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11 Ways to Optimize Workforce Scheduling with AI

The surge of artificial intelligence (AI) has a vast impact on businesses. For some, it’s a threat, while others enjoy all the benefits of faster and streamlined work. Undeniably, AI technologies are changing how we run business, whether we like it or not.

While it might be challenging to accept and incorporate AI into your work, we want to demystify this technology and show you how to use AI software to make your work easier.

In this article, you’ll learn more about using AI software to optimize workforce scheduling and 11 ways you can do more in less time with automation. We’ll also answer questions about relying on AI to manage sensitive data and the complexity of using workforce automation tools for staff optimization.

Jump straight to:

What is workforce scheduling?

Workforce scheduling is planning your team’s work so that everyone is on time for their shifts and there’s enough workforce to meet business demand. Optimized scheduling is necessary for sectors like hospitality, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, and many other industries, as they tend to have large teams with rotating shifts.

For example, hotels use staff scheduling to assign shifts to servers, receptionists, caterers, and other staff members to provide enough workers for every task.

In a manufacturing plant, a group of people responsible for different production processes and machinery must be assigned carefully based on employee skills and experience.

Another example is a restaurant business with establishments in multiple locations, where you have to schedule a large team between restaurants, pay attention to their schedules, and make sure there is always enough staff to cover each shift.

Complexity of workforce scheduling

If you’ve ever been responsible for scheduling and managing a large team, you know the common challenges. Workforce scheduling is a demanding task that doesn’t end with assigning shifts. What makes it so much more complex is ensuring the rest:

  • Compliance with labor laws: You must schedule enough breaks between shifts for every employee based on their position specifics. Otherwise, you might be subjected to fines or damage your reputation as an employer.
  • Making fair schedules: You must remember everyone's preferences, holiday requests, and time off. On top of that, you have to be careful not to schedule employees to work several weekends in a row or during the busiest shifts.
  • Adapting to schedule changes: Throughout the month, employees request shift swaps, sick leaves, unexpectedly quit, or something else happens that has to be addressed right away.
  • Tracking employee attendance: You must know if people come to their scheduled shifts on time or if someone is running late.
  • Accounting: After a scheduled period is over, you have to gather information and transfer it to your payroll systems to pay fair compensation for employees’ work.

Manual employee scheduling might take days, if not weeks. Even after everything seems correct, there’s a high chance of mistakes that can result in fines and low team morale.

What is employee scheduling optimization?

Workforce optimization streamlines various aspects of staff management with the help of tools and techniques. Key objectives of staff optimization are:

  • Make it faster
  • Make it easier
  • Make it cheaper

An example would be using digital scheduling tools to make assigning working shifts to employees more effective and faster. The same goes for using digital systems to automatically track employees' time, register attendance data, and generate reports for payroll and other systems.

How can you use employee scheduling software for workforce optimization?

Employee scheduling software is an obvious solution to make employee time planning more efficient. It’s a digital solution that automates and optimizes your staff scheduling. However, not all scheduling software is made equally. There are three types of employee scheduling software:

  • Manual: Manual scheduling tools allow you to digitize your information and store employee data in a digital environment. But you still do all the scheduling, creating calendars, and developing methods that work for your team. One of the most popular tools in this category is Microsoft Excel. However, manual scheduling, even in a digital environment, causes a lot of mistakes and limits you.

  • Semi-automated: Such tools let you digitize your employee data and offer faster and more automated scheduling than let’s say Excel. You can access calendar templates, an overview of your team’s schedules, and make simplified schedule changes with functionalities like drag-and-drop. However, you perform the hardest part – scheduling and keeping up with everyone’s preferences and labor laws.
  • Fully automated: Fully automated employee scheduling software is a unique digital solution that takes the pressure off you by generating schedules automatically. Tools like OPTAS staff scheduling software use artificial intelligence to gather data and assign shifts based on your selected rules and priorities. All that you have to do is to input the information while the system does the rest.

11 Ways AI can help you optimize your workforce

Below, we selected 11 scheduling processes you can optimize once you implement an AI-based employee scheduling software. After each process, we introduce how the OPTAS AI scheduler performs each optimization task.

1. Workforce planning based on demand

As a manager, you know when your team goes into overdrive. However, it’s not always easy to schedule based on demand or predict demand changes way in advance. Advanced AI scheduling systems collect data over time. Based on the patterns in data, it can make demand predictions even months into the future.

This feature is useful in industries such as retail, where even slight demand fluctuations can be crucial for efficient customer service. For instance, sales tend to increase during the first weekend of a month when consumers receive their salaries and shop more.

By noticing these small fluctuations, an AI employee scheduler can assign more people on busy days and recommend cutting on the workforce when things are slow, reducing expenses, and maximizing customer service quality.

Demand planning with OPTAS: We make scheduling your staff based on business demand easier. When you know a busy period is approaching, you can select how many workers you need to cover challenging shifts. Based on your selection, employee preferences, available hours, sick leave, and vacation information, OPTAS will automatically generate the entire schedule for a month. If you decide to do it manually, our employee scheduler will point out the days when you might need more shifts to cover your business needs.

