Despite decades of technological progress and the emergence of software for virtually every conceivable need, some managers still prefer to create their work schedules with pen and paper.


That's all right, I guess. That's how things have been done for a very long time, so it has some utility. This straightforward system continues to work as long as you are familiar with the needs of both your employees and your company. In addition, no prior knowledge of computer programs or software is required to use it.


What about the possibility of utilising free employee scheduling software? Here's the top 10 free roster software options but read on below for more detail on each:


  1. Excel Rostering
  2. Microsoft Word
  3. Dropbox
  4. Google Sheets
  5. Google Docs
  6. Email
  7. Microsoft Outlook
  8. Google Drive
  9. Trello
  10. Group Chat Apps
  11. A better option? (this one is a bonus)


But let's start with the bad news, as with any software, there will be a learning curve. Free employee scheduling software is no different when it comes to learning the ins and outs.


It may seem not very easy at first, but it will become second nature once you become familiar with it. Using free team scheduling software also assumes that most of your employees have internet access and a device that they can use to get online.


Now, let's look at the benefits of using free staff rostering software. Here are some of the fantastic things that employee scheduling software can do for you:


Each time you create a schedule, it automatically saves itself. Use a previous week's schedule as a template, then make necessary adjustments, such as time-off requests, before sending out the new schedule.


When you send the schedule electronically, it is instantly distributed. There's no need to find out if your employees have seen the new schedule. When using software, the schedule is immediately received after being sent.





Easily and quickly adjusts to any necessary changes. A new version of the schedule can be instantly sent out after the changes are made.


Reduce the amount of paper your company uses. This saves money while also assisting in reducing paper waste, both of which are beneficial for the environment.


All of these advantages can be had with even the most basic of software... Furthermore, industry-specific advanced rostering software is capable of far more than previously thought.


In this case, the software wins out over pen and paper because it offers all the advantages of the pen-and-paper method plus some. While there is a learning curve, using free employee scheduling software will save you time and money in the long run.


Let's take a closer look at the features you should look for in a scheduling application.


There are several factors to consider when putting together your schedule. Any free employee scheduling software worth it is salt should account for those shifting factors as well.


Here are a few variables that your employee scheduling software should be able to handle.


  • For each shift, your roster needs to handle your company's varying needs. On a weeknight shift, you might only need four servers on the floor, but on a Friday or Saturday night, you might need ten.


  • Employee availability is essential. Some people are only available at night, while others are only available during the day. You'll also want to consider whether each employee is part-time or full-time and ensure they're getting the correct number of shifts.


  • The positions for which each person is qualified. You probably have employees who can work in a variety of roles, such as host or busser. However, you don't want to put someone in a position they haven't been trained. Make sure there isn't a busser behind the bar.


  • Requests for time off. This one has the potential to wreak havoc on your schedule. Making the work schedule becomes even more difficult if several of your most valuable employees have all requested time off at the same time.


  • Special events that may have an impact on the number of people you'll need on a given shift. Everything needs to be considered, from holidays to local festivals to graduation weekends to national sporting events.


  • Award Interpretation ability. Your chosen system should automatically calculate employee costs, allowances, and modified rates for overtime and public holidays.


  • A genuinely excellent employee rostering software should also alert you when there is a potential problem, in addition to all the above. For instance, if an employee is scheduled for too many shifts and required to work overtime, this should be made clear if changes are needed.


So, what program can complete all of these tasks? Let's look at top 10 free roster software options and see which one will best assist you in overcoming your employee scheduling challenge.




1) Excel Rostering


Excel has become a more popular software for scheduling and rostering. When it comes to creating a schedule, Excel doesn't have the formatting limitations that Word does. You can resize rows, columns, and even individual cells in Excel.


So, while it's a lot more flexible especially as a mobile excel rostering tool, it still has the same distribution issues as the previous entries, which means it's not the best option. You can either print and distribute your Excel schedule or send it to your employees via email.


Excel was created to be a database and accounting program. It excels at these tasks (no pun intended). It can be used as a scheduling tool, just like Word, but it's still best at crunching numbers.



2) Word 


Microsoft Word (or another word processing program) is essentially a computerised version of pen and paper. Word processors were designed with the written word in mind, not with scheduling in mind.


Sure, it'll do the job, but you'll have to put in a lot of time and effort to get it right and make it collaborative.


Even if you decide to use Microsoft Word as your free rostering tool, it isn't particularly well suited to mass distribution. A Word document, like pen and paper, requires an additional step to get into the hands of your employee.


Printing and posting it or handing it out could be the next step. It could be as simple as sending an email to all of your employees (as we'll see below). Regardless of your decision, it's yet another step that adds to the difficulty of your life.


