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The Best Employee Scheduling Software for Small Businesses

Mark c
Mark Thomas
September 23, 2022
Customer Success, HR, Productivity

The Best Employee Scheduling Software for Small Businesses

If there’s anything people in the world of small business like, it’s time and money. Bad scheduling processes are costing you both. Over half of employers spend two hours each week creating a work schedule. Some even spend up to twelve. Missed shifts also cost employers $7,500 every year. If those wastes sound unacceptable to you, check out these employee scheduling software packages.

What Does Employee Scheduling Software Do?

Employee scheduling software streamlines and automates the process of shift scheduling. The right tool typically replaces handwritten schedules or spreadsheets. Such software typically has many features to increase the ease of creating and adjusting schedules. Some of the basic features include

Drag-and-Drop Scheduling 

The scheduling solution streamlines the process of creating staff schedules. It is conceptually the same as what you would do by hand or with a spreadsheet, only a lot more user-friendly. Simply drag and drop employees into the appropriate hour slots. Then make sure that there are enough employees of the right types for each time period. 

Shift Swapping

Employees have stuff come up all the time. Illness, family emergencies, or other scheduling conflicts can wreak havoc on your schedule. Employee scheduling software makes it easy to handle these schedule changes. Simply post open shifts or let employees swap shifts, all in a central mobile app.

Real-Time Communication

So shift swapping and shift trading helps with schedule disruptions, but what about no-call, no-shows? Many employee scheduling apps have a cloud-based, real-time messaging tool. This is often associated with a mobile app. So instead of the arduous process of calling until you find someone to come in, you can send one notification to all your available employees.

Beyond these, there are also a number of advanced features that some products may have such as:

  • Auto-scheduling
  • Skillset scheduling
  • Leave management
  • Meal and break planning
  • Compliance management
  • Labor cost estimation

Employee Scheduling Software Comparison Points

Industry

Staff scheduling is conceptually the same across all industries. Have the right people there at the right time to do the necessary work. Yet, there are always little wrinkles that make this much harder to implement than it sounds. Having a solution that is tailored to your industry’s little wrinkles can be a lifesaver.

Packages and Integrations

Chances are, you aren’t going to be using scheduling software by itself. You may want to consider software solutions that come with related functionality. This could include time clocks, time cards, or timesheets. A software package that also integrates with your payroll and HR software can be beneficial.

Scaling

This one really depends on the product. Some products provide a more manual, drag-and-drop approach rather than auto-scheduling functionality. While this is easier to learn and an improvement over spreadsheets, it decreases ease of use as your number of employees grows. Additionally, some pricing models become more favorable as your number of employees increases.

ProductStarting Price for SchedulingFree Trial/VersionNotable Features
homebase logo$24.95 per month per locationFree version for one location and unlimited employeesStrong overall
Many features beyond scheduling
deputy logo$4.90 per user per monthFree version, up to 100 shifts per monthSolid features and design
7shifts logo$29.99 per month per locationFree version for one location up to 30 employees.Restaurant-specific features
hubstaff logo$10.00 per user per monthFree version for only one userExcellent for field and remote teams
wheniwork logo$2.50 per user per monthNoInexpensive
quickbooks logo 2$10 per month + $8 per user per monthNoStrong Ecosystem

Homebase – Best Overall

Leading off the list is Homebase. Homebase has two important packages for first-time buyers: the free Basic package and the Essentials package.

The Basic package provides a lot of important functionality. Additionally, Homebase does not cap the number of employees who can use the free version. This is something that significantly sets it apart from its competitors. However, the Basic package does have some limitations. 

It does not have the auto-scheduling tool like the Essentials plan. It instead has drag-and-drop scheduling and templates. The scheduling tool does have some neat features, like weather forecasts so that you can adjust your labor accordingly.

homebase ui

The Basic package also comes with access to Hombase’s mobile app. With this intuitive app, you can instantly share schedules, communicate with your team members, and track staff availability and time-off requests. The app also enables your employees to punch in and out, trade shifts, and access the schedule from their mobile devices. The clock-in and clock-out data is used to generate digital timesheets, which can be exported to several different payroll software.

homebase mobile ui example

The Basic package further provides limited hiring and employee engagement functionality. This includes writing and posting jobs to job boards like Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and Craigslist. The employee engagement tools allow you to give shout-outs to your team and collect feedback through the app. None of this is particularly related to employee scheduling, but hey, it’s free.

The Essentials package provides all the functionality of the Basic package with extras on top. First, the Essentials package introduces several automation aspects. This includes auto-scheduling of your team. Additionally, Homebase will now send automatic reminders and push notifications to employees. This can be done by text and through the mobile app. You will receive a confirmation when your employees view these announcements and schedules.

