Imagine this: a new month is approaching, but you’re not worried about spending hours creating a new schedule for your team, making mistakes, or feeling guilty that you had to reject someone’s request for a day off. Wouldn’t it be nice?
Employee scheduling is a never-ending task that takes a toll on schedule coordinators and their teams. After spending days creating a schedule for your entire staff, you're met with complaints and requests for shift swaps and changes.
The good news is that artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are transforming employee scheduling. AI is here to stay and change many aspects of running a business, including employee scheduling. In fact, as many as 64% of companies believe that AI can improve their operation productivity and cut the time spent on mundane, repetitive tasks such as staff scheduling.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything about AI employee scheduling and how the new technology helps optimize team management and gives you peace of mind.
To navigate to a specific section, click here:
- Why is there a growing need for AI employee scheduling?
- AI employee scheduling: how does it work?
- 7 Benefits of AI employee scheduling for businesses
- Are there any risks to using AI for employee scheduling?
- How to find the right AI employee scheduling solution for your business
- OPTAS staff scheduling solution with AI
Why is there a growing need for AI employee scheduling?
Only a team manager knows the challenge of creating schedules for 50+ people. Turning employee availability, paid time off, vacation, contracted hours, overtime, qualifications, and regular shift patterns into a working schedule can take several days.
At OPTAS, we work with mid-sized and large teams to help them automate and optimize their employee scheduling with AI. One of the companies we had a chance to work with told us that each month, they make schedules for 200 workers. The job was so complicated that the company had to hire a new employee just for this task. A call center client had a similar problem. Each month, they would create schedules for 70 employees, requiring around two weeks to achieve.
Manual scheduling consumes a lot of time and money and puts psychological pressure to ensure everyone’s happy.
You might also want to switch to AI for scheduling because of:
- Mistakes: Scheduling a few dozen employees inevitably results in mistakes. You might overbook one employee and forget that another told you they have morning classes. If you want to fix these mistakes manually during the scheduled period, the entire schedule structure falls apart.
- Labor law violations: Labor laws and penalties for compliance violations vary from country to country. For example, in the USA, some states impose fines of up to $10,000 and potential criminal prosecution for labor law violations. In Lithuania, repeated offenses can cost a business up to 3,000 euros. That includes exceeding someone’s contracted time by one or two hours or not providing enough rest time between shifts.
- Angry employees: Overworking, always working on weekends or the busiest shifts, and not having enough rest days result in employee dissatisfaction, leading to higher turnover rates. A lost employee can cost you a lot of money in labor shortages, administrative costs, hiring and training expenses for a replacement.
AI employee scheduling: how does it work?
AI technology used for employee scheduling varies from solution to solution. Usually, an AI scheduling assistant works by gathering data about employee availability, preferences, rotating shifts, and other schedule rules.
AI collects contracted hours, vacations, parental leave days, weekends off, and other data to make data-based schedules. The more information it has, the more accurate schedules it can generate.
Once the system has all the necessary data for planning workforce time, it can optimize scheduling for the following time periods so that you wouldn’t need to go over the same process each month. Below are some examples of how AI for employee scheduling can improve your work.
Demand for the workforce isn’t linear. Whether you manage a hotel or a retail store, some days/months are more hectic than others. To meet increased customer demand, you have to make sure there are enough workers to provide smooth customer service and efficient work.
Not to mention that scheduling someone to work alone during peak times can result in burnout, poor customer service, more mistakes, and employee turnover.
Some AI schedulers offer a functionality that can predict business peak and slow times. Based on this data, you can select to schedule more people on busy days and fewer when things are slow. Some solutions can automatically schedule more people and predict demand fluctuations months in advance to prevent downtime and optimize business efficiency.
Automated calculations and reports
Clear information about your team’s attendance and performance can help you make better decisions when evaluating each employee or determining their salaries. AI employee schedulers allow you to calculate the hours actually worked compared to planned hours. It shows how many day, night, and holiday shifts each worker has worked, allowing you to create fairer schedules.
The system tracks the banked hours to allocate employee working time more strategically. For example, if a worker doesn’t meet their hourly quota one month, you can schedule them to work extra hours in the following months.
At the end of the scheduled period, you can access detailed reports about everyone’s performance and attendance. The reports show how many days each employee was on vacation, sick leave, days they came late or didn’t show up, and other data crucial for making performance evaluation decisions.
