- Shift planning involves scheduling employees for work so that your company is appropriately staffed and operational at all times.
- Shift planning challenges include time and labor costs, legal compliance, employee needs and human error.
- Time and attendance software reduces shift-planning errors and lowers your labor costs.
- This article is for small business owners who want to improve their shift planning processes using time and attendance software.
If only scheduling your employees for shifts could be as easy as creating a grid with pencil and paper. This longtime shift planning approach is often as tedious for employers as it is annoying for employees, but time and attendance software presents solutions for both you and your team. Learn more below.
What is shift planning?
Shift planning is the scheduling of employees to fill each of your company's required roles during a given time frame. Perhaps the most obvious shift planning example is how a small cafe might work:
To open at the crack of dawn, someone has to take the 5:00 a.m. shift. However, that employee likely won't work until the cafe closes. Instead, another employee will come in at some point to perform the same work for the rest of the day. When that employee comes in, say at 1:00 p.m., the first employee will be relieved; their shift ends when the next employee's shift begins.
Key takeaway: Shift planning is the scheduling of employees so that all your company's functions are properly tended to during your operating hours.
Challenges of shift planning
Shift planning sounds easy at first – how hard can it be to tell people to come and go at certain times? In reality, any small business owner who schedules employees on shifts (instead of a standard 9-to-5) can tell you that shift planning is full of challenges. The obstacles involved with shift planning include but arent limited to the following:
- Time: When operating a small business, time truly is money, and shift planning is rarely a quick process. That's largely because you'll need to ensure that you have enough employees working at once and that every employee is working the right number of hours. Achieving both these goals can take some creative arranging and rearranging of shifts that quickly proves to take longer than a short administrative task.
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- Employee vs. employer needs: Planning shifts so that employees are working at times that fit both their schedules and your needs can quickly cause tension. If your best employee can't work the night shift when you absolutely need someone with their skills on the job after sundown, you may need to train other staff members or hire additional employees with that skillset.
- Errors: For some employers, shift planning is primarily a pencil-and-paper task. However, as with anything done by hand, manual shift planning increases the chances of human error. These errors can be significant: If you assign two employees with the same role to work at the same time, you’re paying more money for less work. In this case, you might have also accidentally left a key timeslot unstaffed.
- Unique employee attributes: Some employees are just more cut out for certain shifts than others. For example, at your restaurant and bar, your night owl bartender can hold down the fort until 3 a.m., but they’ll struggle during the 10 a.m. shift. Likewise, if one of your servers is taking time off, your busboys might not yet be ready to cover for them, thus leaving you with a big scheduling gap.
- Legal compliance: If you schedule an employee for a certain number of hours per week, the employee may be entitled to overtime pay. While planning shifts manually, you might not realize that you’re wading into overtime territory, and if you neglect to properly pay for overtime, legal trouble can arise.
- Labor costs: Any time you schedule an employee for work, you pay them, which means that shift planning has inextricable costs. These costs can be challenging to quickly factor in when manually scheduling shifts, especially since you might be paying different employees at different rates.
- Employee choice: Shift planning is often a process in which you, the employer, have the most say. However, shift planning is easier for both you and your team when you can easily get your employees’ input before finalizing schedules. On this front and many others, time and attendance software often is handy.
How time and attendance software benefits shift planning
Time and attendance software solves many of the longtime problems with manual shift planning. The benefits of using software for your shift planning needs include the following:
- More efficient shift planning. Forget pencil and paper (and all that pesky erasing and rewriting) – time and attendance software saves you all the tedium of shift planning. You can drag employees' profiles into open shifts or drag currently scheduled employees to another open shift. You can also use schedule templates to streamline your shift planning, or you can simply copy this week's schedule for next week.
- More employee information. If your company has a large number of employees or locations, then you might not know each and every employee's qualifications, availability, titles, and primary worksite. With time and attendance software, you can see all this information for each employee in just a few clicks. As a result, you can plan your shifts based on where your needs and your employees' skills overlap.
- Easier to schedule around employees. Given the wealth of employee information in your time and attendance software, you'll have an easier time assigning your best employees to your busiest shifts. You may also find it easier to pair old employees with new ones, thus giving your newer team members someone to learn from on the job.
- Availability chart for last-minute shift changes. In shift planning, you should always expect the best but plan for the worst – perhaps several employees call out sick or don't show up. In that case, your time and attendance software's availability chart can save the day. Open it to see whom you can call in on a moment's notice to cover some or all of an unexpectedly absent employee's shift.
- More employee involvement. Whereas pencil and paper shift planning does little to alert employees as you're scheduling them, time and attendance software inherently involves them. Software-based shift planning allows employees to bid on shifts or swap assigned shifts with other employees. Your employees can also use your software to note when they’re available, so you don’t schedule them when they're not free.
- Labor budgeting. When you plan shifts using a reliable time and attendance software platform, you can set the maximum amount of money you'd like to spend on employee labor (including overtime pay). Your software can then alert you if the way you've arranged shifts for the week exceeds this budget. Thereafter, you can rearrange your schedule until you fall within budget.
- Third-party integrations. Time and attendance software often integrates seamlessly with your platforms for payroll and invoicing. This integration means that you won't have to manually add your employees' hours to your payroll platform to ensure they're paid for their work. Some time and attendance software programs can also integrate with your POS systems to help establish a link between schedules and revenue.
- Reporting and forecasting. Perhaps the most important shift planning feature besides scheduling itself – reporting and forecasting features – can determine how your schedule will impact your sales. As an example, suppose your restaurant is expecting a rush for Restaurant Week and you need extra staff. In this case, your software can use last year's schedule and sales data to suggest this year's ideal shift plan.
- Easier access. If you need to change your employees' shifts while you're out of the office, you can easily do so since most time and attendance software is cloud-based and/or accessible via mobile application. You can also allow certain senior employees to set or modify shifts as well.
- Fewer errors. Above all, time and attendance software minimizes the number of costly shift planning errors you might make. Your software should alert you if you schedule an employee when they're not available or accidentally put too many of the same type of employee on one shift. With time and attendance software, you not only save time – you have greater control over your shifts than you would using a pencil and paper system.
Did you know? Time and attendance software streamlines shift planning, reduces errors and cuts labor costs through advanced but user-friendly features.
The best time and attendance software for your business
Ready to invest in time and attendance software for your shift planning? Learn how to choose a time and attendance system, then keep what you've learned in mind as you read our time and attendance software reviews. Before you know it, you'll be all set with a new software platform that leads to fair shifts, lower labor costs and happy, high-performing employees.