6 Best Employee Scheduling Apps For Your Business

Employee scheduling is part of workforce management.

Up front, it’s about filling shifts and scheduling employees to meet demand. It’s also about gathering data to help you manage your business in the future.

When you get employee scheduling right, you keep your labor costs in check and maximize profits. But when you get it wrong, your budget goes out the window as employee turnover grows and customers are frustrated.

While we’re far from the days of building employee schedules on a handwritten piece of paper, the many different tools available make it hard to know what to use. That confusion adds to the problem.

We’re going to cover some of the best employee scheduling apps, with their pros and cons, to help you decide what’s best for your business.

1. When I Work

When I Work is cloud-based employee scheduling software dedicated to shift-based workplaces. It offers a variety of features that benefit both the scheduling manager and the employees, making communication easy while reducing the amount of time dedicated to creating shifts. The full capability includes not only employee scheduling, but shift creation and management, communication, and time clock integration.

Pros of using When I Work

1. You’ll save time. Using software dedicated to employee scheduling reduces the time you spend manually inputting data. Plus, you can also set up scheduling templates in the app so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time. It also has a time clock integration so all aspects of scheduling, including tracking employee time, are automated.

The time-saving features will allow you to set up flexible schedules for employees (which they prefer), as well as shifts intended to handle unpredictable demand.

2. You’ll get easy and clear communication. Handbooks, schedules, and information surrounding those schedules are available to everyone in the app, always updated. Because When I Work makes communication seamless in the app or online interface, it’s easier to handle time-off requests or fill shifts. 

Since employees already manage most of their lives on their mobile devices, the communication feels integrated and employees have more control over when they work. They can communicate with you and each other easier. That’s an improved work-life balance for everyone.

3. You’ll simplify handling rules and regulations. It’s easier to meet federal and state regulations (e.g. on-call shifts) with dedicated software set up to handle them. Additionally, you probably have internal rules that govern your shifts (for example, some shifts might require certain certifications or skills). These can be plugged into the system and automatically affect how and who you schedule, without you having to manually make sure everything is in line.

4. You’ll be able to gather data. Because of the automation and integration from time clock to payroll, When I Work gives you a complete set of data to use for predictive analysis. Get a better picture of demand and scheduling preferences through a dashboard that’s updated continuously.

Cons of using When I Work

1. There’s a cost involved. Though When I Work offers a free trial, there is a small cost to use this employee scheduling app. 

While some of the following options are free, it’s important to keep in mind that free has its own cost. As business coach and author David Maister pointed out years ago, cutting costs to save on the immediate and obvious bottom line may actually end up costing you in the long run.

2. Spreadsheets

Using a spreadsheet to create and manage employee schedules is quite common. While there are many different approaches, the spreadsheet should contain:

  • Essential employee information
  • Time period that the work schedule covers
  • Clear presentation of information (i.e. keep it simple) so that it is self-explanatory
  • White space, if needed, for visual appeal

Depending on how you break up your day, and your shifts, will determine how you lay out the columns and rows.

Pros of using a spreadsheet

1. Spreadsheets are familiar. Some people love spreadsheets. They’d organize their entire life by one if they could. If you’re comfortable using spreadsheets, you’ll find that creating an employee schedule using one will be second nature. It’ll mimic how you’re already used to working, and not add the burden of learning to work in a different way. That in itself can be a time saver.

Additionally, since this is one of the most common ways of building an employee schedule, most employees are used to seeing them. They understand what they’re looking at.

2. Some automation is possible. Depending on how you create your spreadsheet, you can use formulas and workbooks to automate some data entry and schedule creation. You can also easily copy and paste recurring schedules that don’t vary.

3. Many templates are available. Because using a spreadsheet is so common, there are many free employee timesheet templates available to use. These will save you the time of having to build from scratch, allowing you to benefit from other’s expertise and experience of what a timesheet requires.

Cons of using a spreadsheet

1. Locked location. Your spreadsheet is located on your computer. While you may use a cloud drive so that you have a bit more flexibility in how you access it, managing the spreadsheet isn’t always easy. When employees contact you with questions or change requests, it can be tough to update right away.