This information can serve as a prompt to help you identify situations where someone may not have enough time off in a given month or is always late.
When you use AI for scheduling, you can fully automate your scheduling processes or continue doing it manually and using AI to help you spot mistakes. The system checks for labor law compliance errors, overbooking, days not matching business demand, and other factors essential for clear and accurate team scheduling to notify you if mistakes are detected.
Fully automated scheduling requires you to fill out employee information, rules and priorities, such as contracted hours of each staff member, vacations, and other information only once. Later, you can create schedule templates using preselected information, copy them for the following months, and let the system automatically assign shifts to selected employees.
Automation also helps to optimize employee time off. When employees request a manager's approval for vacations or time off, the system checks whether this person has any vacation days left and if there’s enough staff to cover for missing employees.
Labor law compliance
AI for scheduling detects labor law compliance issues in real-time. Even if you have staff members across different departments, the system makes sure they don’t exceed their contracted hours and have enough rest time between their shifts. If you schedule employees manually and there’s a mistake, the system alerts you instantly.
If you let the AI assistant handle the scheduling, it automatically assigns shifts to comply with your selected local labor laws.
Real-time updates on all your devices
Before automating employee scheduling processes, most schedule coordinators just print out schedules for each team member or hang a paper version in the break room. But what happens when there’s a change in the schedule — most likely delays, no-shows, and more complaints from your team.
AI for scheduling offers a simple solution — real-time updates within the system and connected devices. You and your team can make real-time changes to the schedule using your phone or computer.
You can approve or disapprove of your team’s requests, make changes and shift swaps, and notify workers and managers who are affected by the changes through the scheduling app or email, or just let AI handle some of these tasks automatically. As a manager, you can also see whether the staff members have read and seen the updates and ping those who haven’t to optimize the process and ensure everyone’s on the same page.
Schedules based on competencies and skills
A business has to work like clockwork, meaning there must be enough skilled and experienced staff members to cover each shift. You can’t schedule a new waiter to work alone during the busiest time of the day. The same goes for more sensitive tasks, such as operating machinery, where having someone experienced and licensed for the job is essential.
With AI staff scheduling software, you can select competencies, experience levels, and skills to assign each worker to the right shift. The system can also create cohort-based schedules, meaning new workers will be scheduled with more experienced staff members to help them learn faster.
Automated time tracking
Most AI schedulers offer TimeClock functionality that allows you to track and register the time when employees come to and leave work. Advanced AI TimeClock feature can check whether the contracted hours match actually worked hours. For example, one employee covers a shift for another worker. In this case, AI notifies you to add this shift to their timesheet for that particular employee to adjust their salary.
On the other hand, let’s say someone is late for work or misses a shift. The system will detect that they didn’t work their planned hours, which will be reflected in their payroll report.
Information about incapacity for work
AI employee scheduling software offers many integrations with the systems you use for your business and public resources. Let’s say you have employees with disabilities or someone is on sick leave. In most countries, this information is registered in the public domain under the Social Insurance Agency. AI systems allow you to import this information from the public domain to your scheduling system and automatically input the information for the relevant months.
7 Benefits of AI employee scheduling for businesses
Now, you know how AI for employee scheduling works, but the question remains: can AI actually help you solve scheduling issues, or is it just another pseudo-automated system that, in the end, will require you to do the majority of the heavy work?
Let's find out!
1. Less manual work
Most of the time spent on creating schedules is dedicated to assigning each shift to individual employees, considering their availability, business capacity, contracted working hours, days off, fair weekend time off, and other data.
This process gets even more challenging when you manage large teams across different departments or establishments. Most schedule coordinators use simple Excel sheets to somewhat optimize the process. However, such tools aren’t designed for employee scheduling and don’t have all the features and functionality necessary to plan your team’s time.
On top of creating a schedule, you must manually create a calendar with weekdays, weekends, and holidays. If you need to delegate staff scheduling to someone else, they might struggle to understand your system or adapt it to their own technique, causing many delays, mistakes, and inefficiency.
That’s not the case with an AI scheduling assistant. While in the beginning, you’ll need to collect and input your staff’s information, the automated system does the most difficult part – applying these rules and making sure everyone’s happy.