While a Word document is more user-friendly than pen and paper, it is still not the most user-friendly tool available. Formatting a Word document to reflect your company's work schedule can be a time-consuming process that can take hours upon hours to complete.


Furthermore, updating a Word document necessitates resending the entire document and ensuring that everyone receives the updated version.


Also, you will not receive a Word document informing you that you have scheduled someone to work during a time when they are unavailable. Yes, a Word document is an improvement over pen and paper, but it's only a minor one.


While it is essentially free, there are undoubtedly better free alternatives. Continue reading to learn more.



3) Dropbox


Dropbox can also help you distribute your schedule more easily. Dropbox lets you create your schedule first, then upload it to the service, where you can control who has access to it.


Afterwards, Dropbox can be instructed to send email, text, and various other notification methods to all parties involved to notify your employees of the new schedule.


It has an advantage over email in that it can be read by people who don't check their inbox as frequently. It's just another step in the long process of scheduling, just like email.


Is it possible to streamline both the production and distribution processes? To learn more, continue reading.



4) Google Sheets


When it comes to scheduling, Google Sheets is very similar to Excel in that it allows you to resize rows, columns, and cells, which makes it much easier to format your calendar. And the use of colour-coded blocks, which clearly show who is who makes it easier to track who is doing what.


Sharing the document with specific users makes it easy to distribute Google Sheets, just like Docs. These users will be able to access the document at any time.


With Sheets being much more accessible to manipulate for scheduling purposes than Docs, it's the clear winner when it comes to free scheduling apps. Are there any other possibilities?



5) Google Docs


When it comes to creating an employee schedule, there is no better tool than Google Docs. Your document is created entirely online. It's been uploaded to the cloud. Additionally, you have control over who has access to a particular file.


Then, like Dropbox, you can notify all of your employees using a variety of methods.


Then you can access your document from anywhere at any time. To view or print the schedule, your employees use Google's document editor (which is available almost everywhere).


While Google Docs has made it much easier to distribute documents, the quality of the creation still needs to be improved. Google Docs, like Microsoft Word, was designed for writing text-based documents like letters and reports.


Consequently, rather than making your scheduling process easier, its most powerful features are geared toward assisting you in those areas instead



6) Email 


To put it another way, consider how you distribute your schedule to your employees. Indeed, you can post or hand out your plan in person but sending your schedule by email is much more convenient.


A mailing list or group containing all your employees can be created by simply clicking "Send." Your schedule can be attached to the mailing list or group. Making use of it is a breeze. A large number of people can be reached quickly with it as well.


The fact that it's simple doesn't necessarily mean it's the best option for getting your schedules out there. Due to the prevalence of texting, instant messaging, and chit-chatting, many people rarely, if ever, check their email accounts these days.



7) Microsoft Outlook


Microsoft Outlook, for example, is an excellent alternative to paper and pencil, word processors, and spreadsheets, as well as their online counterparts. And it's likely that you already have a version of Microsoft Outlook installed on your computer.


What, then, makes Microsoft Outlook a workable option for free employee scheduling applications?


Because it was designed with scheduling in mind, Microsoft Outlook’s Calendar is much more flexible. It's easy to change the date or time of day or week or month or year because they're already there.


There are no complicated steps to create tasks or appointments; instead, you select a time slot and label it as needed.


Outlook is a big step forward, but it's not the best option for free (or paid) employee scheduling software.


The fact that Outlook was designed for use by a single person is one factor in its success. As a result, scheduling more employees than you can count on one hand can be a hassle.


Furthermore, Microsoft Outlook was not developed with complicated scheduling practices such as overlapping shifts, rotating shifts, night shifts, and so on in mind. The purpose of this device is to allow one person to be in two places simultaneously.


Because it's not cloud-based, Microsoft Outlook runs into the same distribution issues that have rendered word processors and spreadsheet programs like Word and Excel obsolete.


To be clear, this does not rule out the possibility of making them work. The problem is that there are better free employee scheduling software options available.




8) Google Drive


It's also a good idea to look at Google Drive as a scheduling tool. You can easily share your schedule with a large number of employees using Drive if you're creating it in Word, Excel, PDF, Google Docs, or Google Sheets.


If you use Google Drive, you can create shared folders and grant access to those folders to only certain people.


You can put the schedule in a single folder that is accessible to all employees. You may want to separate your server files into their folder. The kitchen staff can have their section, bartenders, hosts and hostesses, and managers.


An email address is all that's required to set up access permissions to these folders. As a result, your employees can access the data from any smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer with a web browser


Despite its popularity, Google Drive only addresses the issue of distribution within your scheduling process at this time. It doesn't make putting together the schedule any easier.


Yes, you can build your work schedule using one of the other free employee scheduling software tools listed above. However, as we've seen, those don't make things much easier.



