What Is a Scheduling System?

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Any method you use to schedule your time and the time of your staff could be called a scheduling system. Today, however, an efficient scheduling system almost always refers to a software program or an app. After all, scribbling staff hours on a few sticky notes in the break room could hardly be called a system at all.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

When it comes to scheduling systems for business, software programs, mobile apps and artificial intelligence are becoming the norm.

Different Scheduling Systems for Different Needs

Before choosing a scheduling system, take some time to consider what features your company needs and what it may need in the future. A graphic designer working from home won't use the same features that a busy restaurant uses. An office manager keeping track of conference rooms won't have the same needs that a landscaper or a plumber has. Two ways to compare scheduling software are to look at those that are static compared to those that are dynamic.

  • Static Scheduling Software: Best for businesses with fixed, rotating shifts, like manufacturers, call centers and hotels. It can also be used for professionals who need a good

    appointment-scheduling software. Workers can be easily rotated from one shift to another based on the frequency you need, such as weekly or biweekly.

    * Dynamic Scheduling Software: Best for businesses with shifts that constantly change, like home cleaning services, restaurants and HVAC maintenance services. Staff can be scheduled for different shifts at different locations without overlaps or conflicts, and they can be quickly notified of any changes.

Server-Based vs. Cloud Solutions

Like most software solutions, you have the choice of buying software and putting it on your server or buying a cloud-based solution for a monthly fee. Cloud-based scheduling solutions are usually easy to set up, and for a small business, they are more cost effective since you're usually paying a few dollars per month for each employee you have.

Larger companies with their own servers often buy server-based scheduling software and install it on location. The cost of purchasing the software, installing it, backing it up and maintaining it can be prohibitive for smaller companies. However, if you have a large number of employees, it may be more cost effective than paying a monthly fee for a cloud-based solution.

Features to Look For in Scheduling Software

For a small business, the best employee-scheduling software for you will depend on which features it has. Understanding what is available on the market today should help you decide which product is the right fit for your company.

  • Scheduling Overview: This feature gives you the ability to look at schedules by each shift or at overviews for a week or a month. It should also give you the option to filter schedules by job roles or to look at each employee individually.

  • Project Management: Some programs integrate projects and their costs into the work schedules so you can work on a project-by-project basis, view billable and nonbillable hours and look at total budgets.

  • Mobile Access: Many scheduling programs give your employees access with a mobile app. Any changes to the schedule are updated immediately, and they can communicate with you and each other through the app in case they need to change or swap shifts.

  • Accounting Integration: Some scheduling-software solutions can communicate with popular accounting programs, helping to automate payroll in addition to the schedules.

  • Employee Profiles: This feature allows you to include important information about each employee. In addition to basic contact information, this can include their certifications, level of training, employment history and education. This can be vital if you need to ensure someone with the proper credentials is scheduled for each shift.

  • Reports: Reports can include how much you are spending on labor for a specific time period and how many hours each employee has worked or will work based on current schedules. Some scheduling programs can also provide you with forecasts for future labor needs based on past experience.

  • Automatic Scheduling: With this feature, the software can automatically populate a shift schedule so you only need to tweak it rather than creating the schedule from scratch each time. Today, this is often done using artificial intelligence software. 

Scheduling With Artificial Intelligence

Over the next couple of years, keep an eye out for artificial intelligence, or AI, to become more and more widespread in scheduling apps. If you have ever used Gmail's predictive text while writing an email or have used an automated chat box on a website, you already know how basic AI bots can make life a bit easier even if you didn't realize you were chatting with a bot.

When AI is integrated into a scheduling program, it can quickly learn your preferences as well as the preferences of your staff. If you are a construction contractor, for example, an investment in an AI scheduling assistant could save you a lot of time and money because it can automatically juggle multiple projects and calculate costs. If you have a lot of employees who work varied hours, an AI-based scheduling app can learn their habits and their preferences so there are fewer problems with people missing shifts or trying to switch shifts with other employees.

Scheduling Example: Meetings and Booking Rooms

For many small businesses, Microsoft Outlook has been the go-to scheduling app for a couple of decades now. With Outlook, you can book a meeting with everyone on your team, and they have the option to confirm the time, turn down the request or propose a different time. Provided that everyone on your team has Microsoft Office 365, or your company uses Microsoft Exchange, you can even give meeting rooms or the local coffee shop their own entities in Outlook so you can see if a room is already booked or not.

To give Outlook's meeting options a try, launch Outlook and click the Home tab. Select New Items, then Meeting and then New Meeting. Once the scheduling assistant opens, you can select a date and time and then invite attendees to the meeting. They will each receive invitations via email.

Scheduling Example: On-Location Service Jobs

If you run a service company and spend most of your hours at client locations doing work, then a scheduling system that tracks travel times in addition to the scheduled calls may be the perfect solution. Housecall Pro, for example, is a job-scheduling software that gives you the ability to schedule your own appointments as well as those for your employees.

If you own a plumbing company, for example, both you and the client could receive a text message when a plumber is on his way and again when he arrives. At the end of the week, you could then review the number of hours each employee spent onsite as well as how long he was on the road between jobs.

Scheduling Example: Restaurants

Planning the shifts for a busy restaurant can be a scheduling nightmare, particularly when you have more staff available or few staff available for your needs in a given week. If you're using a spreadsheet to schedule staff at a restaurant or hotel, you're probably spending 140 hours on that task every year.

Using a scheduling software specifically designed for restaurants can take a lot of the stress out of planning. You can, for example, organize employees by their titles so you will always ensure you have the right number of cooks, bartenders and servers on hand.

Using software with a mobile app can also make schedules easier for employees and can help with retention. If you need to reduce a shift for a slow night, for example, they can be notified immediately through the app. If you need an extra server to come in for a few hours, anyone who is on call will get a message immediately and can respond within seconds.

References

About the Author

A published author, David Weedmark has advised businesses on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years and used to teach computer science at Algonquin College. He is currently the owner of Mad Hat Labs, a web design and media consultancy business. David has written hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines and websites including American Express, Samsung, Re/Max and the New York Times' About.com.