Creating a work schedule is far more than tedious; it takes your time away from things that actually grow and improve your business. Scheduling only gets more exponentially complicated as your business grows, becoming a time (and money) sink you can’t escape. When you know you can do something for free, it can feel hard to justify spending on software to ease the process. Fortunately, the right free employee scheduling software lets you see many of the benefits without spending a penny.
What Does Employee Scheduling Software Do?
Employee scheduling software streamlines the scheduling process. The core feature is the schedule maker. Schedulers typically come in one of two varieties: drag-and-drop and auto-schedulers.
Regardless of scheduler type, you may find a schedule you and your employees like. Many employee scheduling packages will let you create a customizable template from a previous schedule, which can cut out much leg work.
Most free employee scheduling apps also with real-time communication tools. This typically happens through a central portal in a mobile app. While not the main focus of the package, communication tools can save just as much, if not more, time than the scheduler itself.
On top of these scheduling features, many employee scheduling software will come with additional features. The most common among these is time tracking. Often, the same mobile app used for communication will have a mobile time clock that your employees can use to track time.
This data will then be used to create timesheets. These timesheets can be approved or modified by a manager and exported to the appropriate payroll program. Some packages will even integrate directly with your payroll, so you can skip the export step.
Homebase – Best Overall
Homebase is not only one of the best free employee scheduling packages; it is one of the best employee scheduling packages period. There are no hard limits on the number of employees that can use the free version. The free plan is instead limited to one location, but one location is a lot better than five or ten employees.
Homebase’s free version, the Basic package, comes with a drag-and-drop scheduler. Drag-and-drop schedule makers let you select employees and either drag them to a scheduled shift or type it in the appropriate cell. The user interface is going to feel similar to Excel or Google Calendar. There will be a lot of scheduling-specific features, though, like total hours scheduled.
The interface provides multiple views, including employee, department, and role views. With these, you can easily see that you are appropriately staffed `in every position. You can also see the total hours and shifts for your schedule.
An example of the department view.
Homebase’s mobile app also gives your team access to a number of useful features. Most directly related to the schedule, the mobile app gives you access to the communication tool. Almost any small business owner or manager will have experienced the joy of people not showing up because they “didn’t see the schedule.” Or having to change the staff schedule midweek and attempt to communicate the shift changes to the team. Homebase’s communication tool greatly simplifies that process—no more blurry pictures of paper schedules on a bulletin board.
The tool gives you the ability to share the schedule directly with your employees. It also gives employees a central location to claim open shifts, swap shifts, or cover. No more last-minute texting campaigns to try to fill open slots. Even if you need to communicate with your team, you can message groups or individuals through the app.
Time clock tools are also provided through the app. This allows employees to punch in and punch out just about anywhere. You don’t need to worry about employees clocking in from their showers, though. The app can require pictures to make sure that it is the right employee clocking in. Of course, employees can also clock in and out from more traditional computers and POS devices.
The data from the time clock is used to create timesheets automatically. These timesheets can be edited and approved within the system. Once approved, the time sheets can be exported directly to a payroll program through one of Homebase’s many integrations.
Homebase’s Basic package also comes with a few other tools to help run small businesses. You can customize prewritten job descriptions and post them directly to job boards like Indeed. The app will also handle basic candidate communication and interview scheduling. You can also collect feedback from employees and give them shout-outs.
Overall, Homebase packs a lot of punch for a free scheduling package. It also has a lot of options for expansion as your business grows. The paid packages not only expand on the features of the free plan but also add features like performance tracking, workforce management, field team tools, and other employee management tools.
7Shifts – Best Employee Scheduling For Restaurants and More
7Shifts is an employee scheduling app designed specifically for restaurants. The free version of 7Shifts, the Comp plan, is capped at one location with a maximum of thirty employees. While that isn’t quite Homebase’s unlimited employees, 30 employees is a lot for a free package. However, an important drawback is that the free version only allows for shift scheduling one week in advance.
7Shifts uses a drag-and-drop schedule maker, shown below. One of 7Shifts’ really nice features is that you can import sales data through a POS integration. This can then be used to help optimize schedules around expected high-volume periods and minimize labor costs because nothing kills you more inside than to see your servers chatting on the clock.
7Shifts free package provides a mobile application with basic team chats and the ability to send out announcements. The difference between an announcement and a chat is your employees don’t get to respond to announcements. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of being in a group message with 20+ people, you understand why this is a good thing.
Time clock tools are also included in the mobile app. This not only lets your employees clock in and out but also helps to keep track of accrued paid time off and sick leave hours. You can also approve or deny time-off requests. However, it is important to note that the free version does not let you edit time punches within 7Shifts.
7Shifts comes with hiring with basic hiring tools. These include an applicant tracking system, the ability to post jobs to the 7Shifts job board, and the ability to share job posts on social media. 7Shifts job board only has locations for a few cities, so you may be relying on those social media links.
7Shifts’ paid plans are a great general option for restaurants. The free version is a good option that will let you experiment with the basic functionality of an employee scheduling tool. However, many of the best restaurant-specific features, such as tip-pooling, local labor law compliance tools, and task management tools, are excluded from the free version. If you aren’t thinking about starting with the free version and upgrading as your business grows, you might be able to find better free features in other packages.
Sling – Best for Large or Multilocation Teams
If you want to try out employee scheduling but already have a lot of employees, Sling could be a good option for you. Sling’s free version has no limits on the number of employees, managers, or locations. This makes it ideally suited for businesses that have already grown to a significant size but don’t want to commit to a paid scheduling app.
