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Updated Feb 12, 2024

How Time and Attendance Software Improves Shift Planning

Match your employees' skills and availability with the best shifts to suit everyone's needs.

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Erin Donaghue, Contributing Writer
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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As a business owner, scheduling your employees for shifts that ensure ample coverage and suit everyone’s needs can be challenging. You must consider which shifts need staffing, which employees’ skills are best suited for each open shift and when each employee can work. Factors, such as paid time off (PTO), payroll budget, human resources (HR) compliance and last-minute schedule changes, can make shift planning even more daunting.

Creating a grid with pen and paper is one shift-planning solution but this approach can be tedious and error-prone. Luckily, time and attendance software can streamline and simplify the shift-planning process and help set up your business for success. 

Editor’s note: Looking for the right time and attendance systems for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

What is shift planning?

Shift planning is scheduling employees to fill your company’s required roles during a given timeframe. Here’s a shift-planning example for a small cafe.

To open at the crack of dawn, someone has to take the 5 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 p.m., the first employee will be relieved. Their shift ends when the next employee’s shift begins.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Shift planning is scheduling employees so all your company's functions are addressed appropriately during 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 specific 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. Specifically, the obstacles to shift planning can include the following: 

  • It can be time-consuming: When operating a small business, time truly is money and shift planning is rarely a quick process. You must ensure you have enough employees working at once and that every employee works the correct number of hours. Achieving these goals can take creative and time-consuming shift-arranging and rearranging. 
  • It means balancing employee and business needs: It can be challenging to plan shifts so employees work when they’re available while providing your business with appropriate coverage. For example, you may need a specific employee’s skill set for a night shift. However, if they’re unavailable, you must train another staff member or hire an employee capable of performing those duties.
  • It can be error-prone: Shift planning is a pencil-and-paper task for some employers. 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 crucial time slot unstaffed.
  • It requires considering employee strengths: Some employees are more cut out for specific shifts than others. For example, say you own a restaurant and bar. You know your night owl bartender can easily hold down the fort until 3 a.m. but would struggle during a brunch shift. 
  • It means working around employees’ time off: When planning shifts, you must factor in employees’ PTO and cover for their shifts. Likewise, sick employees, no-shows and last-minute schedule changes can cause headaches and scheduling gaps.
  • It requires HR and legal compliance: Legal and HR compliance issues must be addressed when shift planning. For example, if you schedule an employee for a certain number of hours weekly, they may be entitled to overtime pay under federal overtime rules. If you’re planning shifts manually, you might not realize you’re wading into overtime territory; if you neglect to properly pay for overtime, legal trouble can arise.
  • It requires labor cost calculations: You must pay the employees you schedule while remaining within your payroll budget and adhering to preset labor costs. Your employees may have different pay rates, further complicating your labor cost calculations.
Did You Know?Did you know
Predictive scheduling ― when an employer assigns employees' schedules in advance ― can improve employees' work-life balance. Employers must understand predictive scheduling laws to comply with local and state business regulations.

How time and attendance software improves shift planning

Time and attendance software solves many of the challenges of manual shift planning. These software platforms can improve shift planning in the following ways, which include:

  • Supporting efficient shift planning: Forget pencil and paper (and all that pesky erasing and rewriting) ― time and attendance software removes 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 copy one week’s schedule to another.
  • Offering more employee information: If your company has many employees or multiple business locations, understanding each team member’s qualifications, availability, title and primary worksite is challenging. Time and attendance software lets you view all this information in just a few clicks. As a result, you can plan your shifts based on business needs and employee parameters. 
  • Helping you fill shifts with the right 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 can also pair established employees with new team members to ensure proper training and encourage peer mentoring
  • Providing availability charts: Last-minute shift changes and no-shows can be a nightmare. However, your time and attendance software’s availability chart can save the day. Open it to see who you can call on a moment’s notice to cover unexpected absences.
  • Allowing more employee involvement: Time and attendance software inherently involves employees in the shift-planning process. Specific tools allow employees to bid on shifts or swap assigned shifts. They can input their availability so you don’t schedule them when they’re not free.
  • Helping you budget for labor: Time and attendance platforms let you set the maximum amount of money you’d like to spend on employee labor (including overtime pay). Your software can alert you if your shift planning will exceed a specified budget.
  • Offering helpful third-party integrations: Time and attendance software often integrates seamlessly with the best payroll services. You won’t have to manually add your employees’ hours to your payroll platform to ensure they’re paid. Some time and attendance platforms also integrate with the best point-of-sale systems to help establish a link between schedules and revenue.
  • Supporting reporting and forecasting: Time and attendance software includes reporting and forecasting features that can help determine how your schedule will impact sales. For example, say 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.
  • Providing easier access and use: Most time and attendance software is cloud-based, making it easy to change shifts while on the go. You can also allow trusted employees to set or modify shifts.
Did You Know?Did you know
Time and attendance software helps you manage employee attendance and often includes features like geofencing and biometric clock-in to better monitor your team.