2. Faster scheduling process

Hands down, if there’s one thing to speed up scheduling, it is automation. A workforce scheduling coordinator spends most of their time assigning shifts, keeping in mind all additional rules, priorities, and requirements. AI scheduler does that for you, saving time and allowing you to focus on improving your team management and employee well-being.

Input data about employee attendance rules, priorities, and preferences only once. In the following months, AI scheduler uses them for automatic schedule generation.

Faster employee scheduling with OPTAS: Our employee scheduling software lets you create templates and generate schedules for the following months. It’s ideal for repeated schedules, but templates also work as a foundation for a completely new schedule.

You can always let the system do the heavy lifting. Just enter relevant data (rotating shift type, worker data, etc.) and the AI scheduler will fill in everything for you in the blink of an eye.

3. Smart vacation planning

Is it summer already, and everyone’s requesting time off? For you, it’s not a time to relax. It’s a stressful period to find enough employees to cover missing shifts. The worst part is when employees request vacation time way in advance before you can even think you might lack people.

AI scheduling system lets you register vacation requests, automatically notifying you when there’s a predicted workforce shortage. You can then ask your staff to consider other dates for their vacations in advance. This way, you dodge the bullet of last-minute cancellations and being short-staffed.

How to plan employee vacations with OPTAS: With OPTAS, employees can request vacation days by themselves just by registering the need on the system. A manager then either approves or denies the request. You can see statistics on each employee’s time off to make well-calculated decisions.

4. Easier banked hour allocation

Some businesses operating on rotating shifts offer their employees a banked-hour system. Using this method, employees have a number of hours assigned to them each scheduled period, usually a quarter. If they don’t meet their monthly quota in one month, they can work extra hours the next month to make up for it.

The banked hour method gives more flexibility to your staff. But it’s challenging for you to keep everyone’s banked hours in mind and fairly distribute them each quarter.

AI optimizes this process by automatically tracking banked hours and letting you and your employees choose the best times to use extra time and synchronize it with your payroll systems for fair compensation. All in minutes, allowing you and your team to get the most benefits from the banked-hour method.

Banked-hour accounting with OPTAS: If you want to enable banked-hour accounting, go to the settings to allow this feature. Now, on the worker’s card, you'll find the total worked hours carried over to the new month. The system will alert you if you go over the set hour limit or if the worker doesn't complete their assigned hours.

5. Cross-department scheduling

Sometimes, one employee has to work in several locations throughout a month, making it difficult to attend to their preferences, labor laws, and business staffing needs.

AI schedulers take care of this, too. AI-based workforce scheduling software can manage several schedules and employees working in different departments. The system knows about employee's shifts in other departments and makes sures that they wouldn't collide while making other department's schedule.

OPTAS scheduling for multiple locations: If you have employees who work in two different locations or hold two positions, you can include them in multiple different schedules.

Enter information about employee’s contracted hours, rotating shift type, limits, and other rules to generate error-free schedules. This employee then automatically appears on other schedules, allowing you to view their shifts across multiple locations, making it easier to assign new times without double-booking them.

6. More accurate performance tracking

AI workforce scheduling software tracks all information you input into the system. The main areas where you benefit the most are:

  • tracking the planned working time compared to the actually worked hours
  • tracking how many night or weekend shifts each employee worked during a month
  • tracking how many days / hours each employee worked during holidays

These numbers are crucial because they determine salaries. In some sectors, a salary increases during holidays, weekends, and nights. Keeping this information in mind for payroll takes a lot of effort, but an AI scheduler calculates it automatically.

OPTAS time tracking: OPTAS offers a TimeClock functionality. You can enable it for the entire team or individual employees. Each employee gets a unique PIN. When they arrive to work, they enter their PIN into a tablet to inform the system about their arrival. After completing their shift, the workers repeat the same action.

7. Error-free skill matching

For a business to run smoothly, there must always be enough skilled staff members to take on every responsibility.

Imagine running a hotel. Every day of the week, you need enough receptionists, guest attendants, cleaners, bellhops, restaurant staff, and other employees to run your hospitality business to the highest standard.

Let’s take another example: a hospital. You can’t have downtimes or reject patients just because your nursing staff is on vacation.

Don’t worry, AI employee schedulers are here to help. You can select experience and skill levels before generating a schedule. AI scheduler makes sure new employees work with more experienced colleagues and that there’s always someone skilled for every task in the business.

How to schedule based on employee skills with OPTAS: Add different skills, projects, and competencies to group your workers. The auto feature generates schedules based on your preselected rules. Or if you do it manually, the system notifies you when you forget to assign a worker with specific competencies required for the job or make a similar mistake.

This feature also allows you to filter workers based on competencies, which is useful when you manage a lot of people or need to see information about particular workers.

8. Improved customer service

Happy customers = more sales. However, you probably haven’t considered how poor employee scheduling affects your client experience.