9) Trello


Trello is another free tool you can use to organise your team more efficiently. Trello is a web-based list-making application that enables you and your employees to work together to accomplish more.


The flexible and rewarding nature of Trello's boards, lists, and cards allow you to organise and prioritise work projects easily and quickly. Trello boards are similar to Google Drive in that you can create them for different departments within your company and grant access to the board to various members.


There are numerous apps on this list that are integrated with Trello, so you can customise them to meet the specific business requirements of your team.


Trello syncs across all of your devices so you can work with your team from wherever you are.


Trello even works in real-time, so no matter what device you're using, when someone moves a card, it also carries on your board.


Members can be added, labels can be assigned, checklists can be created, deadlines can be set, discussions can be started, and many other options are available within the Trello cards themselves.


Despite this, Trello is more of an organisational tool than a full-service employee rostering system. While Trello cards allow you to attach documents, spreadsheets, and other types of files, the service is more of a distribution channel than an app for organising your schedule.


Trello does have a calendar tool, but unlike Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar, it wasn't built to coordinate more than two people. If you have three or more employees, you can make it work, but it will be tedious and confusing to go through.


When you can use the power of an app designed specifically to remove all the issues and make organising your team one of the most accessible jobs you've got, there's no need to add any more complications to the scheduling process.


At the end of this article, we'll take a closer look at the best free employee scheduling software tool.



10) Group Chat Apps


The distribution of the staff roster to all members of your team is one of the most challenging tasks you'll face as a manager. You must think about issues such as:


  • What's the most efficient way to distribute rosters to all employees?
  • Are physical copies the most efficient and time-saving option?
  • Has email been set up for them, and how often do they use it?
  • What's the simplest way to make the schedule available, such as Dropbox?


Probability 1: You'll discover that your answers to the preceding questions are not the best ones. This is because your employees aren't regular users of Dropbox outside of the workplace.


This is the new way to communicate with your friends: using group chat applications like WhatsApp or WeChat.


Instead of using a new app, why not use one they're already familiar with? That's when group chat apps come into their own.


Group chat apps have the distinct advantage of enabling you to send and receive messages (texts) with any or all your employees without having to pay SMS fees. You can use the app to instantly distribute your schedule to all your coworkers and family members.


Mobile devices with cell service are required for group chat apps, so be aware of that. To reach employees who don't have smartphones, you'll need to devise a different strategy.


Using a group chat app, you can easily share your schedule with your coworkers.


Assume you created your schedule in Excel or Word. Using Dropbox, you can save the completed document and then share the Dropbox link with your coworkers via a group chat app. If you'd instead use a pen and paper schedule, you can snap a photo of it and send it to the group via the group chat app.


This method of disseminating the schedule allows you to reach every member of your team at once.


This solution isn't perfect (we'll talk about an ideal solution at the end of the article), but it gets around the drawbacks of using three different tools (such as Word, Dropbox, and a group chat tool) at once.


For your employees, the advantages of using a combination of free tools include instant communication and ease of use. This has the disadvantage of forcing all of your employees to use the same set of tools.


They'll have to download them and then figure out how to use them once they've got them downloaded. Given their familiarity with messaging apps like WhatsApp, this shouldn't be a problem, but it could be made even more accessible.


It's a bit excessive to expect your employees to download three different programs to view their schedules.


Before anything else, they'll need to become proficient with them. Also, the learning curve for some applications (such as Excel) can be steep. Second, those applications eat up valuable storage space on the users' computers.


Texting a link would be much more convenient. For the last and best free employee scheduling tool on this list, we've used that premise.


Employees can access a cloud-based document from anywhere by following a link you provide them with.


Instead of downloading a slew of time- and memory-consuming apps, users can use a straightforward app. Without a learning curve that could make it difficult to access and read the staff schedules. All you need is one-click or one-tap access to your plan.


A better option?


One such system is RosterElf’s Magically Simple Staff Rostering System. Now although this is not a free option the pricing is very affordable and quickly offset by the time saving benefits of the system.


Imagine never having to call around all your staff members because they all had submitted their availability via the iOS or Android app? Imagine staff being able to initiate shift swaps that are filled with an automatic Perfect Match system?


And after the shifts have been completed, the staff have used the automated GPS clock in-out system and all the data has been recorded, the Award Interpretation engine calculates the correct wages and pushed it all through to your chosen accounting system with coded Payroll Integration.




Life couldn’t be better!


In the end you need to pick a solution that is right for your business and for your team. Whichever way you go improving the rostering system in your business will return dividends. Better systems mean happier staff, more automation means less work for the business owner and managers, and better scheduling means more effective shift cover.


Happy Rostering!