Rising Popularity of Automatic Employee Scheduling Software

Author: Eugenija Steponkute
Published: 26/06/2022
automatic employee scheduling software

This article is an informative piece for managers and owners of small businesses whose staff work shifts. We will be talking about automatic employee scheduling software, its benefits, and how to choose the right solution. In addition, we will provide practical examples of its ability to transform your business.




If you’re part of an industry that relies on the shift work model, you’ve certainly experienced the pain of putting the rota together. Be it writing it out manually (it still counts as manual even if you send it via digital channels) or creating schedules on Excel documents - it’s a long process with too many possibilities of something going wrong. When you have to take into consideration factors such as staff being on holiday, any specific preferences team members need to have catered to, work time limitations (if applicable) and tons on others - human error is bound to happen.

Simply put, modern businesses don’t have time to waste on mundane tasks like scheduling, nor do they have the luxury for errors and miscommunications that can lead to staff no-shows or downright damage talent retention. Fortunately, we live in the era of technology and automation. And therefore the overtaking trend observed in 2022 is employee scheduling software that runs the process of rota-building for you.

Being a cloud-based software, it’s normally easily accessible across different devices and grants visibility to the entirety of the team. The information you feed into it, such as annual leave or the number of hours an individual employee is demanded to work on a selected basis, will then be used to do all the dirty work for you. Within minutes. Sounds great, doesn’t it? So, let’s dive deeper into it. 

What is Auto Scheduling Software?

At the first glance, shift scheduling seems simple - you have operational times and a number of employees available, so you simply marry them together. Unfortunately, there are businesses that do just that. Normally they don't last long as employee scheduling is actually an intricate mini strategy that should be designed to drive ROI.

As we’ve highlighted above, there’s more to employee scheduling than putting together a rota. Holiday requests, general availability, cost effectiveness, labour demand and a plethora of other factors need to be a part of a literal calculation for the schedule to be efficient. In addition to improved performance, it’s also a method of keeping employees happy for a well-thought shift scheduling offers a set of structured and clear processes that are easy to follow.

Naturally, something with a lot of thought behind it takes time - something modern companies don’t have spare. This is where a designated automation-focused technology comes into play. Automatic employee scheduling software is a workforce management solution that takes over the tedious duty of shift scheduling. It makes it easy to not just generate schedules with various factors taken into account, but offers other functionality as well.

Such would be employee time tracking, estimation and management of labour costs, time off management, reporting on time worked vs deliverables, visibility and handling of shift swaps and many more. Tools of different vendors will offer different sets of features, and ultimately you will need to choose those closest to your needs. However, we’ll be discussing this topic in depth further down in this article.  

Benefits of Employee Scheduling Software for Small Business

Naturally, given some solutions are pricey, an owner of a small startup might be hesitant to adopt a scheduling tool. If the budget is tight, why invest in software that theoretically does something one could do manually? Apart from the obvious ‘it frees up the time’ argument, automatic employee scheduling software has a lot of benefits to offer. While it’s certainly a tool of convenience for enterprise-sized corporations (think fast food chains and alike), it can be a lifesaver for small businesses. Below, we’ll present the key perks this software brings its owners.

Process Automation Reduces Labour Costs

Companies with a shift system in place always take a risk of being either overstaffed or understaffed. It can sometimes be difficult to forecast the demand and to match staff to it - let alone when you have to juggle their availability, hours needed/already worked and other details. In other words, finding the balance is tricky and leads to consequences that can affect how your business runs. For example, if you have fewer employees scheduled for a busy shift, you will run into delays, have your workers stressed and increase the risk of mistakes. Get more people on the clock than you need and you will rake up unnecessary labour costs. Either way, you will be losing.

One of the key advantages of automatic employee scheduling software is that it enables you to prevent such situations. Most solutions are designed to learn about your business the more you use them and therefore it becomes very intuitive when matching staff to the demand. This alone can save you 5% to 10% of labour costs and ensure you have an optimal number of workers on site at all times. While 10% may not seem a lot, we suggest you translate that into numbers to gather visibility of the precise sum you might be saving. 

