November 26, 2014

Online Scheduling Review: Shiftboard Keeps Schedules Up to Date

Shiftboard is an online scheduling system for small to medium-sized companies and organizations.  You use it to schedule worker shifts. That worker could be a paid employee or a volunteer. Like many of our reviews, Shiftboard is a software-as-a-service application. No download or install required.

For another recent review, I suggested you go straight to the testimonials page. I suggest the same with Shiftboard Case Studies. I consider this information first because it tells the story from a customer’s perspective.

Yes, they are often marketing-speak.  But the good thing in a real case study is the customer has to approve it, so you don’t often get spam-type comments. Customers put their reputation on the line when they agree to a case study, so they carry more weight in my book. From healthcare staffing to international film festivals, 25 users to 10,000-plus end users, there was a good range of examples.

The company gave me a Web demo last week for this review. Full disclosure: I was an early angel investor (note: very small) in this company, but that is not how Small Business Trends selected them to be reviewed.

How many open shifts do I have for next week?

Online scheduling is different from calendaring.  It is driven by critical business rules:

  • How many positions are required to be scheduled at a given time?
  • Who has seniority and gets first dibs on a particular shift?
  • What happens when someone cancels?
  • Is the worker trained for this situation?
  • Which workers are approaching the overtime limit?
  • And similar questions.

One of the things that stood out in this demo was the reporting. You can create a forward-looking forecast of who is working and when, thus giving a snapshot into what your scheduling, costs, and labor needs are for the week (or any time period). It also could look back, of course, and see similar info, by shift, by team, by location, by worker. The report section is a series of seven drop down menus (in the example company I was in) plus the date range selection tool making it clear what is available for a report. Then it gave me the ability to summarize by team, by account, by role. If you’ve ever tried to keep a staff schedule up-to-date in a spreadsheet, and then pull it together into some sort of meeting report, you know immediately what I mean.

Online Scheduling Reporting by Shiftboard

The only downside in the reporting module that I noticed was that I couldn’t create a complex custom report and save it to re-run it later. I could select from a wide range of existing reports about specific shifts, about people, about an account (if you are a staffing agency, the client where you have staff is an example of an account), but I couldn’t create a custom one. According to Shiftboard, enabling complex combination reporting is a fall 2009 priority.

Since I’m writing about downsides, the other one is they do not offer a free trial. Even so, it is a pretty affordable system starting at $50/month (for up to 25 active users) on a month-to-month commitment, so you can cancel at any time.

From an employee perspective, Shiftboard is an empowering system. Workers can see their schedule, any time, anywhere. They can self-select shifts that you make available. Some companies only assign shifts, but you can, as the scheduling manager allow a worker to select from open shifts directly. As a worker, I can release a shift and it instantly shows up as available for someone else to pick up (again, if that’s allowed by your settings). Talk about a scheduler’s dream. This could cut my workload in half, as a business owner, and free me up for more selling or other important tasks.

As a manager, your first impression might be, “Whoa, I don’t want my workers to have that much control.” But, think about it for just a moment: How much of your day do you spend trying to figure out who is working where and when? One of the beauties of a truly robust scheduling system is you can assign everyone’s schedule or you can let workers pick up shifts or some mix of the two (as they like, with certain criteria set by you). Shiftboard does any of these easily.

Online Scheduling Week View Screenshot by Shiftboard

Red is open, green is assigned (as in red, stop, pay attention).  At a glance, you can see which shifts are full and which need attention. They also had an hourly view, which I really liked, because I could scan down the shifts and see if I had proper coverage for my busiest times of the day. They told me they built this module for call center scheduling and event management companies (think sports stadiums, professional events, or political events) where you have hourly workers like inbound tech support workers, or bartenders at a catered event.

Online Scheduling Hourly View by Shiftboard

What Shiftboard Does – and Does Not Do

Shiftboard is not a calendar. Calendaring is a shared system that often relies on email updates you pass back and forth to keep the calendar item synchronized (like Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook). It almost always demands time consuming interaction between you and the other party.

If all you want to do is allow your customers to see your schedule and book appointments with you, check out Timedriver.com or Bookfresh.com (formerly called HourTown). These systems allow you to make your calendar available on the web and notify you (via email or SMS) when someone books an appointment. There are literally dozens of calendaring applications that sync to your Outlook or Google calendars.

End Users do not Need Training

When CEO Rob Eleveld gave me the demo, he said, “end users do not need training.”  I rolled my eyes, not realizing that little expression would get under his skin. Most of Shiftboard’s customers have distributed workforces that don’t come into central offices. The “no training except self-help on the site” is a critical requirement they obviously spent a lot of time refining. He paused the demo and shared some real-life examples.

