The evolution of employee scheduling: A look at past, present and future


5 min read

The evolution of employee scheduling: A look at past, present and future


    The evolution of employee scheduling: A look at past, present and future

    Technology has given us so much; from information at our fingertips to new ways of communicating and having unlimited entertainment options. But it's also made life easier for businesses - especially when it comes to employee scheduling. 

    Planning multiple rotas without conflicting schedules is no easy feat, but employee scheduling software makes it a breeze for managers and saves businesses valuable time. 

    Undoubtedly, this form of workforce management will continue to grow as more companies utilise it - but why is employee scheduling software so important? 

    To understand its current and future application, we have to hop into our virtual time machine. We're travelling back to when computers took up half of the office, and the average movie night involved an hour-long trip to Blockbuster Video. 

    Ready? Let's do this. 

    The past: From paper schedules to early digital systems 

    In the past, staff schedules were created with nothing more than a piece of paper and a pencil. Managers or HR departments would spend hours each month manually calculating working hours and ensuring each employee got the right number of shifts. 

    The traditional schedule would go up on the wall, and employees would have to write down their shifts. 

    If you're thinking, 'well, that doesn't seem so bad', imagine what it would be like to create schedules for companies with more than 10 employees. 

    These days, much more efficient ways of scheduling exist, yet 50% of small businesses are still using the pen and paper method to create schedules, track time and log attendance.  

    The drawbacks of paper-based scheduling 

    The benefit of paper schedules is they're cheaper. There's no denying that paper and a pencil cost less than software - but the drawbacks of paperwork schedules far outweigh the cost benefits. 

    Let's take a look at them. 


    Manual schedules equate to plenty of room for error, especially considering how challenging it is to balance numerous contracts and employee requirements. 

    Even the slightest error could make a significant difference - especially if employees are double booked for shifts. 


    In today's workplace, technology reigns supreme, and automation allows managers and HR departments to focus on other areas of the business. But this wasn't an option in the past, and staff scheduling could take hours to manage. 

    When you think about what those hours could have been spent on, it's clear that software can improve productivity and give managers more freedom. 

    No room for rapid changes 

    Absences are expected in any business, but a traditional paper and pencil system often means that it's impossible to make changes and keep everyone in the loop. 

    Employees might request the same holiday dates, and the general lack of on-demand information was challenging for everyone. 

    Software lets companies be completely transparent with their schedules so everyone knows where they're meant to be, making life easier for managers. 

    No useful data 

    Perhaps the best thing about software is that it allows companies to gain valuable data about productivity and absences. Businesses didn't have this option in the past, and any data collection would be done manually. 

    The task would take many hours, but software alerts you to problem departments, scheduling conflicts and under-performing employees with the touch of a button. 

    Poor employee experience 

    Every good business knows that its team defines future growth and success. Without a dedicated and productive workforce, the company would remain stagnant. 

    Employee scheduling is one of the top three conflicts that cause people to leave their job (Glassdoor). In the past, people would have to request a shift change, and managers were reluctant to grant permission due to the extra hassle it would cause. 

    Today, businesses utilising scheduling software can offer their employees more flexibility, which creates a better experience for everyone. 

    The evolution of digital systems 

    In many ways, the Digital Revolution was similar to the Industrial Revolution because it changed life as people knew it. By the 1980s, technology was finding its place and changing the average office in numerous ways. 

    Staff scheduling technology was still in its infancy, but it would offer more convenient business solutions. 

    While these solutions had many drawbacks, they paved the way for the modern technology we know and love today. 

    Punch cards and magnetic tape 

    The punch card goes back to the early 1700s, but it was officially used as a form of employee scheduling years later. IBM was a key figure in developing business attendance monitoring units, where employees would clock in using their punch cards. 

    By the late 1950s, numerous companies were utilising punch cards, and they continued to get more sophisticated. 

    Of course, while these cards were valuable for employers to monitor absences or late employees, they didn't offer helpful reports or automation features, so employers would still have to go through attendance records manually. 

    Magnetic tape also played an essential role in creating digital scheduling systems, but the system only became popular when combined with computer technology. 

    The spreadsheet 

    While there were spreadsheet options in the 1980s, most people associate spreadsheets with Microsoft Excel. The tool proved vital for businesses and was a worthy alternative to traditional staff scheduling methods. 

    Formulas also allowed managers to determine how many hours each employee worked and identify absence patterns. 

    However, using Microsoft Excel for employee scheduling required a great deal of expertise, and it was still a time-consuming task. 

    Point of Sale systems 

    Point of Sales (POS) systems were initially designed to hold information on customers and make sales. By the late 90s and early 2000s providers were learning to implement staff scheduling solutions into the generic system. 

    However, while the systems could gather information on employees, such as sales made, hours worked and tips collected, that data wasn't accessible to everyone, and people could only access it through the POS system. 

    Also, all data was inputted manually, which meant there was room for errors and employees were still left in the dark. 

    Online scheduling systems 

    By 2004, internet technology was taking off, with broadband quickly surpassing dial-up internet and more businesses going fully digital. Cloud-based software was in its infancy, but some solutions allowed companies to manage their staffing needs. 

