As a small or medium-sized business owner, you’ve got better things to do with your time than build a staff rota. Unfortunately, if you have staff there’s no avoiding it.
Sure, it’s easy enough to plan a rota if all your employees work Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm but you’ll still have to provision for sickness, leave requests and holiday management.
While that sounds straightforward enough, even one absence or rota change request can be disastrous to the entire system.
The increasing popularity of flexible working arrangements are adding to the issue making robust staff scheduling even more important in all workplace and office environments.
It’s no surprise that many companies still struggle with rota planning and management. In fact, the average rota takes over five hours of labour each week to plan and manage – that’s over 11 working days lost each year!
But there are solutions that can help you out. These days it’s easy to implement something called automatic rota scheduling to take the pressure out of creating schedules.
In this guide we will look at:
- What an effective staff rota looks like.
- The various rota-building tools can help managers automate staff schedules.
- Tricks for speeding up the rota building process.
- How data from your rota can be used to improve your business.
- Some common scheduling problems and how they can be resolved.
What Is a Staff Rota?
The word “rota” comes from the Latin word for wheel and was adopted in the early 17th century to refer to the repetitive nature of when an employee is scheduled to work.
A staff rota — also called a schedule or sometimes a roster— is a list of employees and associated information, such as:
- Shifts worked or to be worked.
- Location the employee is to work at.
- Responsibilities (e.g., answering calls, preparing food, etc.).
- Tasks to be undertaken by staff.
At its core, a staff rota keeps everyone organized and on track so that your business can run smoothly and efficiently.
What Makes an Effective Staff Rota?
A staff rota should ensure that the correct number of staff with the required skills are working at the right time, subject to any budget constraints of the business.
From a Manager’s Perspective What is an Ideal Rota?
From a business point of view, an ideal rota will display the following characteristics:
Quick To Build
Planning a staff rota can take hours each week. You’ve got plenty of tasks on your plate and rota planning is one of the least productive. It rarely adds any value to the business unlike other tasks like training, recruitment, or marketing.
Having a system that helps build rotas quickly (like an automated rota scheduling tool) can allow businesses to focus on more important things.
The Right Skills at the Right Time
An ideal rota would ensure that your business has the right number of qualified staff in the right place at the right time. This can almost be like a game of chess, and one slip up can easily lead to problems.
Certainty and Timeliness
Last-minute rotas are no fun for staff and can lead to issues for businesses as workers request changes. Ideally, you want to set the rota in stone several weeks in advance, so everyone knows exactly who’ll be in on each day.
Legal, Company, or Industry Compliance
A good rota will address any industry, legal, or company specific requirements. This might include health and safety issues, Worktime Directive compliance, or even budgeting concerns.
What Tools Are There to Help with Rota Planning?
Every retail store, hotel, GP’s surgery and cafe does their rotas slightly differently. This makes it almost impossible to have a one size fits all solution to staff scheduling. Here are a few methods employed by businesses as well as their pros and cons:
Data suggests that more than half of businesses still use Excel for their rotas. Rotas created with Excel are often basic and have little in the way of automation that modern scheduling software has.
Pros of Microsoft Excel:
- Cheap – most business already have Microsoft Office installed on their PCs.
- Familiar to staff.
- Flexible with a lot of tools to help with schedules.
- Can be incredibly powerful and customisable… if you have the technical know-how.
Cons of Microsoft Excel:
- Time-consuming to set up a rota.
- Requires an Excel expert to unlock advanced functions.
- Struggles with complicated shift patterns
- No way to communicate rota changes to staff
Pen and Paper
According to research, one-in-five businesses still use good old fashioned pen and paper to plan their rotas.
Pros of pen and paper:
- Totally free – if you don’t count the cost of pens and paper.
- Fully customisable – schedules can be drawn up any way you want.
Cons of pen and paper:
- No way to send it digitally to staff.