Even if unplanned changes occur throughout the scheduled period, an AI system can quickly fill in missing shifts and swap employees in seconds. You don’t need to go over the entire schedule and get lost in the complicated sheets.
2. Saved time
Less manual work equals more saved time. According to OPTAS clients, after implementing AI employee scheduling software, the time they spent on scheduling dropped by 73%. Once you get used to AI employee scheduling, you can save even more time as you switch to predesigned templates that already have rules and priorities filled out.
3. Fewer errors
While some tasks require the human touch, creating schedules manually for tens or hundreds of employees often leads to mistakes. AI minimizes most of the human-made errors by eliminating manual work. AI can help you spot mistakes and suggest how to improve schedules if you continue scheduling employees manually.
Even if it leaves gaps in a schedule based on the information provided, you can always review and fix them in real time. OPTAS customers claim that when they automated their staff scheduling, they avoided 95% of mistakes. Fewer errors translate into less time spent fixing them and fewer complaints from your team.
4. Tailored to your business needs
Every business is different, and so are their scheduling methods and preferences. AI scheduling software typically offers flexibility to schedule employees based on their preferences, your business type, and capacity.
Let’s say you manage a manufacturing plant. Most of your team members have rotating schedules, such as 3 days working and 3 days off. AI scheduler allows making rotating shift schedules, finding someone available to cover a shift when another worker is off work, or informing you if there’s not enough staff to meet the required operating capacity. You can copy and paste rotating shift information for the following months or until you change the routine.
The same goes for other types of businesses. For example, you run a restaurant, and some of your workers might have to attend classes in the morning on Wednesdays and Fridays. You can select a repeated pattern to always schedule mornings off on those days for those specific employees.
5. Optimized payroll
Every team has that one worker who takes the longest lunch breaks, comes into work 10 minutes late every shift, and leaves early on Fridays. It might not seem like a lot, but at the end of the month, each minute of missed work results in lost profits.
However, even if you suspect that someone in your team is more laidback than others, it’s difficult to prove that.
AI staff schedulers offer a TimeClock functionality that allows employees to register times when they arrive and leave work. You don’t need to do anything else, as the system tracks attendance for you. At the end of the reporting period, it presents statements and statistics on each employee’s attendance.
If your AI software is integrated with payroll systems, it automatically transfers this information, making calculating salaries for each team member easier. No more paying for no-shows, missed time, or spending hours transferring attendance reports to payroll systems manually.
6. Less psychological pressure
As a manager, you always need to choose between being a friend or a leader to your team. When making schedules, you can’t be partial, which puts a lot of pressure if you have to reject someone’s request for a day off or schedule them to work all weekends during the month. After that, you have to deal with complaints and nasty looks from upset employees.
Scheduling AI software makes the fairest schedules possible. If someone’s requests were rejected, that means there was no way around it, and you can use the system as proof.
However, speaking from the experience of our clients, after implementing automated scheduling, they've noticed that their teams have become happier, and there have been fewer complaints since the schedules have become fairer to everyone.
7. It’s unbiased
We all are human, and we can be biased. Perhaps someone gets all the weekends off most of the time, while others have to come in to work on the busiest shift.
There’s nothing wrong with being friendly with your staff and making exceptions occasionally, but after a while, other team members can notice different treatment and grow resentful. AI schedulers don’t play favorites, they know only one thing — how to make the fairest and most efficient schedules that satisfy everyone.
Are there any risks to using AI for employee scheduling?
Regardless of these amazing benefits, AI isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Many people imagine that AI will solve all their labor problems and there won’t be any more manual work.
However, like any other AI system, automated employee scheduling software is made to make your work faster and easier, not to eliminate it completely. Here’s a list of things to be aware of when starting to use an AI scheduling assistant.
- Too much reliance on AI: Once you try AI employee scheduling software, it’s hard to return to your old methods. However, you might still need to schedule or adjust some things manually and think logically about improving your team schedules, even those created with AI. If your skills deteriorate, it might be more difficult to do tasks on your own without the help of AI.
- There’s still some work to be done: Even with automated tools, you need to know how to use them correctly to get the most benefits. That means when you plan schedules for your team, you have to input relevant data to enable your AI assistant to create clear and accurate schedules. This includes selecting rules for each individual, availability, labor laws, and workforce demand.