2. Limited availability. Spreadsheets are a static file, and getting them out to your employees may be limited to posting it in the break room, printing and placing it in their mailbox, or sending it to them electronically. It’s time consuming, and may force employees to call you or their coworkers to find out what their schedule is.

3. Change is difficult. Even if you think you’ve finally arrived at the perfect template, you’ll still face changes down the road. Spreadsheets don’t make this easy. Every step of the way, from creation to data entry to getting it to your employees, is manual.

3. Email

Creating an employee schedule using email starts with you creating a schedule (or a base template), and then emailing employees to fill the schedule. If you choose a less collaborative approach, you would simply email out the completed schedule to employees, and then adjust as needed.

You might email the schedule in the body, or as an attached file or graphic. In this way, you’re using a communication tool as a carrier for the schedule you’ve built.

Pros of using email for employee scheduling

1. Email is common. Everyone has an email address, or can easily get one for free. Everyone knows what email is and how to use it. There is next to no learning curve.

2. Flexibility in integration. Email apps are incredibly full-featured today, and many integrate with calendars, to-do lists, and other tools that you and your employees can tap into. Additionally, you may be able to integrate your email platform into various project management apps you’re using, and monitor or manage employee responses that way.

3. Mobile platform. Email is available on mobile platforms, making it easy for both you and employees to handle their schedule wherever and whenever.

Cons of using email for employee scheduling

1. List management is difficult. Everyone might have an email address…but they’ll all be different. You’ll have to maintain an email list that’s accurate. If you have different employee groups based on things like shift availability or certification, you’ll be managing more than one email list, either manually or through a contact management app.

2. Email isn’t popular for some. Younger generations are veering away from using email, prefering to communicate through messaging or other apps. Some younger employees might even struggle with remembering to check email as they simply don’t use it enough to be as familiar with it as older generations are.

3. Version and verification management is difficult. You can’t always tell if an employee got an email, if they read it, or if it went into spam. You’ll have to rely on read receipts, and will still likely get excuses that they never saw an important email update to the schedule.

Every time you make a change to a schedule document, you’ll need to email out the latest version. Between multiple versions and complicated “reply all” threads, there’s a possibility for significant confusion.

4. File sharing via Dropbox or Google Drive

Cloud storage systems like Dropbox or Google Drive are a way to store various employee documents, including schedules or employee handbooks, where everyone can have access. Instead of sending files to each recipient directly, they are stored in one place where all can view them. 

Pros of using file sharing tools for employee scheduling

1. Version control is simplified. By using file sharing, you can easily keep the most updated version of the schedule available in the cloud. There’s no doubt that everyone is working with the same version whenever they check the file sharing system.

Since you’re storing documents in the cloud, you can work on them from just about anywhere and upload them. No more worrying about which version you worked on at home.

2. Access level can be controlled. You have control over the type of access, meaning managers can be allowed to edit while employees might only be able to read. 

3. Document creation is possible. Some cloud drives, such as Google Drive, allow you to create a variety of documents in the cloud. So you can create your employee schedule in a spreadsheet and store that in the drive. That makes version control and flexibility even easier.

Cons of using file sharing tools for employee scheduling

1. Notification of changes can be tricky. Unless employees remember to constantly check for an updated schedule, they might not realize changes have been made. You’ll have to find a way to notify employees that they need to check the cloud for changes.

2. Mobile experience is so-so. While documents stored in the cloud are available from mobile devices through dedicated apps, the experience can still be a bit clunky. Reading a spreadsheet or document through scrolling or expanding the screen is less convenient than a mobile app dedicated to presenting scheduling information to the viewer.

3. Communication is not included. While you can manage document versions and control very easily, communication isn’t built in. You’ll still need to use an additional email or messaging app to communicate with employees. Their questions or time-off requests won’t happen where the schedule is stored.

5. Google Calendar

You can create an employee schedule using Google Calendar, a free web-based app, following a few basic steps:

  • Create a calendar that you’ll use just for employee scheduling 
  • Add shifts to the calendar as if they were events
  • Add every employee who is to work that shift to the event with their email address 
  • Share the link to the calendar with your employees

Variations of this could include multiple calendars for different locations, along with restricted access for managers.

