Our Employee Scheduling Journey
Here at Queen Anne’s County DES EMS in Centreville, Maryland we used spreadsheets to manage our employee scheduling for many years. The spreadsheets were located on a desktop computer at headquarters and members would either have to stop by the station or call-in to find out when and where they were working. The system worked, but there were two constant challenges – it took a lot of labor to maintain the schedule AND it was difficult to keep everyone looking at the current version.
We have full-time people on rotations and we use part-time people to fill in for vacationing employees and special events. Scheduling the rotations for the full-time people wasn’t a big deal until someone called in sick, or wanted vacation, or wanted to sign-up for overtime – then it got tricky. Throw in the juggling of career staff and availability-based part-timers and scheduling could quickly become a nightmare.
It seemed that no sooner was a schedule created than it was being changed. When we printed it to hand out to employees, sometimes the ink wouldn’t even be dry before a change had been made and the previous version was out of date. Our “master schedule” would often be covered in so much whiteout that it felt like cardstock. We tried uploading PDFs of the schedule to a file-sharing website but it was always a struggle to keep the data current. Dealing with scheduling related emails and phone calls had become a full-time job and it was starting to feel like there was no solution in sight.
Having a single, real-time, always accurate schedule was of utmost importance to us. We wanted to be sure that administrators and members alike were looking at the same schedule at all times.
We also wanted a system that would tell us when someone signed up for an open shift and wouldn’t allow people to change their availability after a certain date. Like many services, we assign open shifts on a “first come, first serve” basis. The ability to do something like this would prevent ever having the “I swear I put my availability in the box two weeks ago…” conversation.
We also knew that we needed something that would allow us to be completely digital and paperless, especially when it came to part-time availability and leave requests. We grew weary of having to keep folders of submissions from members with their availability and requests for time off — many of which were for dates several months out.
We first considered a desktop scheduling application. Although it seemed that this would work better than our current spreadsheet system, it would still require a lot of man-hours to enter availability and manage the various scheduling changes. This kind of workload was yet another headache we wanted to get away from. We wanted to let people trade and sign-up for shifts on their own. Even if we had compromised on this point and went with a desktop solution, we’d still be left with our schedule available in only one place, on a single computer.
We then considered the possibility of running our own server and building some type of custom online database application. It quickly became apparent, however, that even if we could do this it would be expensive and difficult to maintain.
So we started looking into some of the newer SaaS (software as a service) systems that were on the market. These systems use an online ‘cloudcomputing’ model that would allow our people to access and use a computer program just the way they would use a website. By having our schedule online we could achieve our goal of having only one unique schedule. This meant that the only information someone could look at would be the right information, and not some print out or PDF of an older schedule. With an online system all changes made to the schedule would be automatically updated in real-time and made viewable 24 hours a day from any computer or Smartphone connected to the Internet.
The idea of not having our schedule only on a single computer at the station gave us incredible peace of mind. Even our “work-in-progress” schedule could be online. I recall one time when our IT guys wiped out our station computers for system maintenance and inadvertently trashed our schedule. Had our schedule been online that would have never been an issue.
Deciding to go online with our schedule and getting away from a paper system was an easy one; deciding which online scheduling system to go with was another task altogether. As part of our research and due diligence, and with cost being a factor, we narrowed down our options to three different online scheduling systems.
We then did something that I strongly suggest for everyone; we set up fully working demos of each product with our own schedule and members and really gave each one a thorough testdrive. While some systems took longer to set up than others, the process of getting these online schedules to look like our existing schedule really helped us learn a lot about each product and each vendor.
We wanted a true web-based system. We didn’t want to worry about the technical aspects of needing to download and install some kind of client-end software on each of our member’s computers. On the same vein, we wanted a system with a focus on user-friendliness. We had some members who were not very computer savvy and they were not excited about learning a new computer-based scheduling system. So we needed to make sure we found a system that was not only easy to learn but also easy to teach. I wasn’t looking to transition from being a full-time scheduling guy to a full-time tech support guy.
