The future of scheduling?

A few months ago the restaurant I work at (and who my opinions in no way represent) began using the Hot Schedules program for scheduling.  For those of you not familiar with this system, it is a web based system for scheduling employees.  It is experiencing incredibly rapid growth and is becoming more commonplace within the restaurant industry.  I have waited to become acclimated with the system before writing about it.  These are my thoughts as a user of this system.

There were difficulties in launching the program.  It took a few weeks to work out all the bugs from the time the system was adopted.  One of the primary difficulties was employees without access to the internet.  I work at a restaurant where the servers make well above the national average.  Some servers whether by choice or financial difficulties do not have a computer at home.  Many cooks and bussers also had the same difficulties.  Some companies accommodate for this problem by having the system set up to allow their staff to access this system through their POS terminals.  Mine does not.  This should be taken as a disclaimer.  Choosing to allow that access would remedy a great number of the issues I will address in this review.

Read the full post at The Manager’s Office

When visiting the Hot Schedules website they offer four significant advantages to their system: communication, time savings, reduced turnover, and labor cost controls.  I will address the program using the same criteria to give both advantages and disadvantages.

Communication: Any hot schedules user can send messages to any other user or to all users.  A message can also be sent to any subgroup (servers, hosts, etc) within the system.  Each message sent requires checking a disclaimer box stating you will be responsible for messages sent through the system.  This allows for managers to communicate with employees about promotions or a server to send a mass message to other servers to get shifts covered.  These messages are copied to the recipient’s email and sent via text message if the recipient chooses.

In other words it is just like facebook, twitter, or email.  Some people have none of those and if the temptation to see the pictures from last Saturday night on facebook or forwarded emails from their Aunt weren’t enough to get them online, this won’t be either.  For those people who are routinely online it is just one more account to have to check on a regular basis.  Sending a mass email would have a greater likelihood of being read quickly and can be done for free.

Communication is also a two edged sword. All users, including management, must use diplomacy and judgment.  Nothing says “welcome home” like returning from vacation to find hostile messages waiting for you chastising you for poor customer feedback during your absence.  The text message feature is a bonus, but this means that a shift change will result in three text messages (confirming you released it, confirming someone else picked it up, and confirming it has been approved).  I am not aware of any co-workers who still have the text message feature active after the onslaught of texts lead to our phones blowing up like 12 year old girls at a sleepover.

Time Savings: On their website, the company claims that managers typically report a 75% reduction in the time it takes to write a schedule.  Having written more than a few schedules myself over the years I can attest to the time it can consume.  Having all of the requests off and availabilities in one place would be very convenient.  The system allows servers to make these requests and update them up until the schedule is posted.  It also takes the place of managers having to approve shift changes by hand.

The managers who report a 75% time reduction must have had a horrendous system in place before.  The system is user friendly, but it does not do all of the work for you.  The time spent inputting and working out scheduling conflicts is still there.  It simply brings all of the information to one place.  When I wrote schedules I typically would do so from a table on the floor.  This allowed me to be accessible to my staff and keep an eye on what was happening.  This option is not available when doing the schedule online where all of the information is now kept.

The time savings is also completely wiped out by the time spent after the schedule is written.  Shift changes that once required an initial in the “blue book” now require the employee giving up the shift to go home and change it online.  The employee who wants the shift must wait for this to occur to pick up the shift online.  Then both employees must wait for a manager to update the system from the office.  Again this would be greatly remedied by having the system live through the POS system.  The result is a manager fielding a phone call from either employee asking them to approve it.  They then have to go to the office, login (the automatic logout time is very short) and approve the shift.  All of these are additional steps the place the manager in the office instead of on the floor.

This isn’t even the most time consuming aspect of the system.  If a manager decides to move you to a different station with an earlier in time or call you in early for a special party, things get really interesting.  The POS system prevents you from clocking in before the time it is told from Hot Schedules at the beginning of the day.  This is the mechanism by which they are able to achieve labor savings. This means that the manager must manually clock you in.  This is a minor inconvenience when done once.  When done multiple times per shift several times per week it can drive a manager to drink.

Tomorrow in part two I will address the main selling points of Hot Schedules.  The issues I discussed today would be easily overlooked to gain the cost savings they promote on their website.  Do these claims really pan out?  Are there more unforeseen problems ahead?  Check out part two to find out.  In the meantime I need to go log into Hot Schedules to see if my shift change had been approved yet.