps everyone happy, keeps everything running smoothly, and helps avoid conflicts between all parties involved.
The thing about scheduling that most managers forget is that they don’t have to do all the heavy lifting on their own. Providing your employees with the opportunity to do some of the scheduling themselves is a great way to:
Consider scheduling one or two of your best employees for each shift as a way to start. Then give everyone access to this incomplete schedule and allow them to fill in when they want to work.
If you want to try this method of scheduling, allow changes for a set period of time (maybe two days) then close the schedule to outside alteration. Finally, go through and make changes according to what each shift needs. When everything is finished to your satisfaction, make the schedule available to everyone again.
If you’ve been scheduling everything right from the get-go, you might consider trying this new method for a few months to see how it works. Scheduling apps like Sling make this easy. You create a common document online and then give everyone access to that document for a few days. When it’s time to finalize the schedule, close the document, make your changes, and then reopen it for viewing. It’s just that easy.
Giving your employees the responsibility to find a substitute to cover their shift when they can’t work is another way you can reduce your own workload. Instead of having the employee call you to say they won’t be coming in today, the employee can send out a notification informing everyone that he’s sick and that he needs a substitute. The team-wide communication network mentioned earlier in the article is the cornerstone of this process.
Other employees who are willing to work can respond equally as fast. Something that might have taken an hour or more and countless phone calls on your part, can now be concluded in a matter of minutes. That said, you should always have guidelines in place to make sure things don’t get out of hand and negatively affect your business. First, make sure that everyone knows that all trades, replacements, and substitutions have to be approved by you, the manager, and that nothing is final until you give it your go ahead. Inform all team members that this provision is in place so that each shift gets the right mix of skills.
Another good guideline to have is that all replacements, trades, and substitutions should be someone who has done the job before, and can still do it with a reasonable degree of efficiency. You don’t want a busboy subbing for a cook or a cook subbing for a server.
Requiring that they find their own substitutes is a great way to instill a sense of maturity and thoughtfulness in your employees. In addition, it helps employees feel engaged in the business and think about what is involved in the scheduling process. By showing your employees what is involved in creating a work schedule and finding substitutes, you can create a sense that the schedule is not something to be changed willy-nilly. If they are scheduled and they are able, they need to work.
Sometimes an employee can’t find a substitute to cover their shift. When that happens, it’s up to you to find someone to work. It’s times like those when an availability chart makes the whole thing go so much smoother.
Emergencies will come up. It’s inevitable. But rather than leaving it all to chance, an availability chart can act as your “plan B”. The simplest version is just a list of each employee and what days and times they’re available to work. They may not be scheduled for all those days and times and, so, might be willing to pick up an extra shift here or there. The more complicated version is another full schedule listing available employees who can come in during each and every shift.
Think of your availability chart like the second string on a basketball team. If someone can’t “play”, you’ve got a number of choices who would be willing to come off the bench. Ultimately, this simplifies the substitute process by taking the thought out of it. It can also reduce the stress involved when the need for a last-minute substitute arises.
The poet Robert Burns once wrote about the schemes of mice and men and how they so often go awry. It’s where we get the saying, “The best laid plans of mice and men…” to refer to the fact that no matter how carefully a thing is planned, something may still go wrong. If you’ve been a manager for any length of time, you’re well acquainted with this fact of life. So even though you’ve got your availability chart that outlines employees who are available to work on short notice, you may need a backup to this backup, or a plan C to your plan B.
That’s why we recommend setting up a list of trusted and reliable part-time workers you can contact when all your other options have failed. These workers may be former employees who left on good terms or prospective employees who interviewed but didn’t get hired. You may think these people would never be willing to come in on such short notice, but you never know until you ask. Former employees may look forward to working with your team again, and prospective employees may jump at the chance to get a toe in the door.
If you’ve ever tried to drive a nail with a screwdriver, you know the importance of using the best tools for the job at hand. Creating a work schedule is no different. The right tools can make the job easier and quicker to complete.
Even tools meant for other purposes (like Word or Excel) can streamline the scheduling process when compared to the age-old pen-and-paper method. And now, with cloud computing penetrating every corner of the business world, free online versions of Word and Excel (e.g., Google Docs and Sheets) make the process even simpler.
So while you may already be using one or the other of these apps, is it really the best fit for the job? Is there a better tool available? For restaurants, there are tools available that are specifically tailored to the restaurant industry. Apps like Sling contain powerful features that help make building your schedule easier than ever before.
Because Sling is created specifically for restaurant scheduling, there is no complicated formatting necessary to get the schedule looking the way you want it. There’s no endless searching for a template that doesn’t quite work. There’s no trying to figure out a way to do something with a program that is made for some other purpose. All you have to do is focus on making the best schedule possible.
Then, during the scheduling process, Sling can notify you when you’ve double booked an employee. It can notify you when you’ve forgotten a time-off request. It can even offer suggestions to help you create the perfect schedule. When the schedule is complete, Sling can send automated notifications to remind your employees that the schedule is available, that changes have been made, or that they have a shift coming up. Indeed, Sling can provide everything the savvy manager needs to create the perfect work schedule in no time. It’s like having your very own personal assistant who does nothing but help the scheduling process go easier. And best of all, Sling is free to use.
An app like Sling truly is the best solution for creating the perfect work schedule for your team. It can help you execute all of the tips above as well as provide easy ways to assign and track tasks, create social media pages, and much, much more. Yes, managing a restaurant, or any business for that matter, will always be hard work. Fortunately, Sling can make at least one part of that job easier. Overall, it can reduce the time you spend on scheduling issues and making sure employees are where they are supposed to be at the proper time. So don’t wait. Try Sling today for free.
This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal, tax, HR, or any other professional advice. Please contact an attorney or other professional for specific advice.
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