5 tools to schedule your employees for free

May 26, 2015 Uli Aschenbrenner No Comments

In my early years of employment, I worked part-time in a hardware. While it was a fun experience at that age, I quickly learnt the frustrations of trying to organise my shift with other coworkers.

Each week a piece of paper was posted onto the lunch room wall, and we would fight to scribble in our names on the days we wanted (or didn’t want) to work. This obviously led to numerous problems for the business in organising and ensuring employees were available for each day.

The managers would have to discuss it with staff, then admin, then other staff and if someone called in sick, the whole system had to be reworked while precious working time was wasted.

If you run your own business or you’re a manager of shift workers, you’ve no doubt ran into similar problems. While we’ve come a long way in technology, the reality is, many small (and even medium) businesses are still scheduling employees with pen and paper, or an excel template.

Obviously there are pros and cons to each of the following options, but they’re at least a step in the right direction when it comes to proper employee scheduling. If you’re a startup with a couple of employees, it might work for you (at least for the interim anyway).

1. Google Calendar

employee scheduling

Google’s released some pretty cool products over the years, and while Google calendar isn’t the most amazing product they’ve released, it’s certainly useful.

You can schedule your employees using Google calendar by simply creating a shared calendar and assigning employees to events at times on a particular day. Make sure you fill in their emails into the event fields, so they’ll be aware of their shift.

Once you’ve given them access to the calendar, everyone will be able to see what the next week will look like. Granted if you’re scheduling more than a dozen employees Google calendar isn’t the most intuitive platform to use. Adding events is somewhat annoying and there’s no way to easily build out your calendar when you have many employees.

The other downside is that the more employees you have, the more crowded and difficult to see the calendar becomes. That being said, if you’re a small startup cafe or restaurant, and you need something free to get you off the ground in the meantime, it’s not a bad temporary fix.

Overview:

Pros:

  • Free
  • Online
  • Restricted access (somewhat)

Cons:

  • Restricted to the calendar view
  • No award interpretation
  • Unintuitive to set up
  • Crowded & hard to use with more employees
  • No employee notification of updates
  • No time and attendance
  • No leave integration
  • No team communication
  • No support

Google spreadsheets

Getting slightly more complicated (and pretty much the same as excel), is the Google spreadsheets alternative to employee scheduling. Most of the functionality you find in excel can be built out in Google spreadsheets, with the additional benefit of having it accessible online to everyone.

The downsides are if shifts change, notifying employees, communication and a variety of other benefits you get with employee scheduling software, but again, it’s a free alternative to pen and paper and allows your employees to check it via their smartphone or computer on the web.

Overview:

Pros:

  • Free
  • Online
  • Restricted access (somewhat)

Cons:

  • Considerable set up time (even if you have wizardry excel skills)
  • Poor/complicated award interpretation (you’ll have to program this yourself)
  • Poor visual views to assess things quickly
  • Non transferrable (have to teach someone how all the formulas work, and how it’s set up – they’ll need excel skills to use it)
  • No employee notification of updates
  • No time and attendance
  • No leave integration
  • No team communication
  • No support

What’s app – group chat

While certainly not as practical in terms of an employee scheduling tool, What’s app can be a good way to communicate with employees.

The main benefit of What’s app is the ability to message without having to pay for an SMS (although it will use a small amount of cellular data). This obviously requires all your staff to have a smartphone, so it certainly has it’s downsides, but if they do, it’s not a bad way to communicate, considering you can add links and photos.

Of course, if you need to keep your communication private or secure (for example a security company, hospital or the like), What’s app might not be a good alternative, since communication may need to be encrypted or through a secure login.

It’s a little bit of an ad hoc way to communicate, but if you’re looking for a free way to manage your employee scheduling, you’re always going to be restricted in what you can get.

Overview:

Pros:

  • Free
  • Online (if you have a smartphone)
  • Restricted access (somewhat)

Cons:

  • Requires a smartphone for each employee
  • Unsecure
  • Multiple systems to organise rosters

Free downloadable scheduling software

Although we’ve kept this as a tool to use, we think the options above are better. We’ve seen and tested a number of programs, which try to address employee scheduling but ultimately aren’t any better than an excel spreadsheet. They systems are rigid, don’t have the features and are not maintained.

Overview:

Pros:

  • Free

Cons:

  • Offline (you’ll have to work off the computer you installed it on)
  • Restricted to one computer (only one person can use it – if they’re sick, then no one can schedule employees).
  • No smartphone or tablet access
  • Considerable installation and set up time
  • No employee notification of updates
  • No time and attendance
  • No team communication
  • No support
  • No updates

Free online rostering tools

If you’re a developer and savvy, there are a few open source options out there, but they’ll require some tweaking to get the functionality you’d like.

While “free”, they’ll often mean having to pay for hosting, and require a significant amount of setup time, which means it’s goes against the very reason you sought it out in the first place.

Many of the free online scheduling tools also have very limited features, so while they seem better than excel on the surface, they don’t actually add much value to your workflow.

Overview:

Pros:

  • Free
  • Online

Cons:

  • Considerable set up time
  • Poor/complicated/no award interpretation
  • Poor access (for multiple managers)
  • No employee notification of updates
  • No time and attendance
  • No leave integration
  • No team communication
  • No support
  • No updates

As you’ll see, there are resources available to schedule employees for free, but they come at the cost of limited ability or cost of time. If you’re a startup business, the options mentioned above might just be an economical solution to get you through the short term as your business grows and you get more employees, but if you’ve got more than a couple of employees (and plan on growing your business), it’s worth investing a few dollars a month in getting proper employee scheduling software.

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