Pros of using Google Calendar

1. Integration and flexibility are high. Because Google Calendar is so ubiquitous, there are many apps and plugins that work with it. Most limits that you have in using Google Calendar can be overcome by an available plugin, and so you can flesh out how you create and manage events as well as integrate the schedule into other management apps.

2. Employees can subscribe to the schedule. By sharing the calendar with employees, they can subscribe to it. Because Google Calendar is a web standard, that schedule can be imported into many apps, including the employee’s own Google Calendar. That way, they have their work schedule where they’re already tracking personal events.

3. Easily accessible. Google Calendar is also free, and your employees can easily access it on their phone or through their computer. Because it became a kind of standard for online calendars, few employees should have too much difficulty in using it whether they’re new to it or not.

Cons of using Google Calendar

1. Reliance on plugins. If you’re relying on plugins and other apps to make Google Calendar workable for you, you’re at the mercy of whether they continue to update and function. 

Additionally, you are farming some of your data out to another source. That’s one more weak link for managing information securely, as well as keeping everything updated.

2. Shift complexity is a no-go. You may have shifts that are overlapping, swing, or function on a complicated template. The nature of how the calendar displays events can make this confusing to create and track since it wasn’t intended to handle work shifts, but basic events.

3. Not good for large teams. If you have a large team, this will be difficult to manage. Adding the shifts and the emails to the shift are manually done, and complicated shifts with large numbers of workers will make this impossible.

6. A group chat app

Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Signal, Telegram, GroupMe, or basic texting can be used to share schedules with your team. Some of these messaging apps, like Telegram, allow you to create channels where employees could comment on posts instead of adding more messages in a thread. 

Pros of using a group chat app

1. Quick updates for new schedules. Messaging apps are a great way to let the entire group know when you’ve posted a new schedule, whether you send a link to it in the cloud, or let them know it’s posted in the break room. People see messages very quickly, and the word gets out faster than by email.

2. Natural communication. Since most people are used to using messaging apps to communicate personally or to set up appointments, getting work updates that way will also be natural.

3. Easy group creation. Most messaging apps make it easy to create and manage a group of recipients. Sending out a message blast is quick.

Cons of using a group chat app

1. Communication is confusing. Depending on the app you’re using and how much back-and-forth there is, following the messages can be confusing. Much like with email, there are issues of continuity and some employees may simply miss important updates if they aren’t in the app constantly.

2. Privacy concerns. Work-life balance is a tricky thing, and most employees are using these apps to communicate with family and friends as well. Getting work updates, schedules, and information when they’re off the clock next to where they’re chatting with a friend can be intrusive. Unlike dedicated software with built-in messaging, the line between work and personal is blurred.

Even worse, employees may not want to open the door for other employees finding their personal profiles or chatting with them outside of the work realm on these apps. Forcing them to use their personal accounts with coworkers is an invasion of privacy that they can’t block without affecting their job updates.

3. Smartphones and profiles are a must. Most messaging apps require a smartphone. Even to use a desktop version of the app, you need an account associated with a phone. Some employees might not have a smartphone, or a profile on the network you’re using. If someone is removed from a social network, they can’t access their chat.

Why choose a software solution for employee scheduling?

While many of these apps are free or commonly available, they are limited in scope for the specific purpose of employee scheduling. While their general multipurpose focus is the strength behind their popularity, it can end up being the source of weakness for scheduling.

And, as you’ll notice if you look through this list, only a dedicated employee scheduling app helps you build a schedule while also gathering data you can use for future planning. 

That means that the earlier you start with an employee scheduling app, the more data you’ll have to work with down the road.

While you can start with some of these other employee scheduling tools, sooner or later, you’ll be trying to plug the holes that these kinds of apps have by creating ad hoc solutions and adding more complexity and room for error. 

Not sure which route to go?

Check out the features of When I Work to see how they fit what you need, whether it’s employee scheduling, communication, time tracking, or shift planning. When you look at an employee scheduling app as part of team management for the future, you’ll appreciate a dedicated employee scheduling tool.