Sling brings a slightly different approach to scheduling. Many other scheduling platforms work by assigning shifts to employees. In contrast, making a schedule with Sling starts with creating the appropriate shifts. The schedule creator can then either assign the shift to an employee or leave the shift open as an available shift.
Employees can then request the shifts that they want. Either Sling can assign shifts on a first-come, first-served basis, or a manager can select the employee from among applicants. This approach can increase employee engagement and decrease feelings of dissatisfaction, as employees have some input into their shifts. The traditional scheduling method of assigning employees to shifts is still viable within Sling.
Like other packages, Sling’s free package enables shift swapping. However, the free version does not let a manager require approval for shift swaps, so your team members are on their own, for better or worse.
There are several other limitations to Sling’s free package. It doesn’t let you create schedule templates, which means you will have to create a new schedule every week. Communication through the mobile app is one way. You can share news, announcements, and schedule changes, but employees cannot respond to or message you. For some, this might be a perk.
Sling’s free package provides pretty barebones functionality as far as employee shift scheduling goes. Create the schedule, tell your employees about it, and let them sign up for open shifts. This means that you could potentially get better functionality from another package. If you have a lot of employees or multiple locations, you will likely have exceeded the limits for other options. This may make Sling your best choice for trying out a scheduling program.
ABC Roster – Best Pure Scheduler
Next up on the list is ABC Roster, brought to you by… some guy or gal. That’s right, this product is developed by a single person and is free, presumably forever. Of course, this has its ups and downs.
For the ups, that means there are no restrictions. You can have as many locations, employees, employee types, etc., as you want. You will always be able to use ABC Roster. And it has a prized auto-scheduler. The auto-scheduler can generate a work schedule at the click of a button.
This type of scheduler is very convenient but typically requires a lot of upfront work. You need to have well-defined employee availability and hour limits, which can take some time to input. However, the payoff is generating a weekly schedule in under five minutes.
For the downs, let’s start with the user interface. Unfortunately, it looks like something from the early 2000s.
While the product isn’t overly complicated, its design isn’t necessarily user-friendly either. There is definitely going to be a bit of a learning curve here. Customer support is not happening either because you are not a customer. You aren’t even a potential customer. You are just somebody who found some software on the internet.
Finally, there is no additional functionality on top of the scheduler. None of the extra perks. None of the communication tools. In fact, if you want your employees to see the schedule electronically, your option is to email it to them.
None of this is to say that ABC Roster is a bad program. Based on just the scheduling functionality, it is the best scheduling software on this list. But you get nothing more than that. I hope you like reading the documentation because you are on your own using this product. If that sounds fine to you, this is probably your package. If it gives you cause for hesitation, you should probably look elsewhere.
Connecteam – Best for Field Teams
Connecteam provides solid features for a free package, especially for teams not working in central locations. ConnectTeam’s free plan allows up to 30 users.
Like many other scheduling tools on this list, Connecteam has a drag-and-drop schedule maker.
However, the shifts are more than just scheduling. The software also has very useful task management functionality. When shifts are created, you can assign dedicated tasks for that shift. With the free plan, you can only assign one task.
Additionally, you can add checklists and forms to shifts. This lets employees enter information or confirm that they have completed certain tasks. The forms also have other functionality, like the ability to add images to forms. This could help ensure the quality of jobs or just for informational purposes.
Connecteam also has very full-featured time-tracking options. Your employees can clock in and out on their smartphones. Connecteam also has GPS tagging for clock-ins and clock-outs as part of their basic package, which is unique on this list. The software will also send push reminders to employees to help ensure they remember to clock in and out on schedule.
The data from the time clock can then be used to create timesheets, which can be exported to a payroll program. Managers can edit these timesheets before export to ensure accuracy and fix mistakes.
The Communications Hub, and the associated mobile app, allow for excellent team communication. It isn’t just limited to the team and individual chats. You can post announcements, including media files. The Hub can also create events, complete with an attendee list. Finally, you can create a knowledge base so that you don’t need to answer that question for the fifteenth time.
Overall, Connecteam is an excellent package for teams that don’t work in centralized locations or do job-based work. Functionality like task management, forms, and pictures are excellent ways of allowing managers to manage even if they cannot be physically present. The scheduling also adapts well to irregular schedules and job-based schedules.
Findmyshift is another excellent, free employee scheduling tool. The free version is limited to just five employees and one manager. You can only schedule one week ahead of time on the free version, and you don’t have the ability to create templates from your schedule.
Like many other tools on this list, Findmyshift uses drag-and-drop scheduling to help create shifts. The scheduling tool also has the ability to copy to multiple slots by dragging (like you can do in Excel).
Findmyshift comes with web-based and mobile apps for both Android and iOS. This enables both communication and time-tracking tools. Findmyshift can use emails, texts, and push notifications for real-time announcements (texts are not free). Employees also receive shift reminders before their upcoming shifts. Finally, notice boards provide a location for two-way communication.
Employees can clock in or out from any mobile device, computer, or dedicated time clock. The data from these can be used to create timesheets. These timesheets can then be approved by a manager. In some paid versions of Findmyshift, these timesheets can then be used for Findmyshift’s own payroll program. However, it is not clear if these timesheets can be exported for external usage.
One final functionality of Findmyshift is that it doesn’t only schedule people. It also schedules “facilities,” which means vehicles and other equipment. This can be useful for field service jobs where keeping track of specialized tools can be very important.
If none of these feel quite right, investigate more free and paid employee scheduling solutions here. If you have used any of these products, please leave a review. Your experience can help other businesses select the right software for them.
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