- Changes are difficult to manage and communicate
- Difficult to disseminate to staff.
Automatic Rota Scheduling Software
Rota management systems are stand-alone software packages designed specifically for rota planning. There are free and paid versions with many charging a monthly subscriptions to unlock all the software’s features.
Pros of automatic rota scheduling software:
- Variable pricing depending on the features required – can be free if you don’t require some of the more complicated features.
- Feature-rich and includes every tool you need to manage scheduling.
- Inbuilt automatic and customisable notification systems allowing staff to see schedules easily and be notified of changes instantly.
- Accessible from any device
- Allows for easy business analysis of scheduling data.
- Can automate some of the scheduling process by ‘fitting’ staff into the right slots based on skills and contracts.
Cons of automatic rota scheduling software:
- Can be expensive if you need a feature-rich version of the software.
- The interface may be difficult to master.
- Can lack integrations with other software systems, like payroll.
- Customer support can be of variable quality, particularly if the software was free.
What Are the Best Practices for Creating Employee Scheduling?
No matter what system of employee scheduling you use, there are several things you can do to make the task easier. Here are a few in more detail:
Publish As Far in Advance as Possible
Publish rotas as far ahead as possible. This will allow staff to plan ahead and will prevent last-minute issues from occurring.
It can also help if you encourage staff to request leave or other absences with plenty of notice, giving you more time to manage requests and fill gaps.
Understand the Best Way to Communicate Scheduling to Staff
Have a good system of communicating schedules and rota changes to staff. Sticking a paper-based rota on a notice board behind a door is likely to be missed. Use electronic forms of communication if possible. Most automatic rota scheduling software will do this automatically.
Once you’ve figured out the best way to communicate rotas and shift changes with employees, be consistent. This will reduce miscommunication and make it clear to employees how they can see their schedules.
Clarify Who Handles Scheduling
It’s important to clarify exactly which managers are responsible for different aspects of rota management to avoid miscommunication. In a larger business you may have multiple staff members responsible for scheduling, for example one staff member responsible for leave requests and another for sickness management.
Have a Contingency Plan
It’s smart to have a series of contingency plans in place for ‘rota emergencies’. These plans will help you stay calm when you’re set to be short-staffed at short notice
Why Do Small Businesses Need Automatic Rota Scheduling Solutions?
There are many reasons to implement automatic rota scheduling if you run a small business. We discussed a few above when listing pros and cons. Here are a few more to consider:
Appointment scheduling is another part of rota management that we haven’t really touched on but is vital for small businesses who have a client base. Scheduling appointments with customers is the first step towards building a good business relationship. A good rota software will allow you to schedule client meetings while ensuring the correct member of staff is available at the same time.
We’ve already touched on this previously, but for many small or medium sized businesses, time is money. In the business area, the more time spent on routine admin tasks equates to more money and less productivity. Employing a system of automatic scheduling can reduce the amount of time needed to create rotas significantly.
Reduce Employee Burnout
Using the best rota scheduling software can help you to reduce working fatigue amongst your employees by setting specific limits on how many hours employees can work per week. This can also allow you to meet regulations set out in the Worktime Directive.
Monitor Weekly Attendance and Lateness
Leading rota apps help you to track and monitor employees’ weekly attendance. Rota software automatically flags frequent late arrivals, early dismissals, or excessively long lunch breaks. It will also flag up those who constantly ring in sick.
Manage Time-Off Requests
Employee scheduling programs help you to manage employee time-off requests. Scheduling software immediately informs you of employee requests for leave so you can best prepare schedules and plan for absences.
We put this guide together to help all businesses get to grips with their rotas. There is no perfect rota management system for every business – but automatic rota scheduling can go a long way to easing many of the problems associated with dealing with the issue.
- Create any rota pattern
- Click employees into rota schedule
- Staff view by hours, day & week
- Fast & auto rota planning
- Publish rota on app to employees
- Automatic timesheets from rota