    The biggest issue with the software was its accessibility. Fewer people could utilise it because most solutions required technical expertise. 

    So, while businesses could use this new software, they'd often have to pay for training or hire a specialist to manage the system. 

    The present: cloud-based employee scheduling 

    The cloud has existed since the 1960s but gained popularity with large businesses in the late 1990s. Mobile technology, which was once very basic, with standard texting and calling functions, ultimately changed the way we work, as more mobile phones gained internet browsing functionalities. 

    WiFi made it easier for businesses to shift to online systems, and Amazon and Google brought cloud computing to mainstream audiences. 

    We've seen many software solutions in the past decade, including budgeting tools, payroll software, HR software and cloud storage. One of the most promising tools is the cloud-based employee scheduling system. These solutions ensure businesses can streamline their staff scheduling needs and gain valuable insights into their team's performance. 

    Today's cloud-based scheduling solutions, such as Planday, offer numerous benefits. Let's take a look at them. 


    Every business has unique staffing needs; balancing them with employee satisfaction is no easy feat. With scheduling software, you can automate rotas based on staff availability and contracted hours to ensure no conflicts. 

    In the past, this would have taken hours - but the software lets you perform all tasks required at the touch of a button. 

    Flexible work schedules 

    Employee happiness is everything; high staff turnover rates often lead to lost productivity and profits. Research by People Keep highlights that new employees can take up to two years to become productive as long-term employees. 

    If you can offer your team flexibility, they're more likely to give you their loyalty. From providing flexible schedules and remote work to allowing employees to manage their own shift swapping, workforce management software offers a better experience for workers. 

    Accurate insights 

    Never underestimate the importance of viable data. It doesn't just give you concrete facts; it can help you make smart decisions. Employee scheduling software will provide on-demand reports based on absences, scheduling conflicts and productivity. 

    Scheduling software will highlight if recurrent absences impact your business, giving you time to fix those issues. 

    Real-time updates 

    The great thing about scheduling software is that it has full automation features that allow managers to focus on other business areas. 

    You have complete control over the updates you receive, including when a staff member reports as sick or if you're not compliant with HR scheduling laws. 

    These updates don't just offer convenience; they can stop your business from getting into legal trouble. 

    What does the future hold for staff scheduling software? 

    From the 1980s and onwards, society has witnessed many changes and impressive milestones, with artificial intelligence being one of the most impressive. With its superior features and ease of use, AI has fundamentally changed how people work. 

    Here's how it could continue to benefit businesses in the future. 

    Smart schedules 

    Machine learning can predict patterns based on previous behaviours, so automating employee schedules is easy. 

    AI could take things a step further, though, by examining patterns within your business and recommending the best employees for specific shifts. 

    Big data 

    Perhaps the biggest benefit of AI applications in software is its ability to dive deep and share valuable insights that would otherwise require a specialist data analyst. 

    These insights can help businesses identify patterns and make intelligent data-driven decisions without needing to bring in an expert. 

    Better still, AI might lack creativity - but it offers accuracy when analysing data. Humans make errors, especially when dealing with large data sets, but AI will continue to improve accuracy. 

    Promoting equality 

    Mental health is a big – and growing – concern for employers, with more than 12% of staff absences caused by depression, stress and anxiety (Mental Health Foundation).

    Feeling like valued employees can make a significant difference to your team’s quality of life. Scheduling software can help with this, for example, making sure each worker is getting equal treatment, such as scheduling weekends or important holidays off. 

    The bottom line 

    Employee scheduling software will continue to streamline HR and management operations - and we can expect even more innovation and growth in the future. For now, though, it serves as a valuable tool to improve the employee experience, make workplace management easier for employers and ensure businesses remain competitive in crowded markets.

    As AI and machine learning continue to advance, we can look forward to more capabilities, and Planday will be at the forefront of those changes. 

    Achieve more with Planday 

    With so many staff scheduling tools available today, knowing which one is right for your needs can be challenging. There's no right or wrong answer here! It's about choosing the platform that makes the most sense for your business size and employee requirements. 

    One tool that's making waves is Planday, a full-service employee scheduling system that allows managers to make quick decisions and give their employees more flexibility. 

    Our platform’s most-loved features, include: 

    • Real-time reports: You control what you want to see, and the software will do the rest. Immediate updates on absences? Compliance issues? Overstaffed or understaffed shifts? Planday has you covered.  
    • Mobile functionality: As a cloud-based platform, Planday works on all devices and can even log remote working hours. Your team can access the mobile punch clock from anywhere, meaning you can always monitor attendance records. 
    • Seamless integrations: Planday lets you integrate with many of your favourite tools .. Connect it to your payroll software and enjoy a more efficient and unified experience. 
    • Effective communication: If remote workers are logging on across multiple countries, you need to ensure everyone can communicate. The cloud-based software allows people to do this – wherever they are. 
    • Boost productivity: A productive team is a successful team. Planday allows you to monitor each employee's attendance record and identify areas for improvement. 

    If you'd like to see how Planday can help future-proof your business, why not book a free trial? You get to try the scheduling software for 30 days – with no obligation to continue. Here’s a free demo that shows you how to use Planday to enhance your business.

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