Easier and Smoother Payroll

One of the perks of scheduling software is that it can also make running the payroll procedures easier. Paying the employees based on the hours worked can be particularly challenging if the rate differentiates based on the location, time or other factors - but not if you have a centralised view. While timesheets are normally used to calculate the pay and solutions such as Timesheet Portal also allow applying any varying rates conditions, they are filled by the employees AFTER the shift. This means the employer wouldn’t be able to accurately forecast the cost of the workforce in advance.

An automatic employee scheduling software, on the other hand, makes it easy to calculate how much money will be spent per shift across different employees. It is also a handy tool to remind bookkeepers in advance when it’s time to pay so they can start organising the process. But what truly makes payroll easy is integrating shift scheduling software with accounting systems. It saves a lot of time and effort of manually moving the data from one source to another by making it a speedy process of several clicks. Since information is sent from one tool to another directly, it also minimises the risk of human error that would result in incorrect payments. 

Improved Employee Communication and Time Management

Sudden shift changes happen and there are millions of reasons why: emergencies, lack of transportation, etc. It can be a stressful experience for both workers and employees, especially when it occurs on short notice. Designated scheduling software can be a true lifesaver for such scenarios as it provides an environment of real-time updates in regard to shifts. For example, if an employee calls in sick hours before the shift, the entire team will be notified. This creates an opportunity for another person to step in and work that shift. Alternatively, it will show the employer availability of other staff and allocate another worker to take over. Similarly to how everyone would receive a notification on that, the team would also be alerted immediately of schedule and/or availability changes. The point is that all shift-related communications would be held on a centralised platform, streamlining the process and creating alignment as opposed to having threads of texts, emails or calls.

Depending on the solution, you can grant your workers the autonomy of building their own schedules. Some scheduling software comes with modules such as self-scheduling, re-scheduling or filling in for open shifts. Since all information in regards to shifts is being stored at one location, there is no risk of double-booking, therefore ending up overstaffed. Additionally, you can set a limit on how many hours each worker is entitled to, avoiding situations in which one employee would take over all shifts, leaving others with nothing. Similarly, you can also set the rules of maximum and minimum employees needed on different days. All in all, you give your workers the flexibility of managing their time in the way that works best for them.

Things to Consider Before Investing in a Scheduling Tool

If you’ve made up your mind and are fired up to get an employee scheduling automation software - hold your horses. As it happens with everything popular, software developers from around the globe are currently trying to ride the trend and the market is already pretty saturated. To choose a solution that meets your demands and turns into an ROI-generating machine, there are several things to consider. 

Adaptability to Industry Specifics

There are many industries that utilise the shift work approach - and they can be very different. Although at the first glance one would think that the model itself works the same in every environment, it’s the differences between sectors that require different functionality to support it. For example, while both construction and hospitality work on a shift basis, the features they have are going to be vastly different. Since vendors want to sell their solutions, it’s rare to have it specified which industry is being catered to - while a niche solution would certainly be popular within a particular market, this would be limiting the provider’s reach, resulting in lesser income. This is why the only way of telling whether the tool is suitable for you or not is by scanning its features thoroughly - and, if possible, having a test drive by signing up for a free trial.

However, it’s easy to get bedazzled by well-written features copy or by a skilful salesperson. Therefore you should make a list of must-haves and would-be-nice-to-haves before you even start researching potential solutions. Are there any particular factors within your industry or company that aren’t spotted elsewhere? Something like that the workers in your sector are only allowed to work x hours per week would be a good example. If possible (and relevant), discuss the needs with other people in your company for they may approach it from a different perspective. Having a clear idea of what you’re looking for will help you choose a solution that caters to your direct needs and will help you stay on the course when you come across a tempting and well-presented offer that isn’t exactly what you’re after.

Integrability With Other Tools

We’ve briefly touched upon integrations when speaking of a quicker payroll. However, accounting solutions are not the only tools shift scheduling software can be linked to. We always recommend building a digital toolbox for more streamlined business procedures, and since an auto scheduling tool is a great addition to it, you need to ensure it can be integrated with your other solutions. When different solutions are linked with one another, their automation, reporting and data collection features expand. In turn, this leads you to identify new opportunities and polish your workflows into quicker and smoother processes.