It took me two months to test drive each of the competing systems and talk to their various references. In hindsight I’m very glad that I put this much effort into the evaluation process because when I made the decision to go with Aladtec (www.aladtec.com), I was absolutely certain that I had chosen a system that would meet our needs. The last thing I wanted was to train all the employees in on a new system and then six months down the road realize it wouldn’t work for us.
Once we had chosen Aladtec, we began working on our implementation and rollout plan. We estimated that it would take two months to train our staff and migrate over completely to the new system.
As soon as we started training our staff, we were blown away with how fast and easy the transition was.
Throughout the entire process the Aladtec customer service and tech support was excellent. Their people really helped make the transition much easier than I expected. In the first four days, 90% of our staff was already trained-in. We actually had all our data entered and everyone up to speed and switched over in only two weeks. We couldn’t believe it, in only two weeks we had gone entirely digital and paperless with our employee scheduling!
In the past, we spent an enormous amount of time picking up the phone and calling or emailing members to find coverage and coordinate time-off as well as trades. With the new system many of these tasks are now automated and everything is at your fingertips. I can truly say that Aladtec returns man-hours to you; I went from spending fifteen hours a week to two on the schedule!
With the new system, trading shifts is easier than ever. Members can offer a scheduled shift of theirs to eligible members and the corresponding member can accept and offer a shift in return – all while following our company rules, and without supervisor intervention. This feature alone saves our administrators lots of time.
Our member availability process improved dramatically as well. In the past, much of the paperwork scattered throughout our office consisted of loose sheets of paper containing individuals’ availability. With our new system, members no longer need to email or even drop by the station to submit availability. Now they submit availability from home or anywhere with a few clicks of the mouse.
Because the system enforces our availability submission due dates, it not only allows us to keep all things fair amongst our members, it also prevents unwanted surprises, provides stability and helps level out expectations.
After only three months of use, we determined that we had already saved enough in overtime reduction to more than pay for the entire year’s Aladtec subscription.
Now looking back a year later it’s interesting to realize that some of the features which we originally thought were just bells and whistles are actually very beneficial. We now use Aladtec’s 200GB file sharing area and built-in bulletin boards for inter-service chats and conversations. Again, being “in the cloud” allows for all of this to be used anywhere with an Internet connection.
Of particular surprise to us is how we’ve been able to manage our employee data and information. Aladtec has become our central contact list now which we use to keep emergency contact and home contact information along with all of the certifications we track for our employees. Consider a situation where a member’s driver’s license had expired and he was still operating a vehicle. With our system, we track all kinds of certifications and are automatically notified if a certification is set to expire. I can personally tell you that the price of online scheduling is worth its weight in gold compared to the alternative of one of your members getting in trouble for an expired license!
While we didn’t intend for it in the beginning, our online schedule now gives us the added benefit of being fully integrated into our dispatch room and our dispatchers have a dedicated monitor just to know who is working where and when.
Now, I’m no stranger to reality and I’m fully aware that the biggest hurdle anyone will need to get over to implement an online scheduling system into their service is the cost. However, at this point, I am totally convinced that the benefits far exceed the cost. We’re a little over a year into using Aladtec and we have already received an estimated overtime savings of $40,000, a 70% reduction in unscheduled overtime.
The only possible negative I can think of regarding our new online scheduling system is the fact that I now find myself logging in from home or when I’m on vacation, just to look around and see what’s going on. But considering how easy this is to do, and how it gives me peace-of-mind, is that such a bad thing? Not for me – I love it!
“As soon as we started training our staff, we were blown away with how fast and easy the transition was.”
Andrew Blackwood, EMS Sergeant
Queen Anne’s County DES EMS
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About Aladtec for EMS
Aladtec for EMS is an interactive online scheduling system which can be accessed 24/7 by your administrators and employees from anywhere with an internet connection. The system combines an employee database, message board and events calendar with an advanced scheduling system to keep your department better organized and your employees better informed.