The Essentials package also provides a few additional time and attendance features. This includes geofencing and GPS tracking for clock-ins, as well as photos of employees. These can be particularly useful for field teams. Homebase will also alert you should employees arrive late.

Homebase’s per-location pricing model makes it a great option for small businesses with one location. The Essentials package is cheaper than the least expensive per-user products at ten employees. The free option is also excellent for small businesses that would like a little additional help outside of just scheduling. Overall, Homebase is an excellent product that covers both scheduling and more at an affordable price point.

Deputy – Best Features

Deputy covers all of the basics of an employee scheduling solution but also has many quality features on top.

Deputy’s first notable feature is its integrated labor forecasting. With other auto-scheduling features, you must set the staffing levels you need throughout the day. Deputy can integrate with your POS or another data source to forecast your necessary workforce hour by hour. Deputy’s auto-scheduling tool then takes this information and uses it to schedule the right number of employees for every time of the day. This can prevent both staff from becoming overwhelmed during high periods and unnecessary labor costs during low periods. An example of the process is shown below.

deputy ui

Deputy’s auto-scheduling feature helps to maintain compliance and avoid burnout. Employees can be assigned to one of many different work profiles, as shown below

deputy work profile

These profiles make it easy to ensure that your business complies with applicable regulations. They also keep you from accidentally overworking and fatiguing your employees. Deputy comes with both premade templates and the ability to create custom templates.

Deputy’s mobile app makes the whole process simpler. The service not only provides the scheduling and shift-swapping functionality on the go, but it also makes communication easy. You can send out a variety of announcements to the whole team, including video announcements. The mobile app can also be used to distribute critical information while requiring employee acknowledgment.

Deputy also performs quite a few time tracking and attendance functions. The mobile app acts as a time clock. Employees can use it to punch in and out, as well as acknowledge that they took their breaks, as shown below.

Deputy mobile app 1

The records from these clock-ins and clock-outs are then gathered into a digital timesheet that you can approve with just a few clicks.

Deputy mobile app 2

The only downside to these time tracking and attendance features is that they aren’t an option; they are a requirement. Deputy’s pricing model goes straight from the relatively limited Free version to the Premium version. The features of the Premium version are very nice. However, many small business owners may wish that there was a more limited version for just their scheduling needs.

7Shifts – Best For Restaurants

7Shifts, the employee scheduling software for restaurants, is the first niche software on this list. Like Homebase, 7Shifts also has a relatively full-featured free plan in addition to its paid plans.

Both versions use a drag-and-drop schedule builder which isn’t quite an auto-scheduler (an auto-scheduler is included in the most expensive package, which is aimed at enterprises), but it is a definite improvement over paper or spreadsheets. 7Shifts can integrate with your POS to provide sales projections, which can be used to schedule the appropriate amount of labor. It is important to note that the free version only allows scheduling one week in advance. 

In contrast, the Entrée package allows for scheduling an unlimited time in advance. The package allows you to create schedule templates. This saves you from having to remake the same schedule every week. The app will send shift reminders to your staff and allows you to leave notes about their shift. Employees can submit availability or request time off. Managers can then accept or reject the submitted employee availability.

Both versions come with access to the mobile app. In the free version, the app can be used for team chat and to send one-way, team-wide announcements. The Entrée goes further, letting you send SMS notifications and get read receipts for announcements.

Both packages contain the time and attendance features and basic hiring tools. In the basic version, the time and attendance are just a time clock through the mobile app. The Entrée package includes time punch editing, tip, and break tracking, and the ability to set wage-based roles. Both plans have the same hiring tools, which include job posting and applicant tracking.  

Overall, 7Shifts is a great option for growing restaurant businesses. Its per-location pricing model makes it especially affordable if you have enough staff. Its free version gives hesitant owners and managers a chance to test it out without full commitment. Finally, its restaurant-specific features, higher-level packages, and add-ons mean that 7Shifts is an all-in-one product that can scale with you as you grow.

Hubstaff – Best for Remote and Field Teams

Hubstaff has a lot of different packages, but the two most relevant for small business owners are the Desk Pro and Field Pro packages. These are the most expensive packages on this list, with price points of $10.00 and $12.00 per user per month, respectively. Hubstaff goes beyond just scheduling and time tracking.  It dips into full workforce management, so the price point is not outlandish.

Hubstaff has a drag-and-drop shift scheduler. Like many other packages on this list, published schedules are pushed directly into the mobile app. In addition, Hubstaff can be configured to also add these shifts and schedules to a company Google Calendar. The scheduling system also helps to track holidays and PTO as well as breaks.

hubstaff table example

All Hubstaff products have a time and attendance module. However, Hubstaff is a lot more precise than a simple clock-in, clock-out system. You can set up tasks and projects and have your staff assign their time to that activity. This gives you significantly more insight into how work is getting done. All this information is recorded in digital timesheets. These timesheets can then be used to send automatic payroll through PayPal, Payoneer, Wise, and Bitwage.