Mollen Immunization Clinics had 1,500 nurses self-scheduling in 11 states last fall to provide flu shots, and none of the end users received training. This year Mollen is rolling out nationally with more than 5 times the nurses, and obviously they cannot provide training. Event management is another large segment Shiftboard serves and he named 15 customers on the West Coast that don’t provide any training to end-users. These included large organizations like the Los Angeles and Seattle International Film Festivals and a well known music festival, Bumbershoot, all of which have 800-1500 workers. I cried uncle at that point and asked him to get back to showing me the software.

Back in the application, from what I could see, simplicity for end users means reducing what they see to the bare minimum. In one screen, I could see the three things I would care most about as a worker: select/accept a shift, view/print the calendar, and update some basic contact information. Okay, so the “no training” part seems realistic to me now.

Who Shiftboard is Best For

Shiftboard is best for companies employing 10 workers and up, with distributed workforces (i.e., they don’t work in a central office).

The kinds of businesses that use it include call centers, per diem staffing companies, event management, catering & hospitality, courier & taxi services, security services, moving & warehousing, and non-profits working with volunteers.

Finally, if you want to take some of the load off your scheduling manager or yourself as the owner, Shiftboard can let workers self-schedule online.

Learn more about online scheduling by Shiftboard.

14 Comments ▼

TJ McCue - Product Editor


TJ McCue TJ McCue served as Technology/Product Review Editor for Small Business Trends for many years and now contributes on 3D technologies. He is currently traveling the USA on the 3DRV roadtrip and writes at the Refine Digital blog.

14 Reactions

  1. Thanks TJ – I have to say that I know nothing about this kind of software, but your review has left me fairly well informed. Overall I’ve been really impressed with the number of SaaS applications out there. So much so that I’m working in getting as much of my business on an SaaS platform as possible. Thanks for this wonderful review.

  2. TJ: How would you compare this kind of program with a project management tool?

  3. Sounds interesting, Glad to be updated with the latest softwares beneficial to Businesses. Thanks for the in-depth review!

  4. @Ivana — Online scheduling is just one of the many SaaS plays out there. Thanks for taking a close look at the Shiftboard review. Let me know what other SaaS plays you’ve looked at.

    @Martin — I wouldn’t compare it to a project management tool. I’ll go out on a limb, since I’m not an expert, that you can certainly “handle” project details by way of how you manage/handle shifts and people’s use of them. Better would be to use Smartsheet or one of the other online project tools out there. I think you saw my review on Smartsheet a few weeks ago, but here it is just in case. http://smallbiztrends.com/2009/08/smartsheet-online-spreadsheets-for-project-collaboration.html

    Going further, I guess the Call Center case study at Shiftboard might give you some ideas on how shorter chunks of time get managed. http://www.shiftboard.com/casestudies/aop.html I read this one in prep for the review and it seemed to cover the hourly need of a call center (which in my view is project oriented). Let me know what you think.

    @RedHotFranchises — Glad to be of service. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts about the review.

  5. I tend to be a little sarcastic- so here is my disclaimer- sarcasm on the way. I was watching the news tonight when my eight year old came into the room.

  6. This sounds great! Thanks so much for reviewing this in such detail. I can see how this can be of value to so many companies with mobile staff or just a desire to better coordinate and cover their workload.

    I do see value in being able to copy complex reports and use them for planning so it will be great when the company gets that done.

  7. This is exactly the kind of software solution I am encouraging my clients to move towards. Cost effective, no contracts, distributed… Well done. I am looking forward to finding the first client to access this.

  8. I appreciate your review; it’s very detailed and helps to shed light on the complexities of using this type of software by businesses.

  9. While this is certainly a good step forward in shift scheduling, it doesn’t go quite as far as it could: at the end of the day, you still have to make the schedule yourself, it just happens to be in a digital spreadsheet already. Another option, which my company uses, is EZShift. EZShift’s advantage is that it automatically creates error-free shift schedules for you based on rules for shifts (for instance, the minimum amount of time between the end of a worker’s shift and the beginning of his next shift) and characteristics of employees (for instance, number of years of experience), as well as the employees’ listed shift preferences. EZShift can also be used for managers and employees to communicate with each other regarding shift preferences, schedules and last-minute changes. The whole system is designed to save your company hours of time they would otherwise waste on making a good shift schedule.

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