The best time and attendance software for your business

The best time and attendance software can streamline shift planning, lower labor costs and foster a happier workforce. Here’s a breakdown of some highly rated solutions to help you evaluate and choose a time and attendance system that works best for your business.

When I Work

Using intuitive drag-and-drop functionality, When I Work allows employers to build and share shifts easily with workers from a mobile or desktop device. Workers can use the platform’s mobile app to check their schedule, communicate with other employees, bid on open shifts, swap shifts and request time off. Managers can also use the mobile app to field time-off requests and last-minute schedule changes; a dashboard keeps them updated on unfilled shifts and labor costs.

When I Work also features an AI-powered auto-scheduler that automatically assigns shifts based on metrics like employee preference and maximum available hours. Workers can log in for their shifts from mobile devices, desktop computers or a shared kiosk and an optional photo clock-in feature allows employers to confirm worker identity. Read our in-depth When I Work review to learn how this platform integrates with payroll software to streamline the payroll process. 

Time and attendance clock-in features can help prevent "buddy punching," an employee time theft practice where one employee clocks in for another worker who isn't present.

QuickBooks Time

QuickBooks Time makes shift planning easy with its mobile scheduling app. Managers can use drag-and-drop tools to build new schedules via a computer or smartphone or copy and publish the same schedule for future time slots. Employees are notified when a shift schedule is published or changes; managers can assign access to determine who can control shift scheduling. All employee schedules are cloud-based and accessible via a browser or mobile device. Once a schedule is created, it can be synced to popular calendar platforms, including Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and Outlook.

QuickBooks Time offers flexible punch-in and punch-out options workers can use at home, in the office or at a job site. Our QuickBooks Time review details how this platform uses geofencing and GPS tracking tools to increase accountability and improve worker safety. 

Paychex Flex 

The time and attendance offerings from Paychex Flex, Paychex Flex Time and Paychex Flex Time Essentials have robust scheduling features that integrate seamlessly into the broader Paychex Flex human capital management system, which also features payroll, employee benefits administration and other HR services. 

Paychex Flex Time is equipped with a visual scheduler and schedule templates to simplify shift planning. Via the Paychex Flex platform, managers can view worker availability easily and workers can swap shifts and access other features with online self-service tools. The platform helps managers comply with legal obligations like overtime rules. It will even send an alert when a worker’s hours approach a time or scheduling threshold that requires overtime pay. 

Our Paychex Flex review details the platform’s various clock-in and clock-out options, including basic time clocks accessible via a web browser or mobile app and advanced products like a kiosk app with facial verification, biometric iris and finger scan time clocks and an interactive voice response system.

TimeClock Plus

TimeClock Plus is a scalable time and attendance solution that allows companies to add features to suit their needs. Its employee scheduling product, Humanity, lets managers build complex shifts and ensure staffing across multiple locations and states. Its automated features match staff who are available and qualified for appropriate shifts. The platform ensures schedules are compliant legally. It can also integrate with hundreds of payroll, enterprise resource planning and human capital management platforms. 

TimeClock Plus supports demand-driven scheduling and shift differentials, allowing managers to specify different pay for certain shifts, such as night or weekend work. Our detailed TimeClock Plus review explains how the platform’s permission settings allow managers to assign shift scheduling privileges to specific team members.

Take control of shift planning with time and attendance software

Whether you run a small business or a large enterprise, time and attendance software puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to improving shift planning. Time and attendance software can help you schedule employees easily to the shifts that best match their skill sets while considering availability, ensuring legal compliance and minimizing shift disruptions. With a wide variety of options on the market, you’re sure to find a solution that fits your business’s needs.

Max Freedman contributed to this article.

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Erin Donaghue, Contributing Writer
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