Staff shortage leads to exhausted and angry employees who are discouraged from properly serving your customers. When customers don’t receive attention, need to wait in long lines, or receive rude service, they are much less likely to come back to your establishment.

According to a Zendesk survey, 73% of consumers will go to a competitor after receiving poor service. We believe this is an understatement. Think about it this way: how many times have you come back to a restaurant that had lousy service or to a store with rude employees? We guess that you didn’t look back.

AI workforce scheduling software optimizes customer service in two ways:

  • It schedules enough staff based on business demand to minimize long waiting times and avoid unattended customers.
  • It schedules employees fairly so they don’t work too many shifts in a row, lack breaks, or have unattended requests.

9. Improved employee well-being

While it’s difficult to optimize something so multifaceted as employee well-being, AI can indirectly improve employee productivity, help them produce more, and enhance service quality.

When employees can select their working preferences and schedules based on their other responsibilities, such as morning classes or parental days off, they tend to appreciate their employer more. This appreciation translates into more productivity and a positive attitude towards the company.

How to put employee preferences with OPTAS: OPTAS simplifies data entry even for the staff members who aren’t tech-savvy. It’s up to you whether you allow your staff to input preferences themselves or receive their requests separately and fill them out on their behalf.

10. Spotless compliance with labor laws

Labor laws are important in ensuring fair conditions for your team. But let’s be real: these laws can be challenging to implement. One thing is to schedule your team, trying not to overbook them or forget to give them enough breaks. Another one is to keep up with your local labor law changes and manage teams across different countries.

Automated scheduling systems can optimize labor law compliance in two ways:

  • Spotting labor requirement offenses and notifying you about them when you create a schedule manually.
  • Creating schedules with requirements already applied.

This way, you don’t need to worry about hefty fines and other responsibilities because the system takes care of everything.

How does OPTAS keep up with labor laws: After creating a schedule, you might notice orange and red lines. Orange lines point out details that need your attention. For example, if you’ve scheduled someone on the day they were supposed to be off work.

Red lines warn about labor law violations, for example, if you scheduled someone to come on a night shift and right after that to a morning shift or if you exceeded their contracted hours for the month. By clicking on the warning, you can see detailed information about the error.

11. Workforce analytics

Excel graphs aren’t what modern businesses use for their analytics. To optimize your business intelligence, you shouldn’t need to gather and input data yourself.

AI staff schedulers collect data automatically and export it into comprehensive reports. Use reports and statistics to optimize payroll, evaluate employees, and make smarter decisions when it comes to your team and hiring new members.

Analyze your workforce with OPTAS: Even before you finish making a schedule, you can click Statistics to see how many shifts you should schedule each day and whether you did it right. After the month is finished, export it in Excel format or use a filter to download selected employee schedules.

Is it difficult to start using AI employee scheduling software in your business?

Many associate AI with high-end technologies. But, the main purpose of AI is to make your work simpler, not more difficult.

The right software makes scheduling easier without needing knowledge about AI technologies because the system creator takes care of that.

That’s why having a responsive service provider and dedicated customer support team is key. They can easily answer your questions and help you understand features and functionalities better. Most high-quality AI software providers also deliver informational resources and onboarding sessions for your team to ease the transition from manual to fully automated scheduling.

It’s one of the reasons why fully automated solutions are better than, let’s say, Excel. When you have trouble using these universal tools, it can take days for you to receive personalized and detailed customer support. Smaller software providers offer timely and personalized assistance.

How does AI handle sensitive employee and business data?

Personal employee and business data is confidential and has to be handled with care. OPTAS automated employee scheduling software ensures the highest data security standard.

We are GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) compliant, meaning the system handles, stores, and deletes employee data according to the GDPR requirements. That takes more pressure off your shoulders, as you don’t need to worry about data management yourself and fear for GDPR violations.

Is AI workforce scheduling software necessary for my team?

It depends. Before you commit to a service, consider how much of a challenge employee scheduling is right now. If you have to schedule a large team every month, if you’ve ever received a warning or a fine due to labor law violations, or if your team is dissatisfied with how things are in your company, then yes – using AI employee scheduling is valuable and worth it. It can help you solve these problems and avoid them in the future.

On the other hand, if you’re managing only a couple of employees, investing in sophisticated tools can be an overstretch. Ultimately, automating employee scheduling is a long-term plan, and the benefits are most visible when you manage mid-sized and large teams.

How can you automate employee scheduling with OPTAS?

Do you think AI could make your employee scheduling processes faster, cheaper, and easier? Then let’s talk. OPTAS is a fully automated employee scheduling software. We’re working on a big goal – making employee scheduling more manageable.

We know the pain of managing a large team. With OPTAS, you get a solution with the features necessary for fully automating and simplifying scheduling. If that’s something you want to try – let’s arrange a discovery call.

During the call, we want to hear all your concerns about your current scheduling challenges to help us find the right solution for you. We’ll demonstrate how OPTAS could optimize your work, and if you like what you see, we’ll get you ready in no time.

Eglė Račkauskaitė
November 27th, 2023