We recommend looking for the software that integrates with the tools you already have as opposed to one that will require you to onboard even more solutions unless you are only starting up and will eventually need them moving forward. A word of advice is not to get discouraged if the tool that is otherwise perfect in every regard doesn’t seem to integrate with one or more of your owned software. Try reaching out to the provider -  sometimes less popular or too niche solutions are not listed as available integrations, even if they are. Additionally, very often, if you’re a good fit, the software provider may be willing to work with you on a compromise and create a custom API to meet your needs.

Multi-feature Platform vs Specialist Software

Depending on your needs, adopting a stand-alone employee scheduling tool may not be the best course of action. Let us elaborate. There’s a market for solutions that are built around the need for this particular function and each has a different set of supporting features. However, there’s also a wide range of platforms that don’t primarily focus on shift scheduling but rather offer it as an additional function. While specialist software is likely to be more budget-friendly, a multi-feature tool is likely to be used for other parts of your business and across different teams. However, there’s no right or wrong choice here as the one you’ll benefit from more depends solely on your direct needs.

The starting point would be determining the importance of the function to you. Is it that one thing your business needs to run like a well-oiled machine or is it among several things you need to acquire? Is this an urgent must-have or do you already have a system in place and are just looking to replace it? Another factor should be, again, your existing toolset and which solution would blend into it better. Naturally, while a multi-faceted platform is likely to offer a wider selection of potential automation, not every business needs that. Ultimately, use your goals as a pointer. We suggest writing out the processes you currently have in place to identify whether they require additional automation and what would it be. If the majority of it would rely on an employee scheduling tool - stick to specialist software. However, if there’s a more diverse demand, you should look for a solution that, preferably, includes all the functionality you’ve outlined as needed. 

Automated Scheduling in Action

There are many industries that should utilise shift scheduling tools. While the most common ones are hospitality and construction, quite a few sectors we wouldn’t think also run on a shift basis. For example - libraries. In fact, according to a case study published by Business Management Central, when a library employs an automatic employee scheduling software, it can significantly reduce IT and admin work, stretching the budget to cover more important needs. In the said study, the library has already been utilising a scheduling software - but it was terribly outdated and built to run with Microsoft Windows 95.

Although meant to be a tool to support the efforts of the managers, it was bringing more problems to the table - especially for the IT personnel. Tight city budgets were also putting additional strains on the library by setting how many hours could it work a week, causing a 25% cut in the workforce - yet even with that the number would remain at 91 employees. With all this in mind, on average a manager would spend 35 a week - a new, modern solution, on the other hand, reduced it to 25. In addition to that, the IT staff was no longer called in as often to sort out technical issues due to a modern, more self-sufficient user interface of a new solution, as well as its compliance with the current technological standards. 

Key Takeaway 

Regardless of the industry of operation, modern companies can no longer allocate time toward the tedious task of shift scheduling. In the fast-paced and competition-dense business landscape of today, every minute wasted can have a serious negative impact on your performance. Not to mention, the manual process of employee scheduling is prone to human errors that lead to miscommunication, reduced workforce, financial losses and potential legal issues.

The solution is simple - adopting an automatic employee scheduling software that will take over the process for you. The cherry on top is that while the tool will do exactly what you’d hire it for, it often comes with additional functionality to support your business productivity further. Depending on your preferences, it may be a part of a bigger platform instead of a stand-alone solution. And, to expand its functionality further, the shift scheduling tool can be integrated with a plethora of solutions you may already be utilising.

We are steadily approaching the point in which businesses risk everything unless they turn to automation. Employee scheduling is just one of the processes, and pretty niche while at that, for companies to digitise and grow. The beauty of automation is that when you combine tools delegated to take care of different business elements, you may unlock new, highly-effective and seamless workflows.

Are you interested in other ways to improve your business performance through automation? Timesheet portal has some great features.

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