The Hubstaff Desk products come with many productivity-enhancing features. For example, the software will take screenshots of your employee’s work occasionally while they are running the time tracker. Hubstaff will also record the URLs and apps that team members accessed while on the clock. The software will also measure mouse and keyboard usage to give broad metrics on employee productivity.

The Hubstaff Field packages have several features to help with the management of field teams. The mobile application for these products will record the GPS location of employees to ensure that they are on the job site. Geofenced job sites allow employees to be immediately clocked in and out based on their location. The packages provide work order management and fleet tracking tools for your field teams.

Hubstaff is a fairly unique product on this list. With its plethora of workforce management features for remote and field teams, it is not aimed at the same restaurant and retail crowd as many of the other products on this list. It is instead tailored to more professional teams. It is relatively expensive, but its numerous features give a lot of bang for your buck.

When I Work – Best Pure Scheduling Solution

Most of the other products on this list have a lot of extra bells and whistles. And you better like those features because you can’t get the scheduling system without them. Not When I Work. When I Work lets you get just the scheduling and team communication software.

That scheduling software isn’t barebones either. In fact, When I Work gives you an auto-scheduler with its Standard plan. Of course, you can also manually adjust the schedule through the drag-and-drop functionality shown below.

When I Work UI

When I Work also provides a couple of shift management mechanisms. The first is standard shift swapping, where employees can trade shifts with each other in the self-service portal. The second is shift bidding, which is like shift swapping, except it requires manager approval.

Speaking of the self-service portal, ShiftOS helps your team communicate and coordinate. Send messages to your whole team, or manage time off and availability. You can also share files. The entire app is secured with multi-factor authentication.

Of course, you don’t have to stick with just the basics. When I Work has a time and attendance module that can be added to its scheduling packages. It has all the features you’d expect including:

  • An Android, iOS, web, and terminal-based time clock
  • Digital timesheets generated from the time clock
  • Overtime alerts
  • Break management
  • Both payroll and POS integrations

The software additionaly provides some nice features for controlling expenditures and increasing accountability. These include early clock-in prevention, geofencing for mobile time punches, and photo clock-in confirmation. These features help to ensure that your employees are actually present when on the clock and working the hours assigned. 

When I Work is a great product for smaller teams that just want scheduling functionality. With a price point of $2.50 per user per month, it is often the least expensive product on the list that isn’t free. Of course, the pricing model doesn’t scale quite as well as per location pricing.

With the time and attendance module, When I Work is comparable to Deputy with a slightly lower price point. However, it is a bit of a tossup which is better. Deputy has a few extra features but is also 20% more expensive per employee, so the choice depends on individual preferences.

Quickbooks Time – Strong Ecosystem

The last product on this list is Quickbooks Time. Quickbooks time provides two different plans: the Premium and the Elite plans. The Premium plan costs $20 per month plus $8 per user per month. The Elite plan costs $40 per month plus $10 per user per month.

Both packages provide a drag-and-drop schedule builder. This scheduling applies for shifts and jobs, providing a little more flexibility for business models that aren’t purely by the hour. Your employees will be notified as you schedule them.

Both packages also include many time and attendance features. You can clock in and out on a mobile device and attach photos. The software also provides real-time reports to know who is working and where. Time-off management and leave requests are also supported.

The Elite package provides a few additional features. Some of these features, like mileage tracking and geofencing, are useful for field teams. Others, like project tracking and project activity feeds, help with project management. These features could be useful if you are working in certain industries like construction or several trades.

Quickbooks Time is a good package, but it is relatively expensive for what it is providing. The main reason to use it is that you already use other Quickbooks products for accounting and payroll. Having all your products in one ecosystem makes you confident that products will work together seamlessly. The entire collection of Quickbooks products can cover most essential aspects of running a small business. These include accounting, payroll, hiring and onboarding, scheduling, and even some human resources functions.

However, if you aren’t using Quickbooks products, there isn’t a huge use case for Quickbooks Time. It does cover quite a few features, but you will be paying more for those than you would with another system for no extra benefit. 

Dive Into Scheduling

If you are still looking for the right scheduling solution for your small business, check out a full listing of software here. If you have used any of these products, please leave a review. Your experience can help other small businesses select the right software.

About the Author

Mark c
Mark Thomas
Mark is an analyst on the research team at TrustRadius. He holds a BE in Chemical Engineering from Auburn University. When he’s not working, he enjoys running long distances to go nowhere, overanalyzing small pieces of his daily life, and reading about ancient and medieval battle tactics.

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