- Might lack human flexibility: An AI scheduler might not be able to handle certain situations, and your team will need your guidance. For example, someone requests to leave work last minute to pick up their kid from school. A human manager is more flexible in that sense and can arrange everything even if the system shows that it’s not viable.
How to find the right AI employee scheduling solution for your business
Not all automated employee scheduling software is created equally. Some solutions might cater more to small teams or be above your price range. Before committing to one AI employee scheduling software, we gathered a few factors to consider.
The size of your team
Scheduling gets more complicated the more employees you have. AI software of your choice should be designed to work for teams the size of yours. As we notice with our own clients, you can best appreciate AI scheduling benefits when managing bigger teams because it frees the most time.
Features and functionality
Not all AI solutions have all the benefits and functionalities mentioned in this article. But you might not need them all, to begin with. We recommend listing the pain points you deal with that hinder your team management the most.
For example, if you need software to ease attendance tracking and improve your payroll operations, it’s better to look for a solution that offers TimeClock functionality and quick information transfer to your other business management systems.
Customer support and attention to your needs
It’s difficult to evaluate the quality of customer support before you become a customer and have a problem that must be solved. However, customer support significantly affects how well you can use your AI employee scheduler.
What if a bug messes with the schedules of hundreds of employees? You can’t wait 2 to 5 business days to get it solved, you need it NOW. That’s why it’s important to read other customers' reviews and look for service providers who pride themselves in their attention to clients.
Customer support can reflect on the size of the service provider. The bigger the company is, the more likely their customer support will be busy and automated, which might not be ideal when you need personalized help. The same goes for system maintenance, updates, and improvements – you want the service provider to be timely and consider your personal experience using their tools.
Smaller providers usually have more personalized attention to their customers and are ready to help you solve your problems and improve their solution based on your feedback.
The service provider of your choice should also offer learning material, seminars, or onboarding sessions to help you with a new tool. Onboarding sessions with the team help clear any doubts and learn about all possible ways to use software for your work.
Automation can mean different things. Some service providers say their systems automate scheduling, but they don’t actually use AI, and instead, most of the automation will fall on your shoulders.
Don’t hesitate to contact several service providers to ask them what processes their software automates and how much will need to be done manually.
Integrations with other systems
If you use other digital tools to manage your team and work, such as payroll, personnel, enterprise resource management, and similar systems, it’s important that they all can work together.
Your chosen AI scheduling solution should allow for integration with other systems. This way, you don’t need to fill out the same information multiple times into different systems and spend even more time, losing the main purpose of automated solutions.
The service provider should clarify the possibility of integration with other systems. If there’s no such information on their website, you can contact them to make sure. If integration is possible, ask whether they can help you with the process to make everything work smoothly in one go.
Last but not least is service pricing. Calculate your budget to see how much you can spend each month/year on AI-powered scheduling. Pay attention to the pricing method to find the best one for you. Most AI SaaS businesses use several pricing methods, such as:
- Price per user: This pricing method is personalized and flexible, as you can select how many employees will be using the system. As your team grows or shrinks, you can change the pricing accordingly.
- Fixed subscription-based pricing: This method requires you to subscribe to a plan for a month/quarter/year and pay for the entire period, regardless of how many people use the software. You are charged at the end of the contracted period if you want to renew your plan.
- Tier pricing: It offers several plans varying in features and prices. This pricing method works best if you want to test the software or have a smaller team and know that you won’t need all the features and functionalities.
OPTAS staff scheduling solution with AI
We hope that by now, you have a better understanding of how employee scheduling automation and AI technologies work to ease manual work. At OPTAS, we know how difficult and time-consuming employee scheduling is.
With all the available technology, fully manual scheduling should be a thing of the past. That’s why our mission is to automate your workload and help you ditch as many manual scheduling processes as possible.
OPTAS employee scheduling AI software is designed for mid-sized and large teams to reduce scheduling errors, save time, and increase employee satisfaction.
If you want to try AI capabilities in your own business, let’s arrange a discovery call. During our meeting, we’ll hear your challenges to find the most suitable solutions tailored to your business. Then, we’ll demonstrate how OPTAS works and the benefits you can get from using our system. Take a step forward – automate your employee scheduling!