Rota Guide

Planning for Success:
How to build a perfect work rota

Introduction

Building staff rotas in shift work industries is not as easy as it looks. Business owners and managers often see rota building as an admin task that all managers can perform. However, this could not be further from the truth. Managing labour is a challenge that requires training and practice; getting it right is crucial because labour is often the largest cost centre of a business. Few organisations today understand its impact, and even fewer invest in software to manage it more efficiently. In fact, the biggest reason businesses fail to optimise their rotas is simply because they lack the right tools.

Effective rota-building software incorporates the following:

  • Sales and demand forecasts;

  • Staff leave and unavailability;

  • Industry-specific labour compliance requirements

But planning the rota is only one-third of the puzzle. Even if you plan a good rota for the upcoming week, it’s not a guaranteed to be effective. It is equally important to, first, track how that rota is executed throughout the week. This means accurately keeping an eye on the time and attendance of all staff. Second, you need to review the differences between the planned rota and what actually happened. This includes taking note of where things went off track or over-budget.

In this guide, we elaborate on how you can build better rotas. It will cover:

  • What managers and employees need from rotas

  • Planning rotas

    • Step-by-step guide

    • How to use data to build better rotas

    • Best practices in managing rotas

  • Comparing rota building tools

What makes a good rota?

Building a good rota starts with understanding what both managers and employees want. Managers want a rota that allows the business to cater to as many clients as possible. Employees want a rota that maximises their skills but gives them work-life balance. Finding the middle ground requires plenty of data and careful planning. A good rota can unlock staff productivity and increase engagement across the board. This also means higher profits and faster expansion. Remember that staff appreciate good rotas just as much as managers do because of its long-term benefits.

For managers, rotas should be:

  1. Quick and easy to build rotas Time consuming administrative tasks like rota scheduling hinder managers from being on the frontline. When they are saddled with paperwork, they cannot lead your team and deliver good service. This is frustrating and costly for your business. However, rushing your rota or failing to optimise it presents a far greater cost to the business. You will incur the bloated wage costs that come hand in hand with a poorly built rotas. Thus, rota building must be quick enough to allow managers to build a schedules without sacrificing a large chunk of their time.

  2. Based on readily available data One of the biggest mistakes businesses can make is not utilising available data to build rotas. These days, almost all businesses collect data that can be used when rota scheduling. The most common data comes from the Point-of-Sale (POS) system. This tells you the demand during certain hours of the day, or periods of the year. While most businesses use a POS system, few utilise its historical records for their rota scheduling practices.

    Aligning rotas with demand is critical to lowering your wage costs. Doing so can lead to large jumps in profitability for any business. This is one of the biggest benefits offered by modern cloud software solutions -- data integration. Before cloud software, accessing your POS records and using them to build rotas was a lofty dream. It used to take hours and hours to make sense of POS data. Today, this is a common function of software solutions with seamless integrations for most popular products.

    Putting this data in the hands of rota managers in an actionable way changes the game. It allows you to build with a new and unprecedented level of insight. You can track wage cost as well as wage percentage in real time while making the rota. You can adjust according to a weekly or monthly budget. And you can quickly experiment with different rotas until you get the one that’s just right. All of this can be done from a computer terminal within minutes.

  3. Able to schedule the right person for the right shift For every shift, you want the right person working at the right time. This is more challenging than it sounds because it requires knowing your staff inside and out. Senior staff need a good mix of junior staff who can fulfill the requirements and have a good work dynamic. Determining who can work which shifts throughout the week should take into account people’s preferences, qualifications, and availability. Juggling these factors for even a modest number of staff can become extremely complex. You need a solution that centralizes all information and lets you access them with the touch of a button.

  4. Compliant with laws and regulations There is more scrutiny now than ever before on businesses that don’t play by the rules. Wage theft has become a major issue across all industries, and most of the time cases arise due to inaccurate processing of payrolls. Not only do you need to abide by your industry-specific requirements, but you also need to consider the conditions that apply to different staff members. There is a lot at stake. Being accused of wage theft can result in a significant loss of desirability as an employer, and credibility as a business. Ensuring that your rotas are compliant also saves you millions in lawsuits and legal fees.

For employees, rotas should be:

  1. Mobile-friendly Studies have shown that Millennials and Gen Z staff members expect to be able to access their rosters on the go. And because Millennials will be the largest workforce demographic Millennials will be the largest workforce demographic by 2025, incorporating technology into work processes is highly necessary. If staff need to come to work and take a photo of their rota to know when they’re working, it’s a sign that your business is not efficient enough. You need to make accessing the rota as easy as possible to ensure staff are aware of their shifts. Having the rota on mobile also helps employees manage their work-life balance. When they are informed of their shifts, they can plan ahead and work around unusual schedules.

  2. Able to collate unavailability Every manager has experienced publishing a rota then hearing back from an employee that they are unavailable for one of their shifts. Giving staff a simple method of submitting their unavailability in advance makes scheduling easier. Both managers and employees have more control over their schedule. The easy access to data on unavailability ensures that contingencies can be made. One way to work around unavailability is to tap your contingent workforce. Spreading shifts this way fulfills the business’ needs while increasing employee engagement.

  3. Accurate every time When employees are scheduled to work on days when they are unavailable or have requested time off, this causes stress on everyone involved. With manually created rotas, mistakes like this can be often overlooked. Readjustments are not always possible. Inaccurate rotas are costly, stressful, and unproductive; they contribute to dissatisfaction and high turnover rates.

  4. Moderately flexible Though all published rotas should be considered final, there are unforeseeable events that make it necessary for employees to request a change in their shifts. Exams, illnesses, and other personal matters can be considered valid reasons for managers to accept a change in schedule. When this happens, employees should have a way to swap shifts. Allowing staff to swap shifts are a good way to communicate trust and autonomy among employees of the business.

How to Plan Rotas

Step 1: Create a summary of all employees, their roles, contracted hours, hourly rate, and availability. Employees may be further grouped into teams.

Employee Name Role Hours Hourly Rate Availability
Clark Kent Manager 40 30 M-S, 1PM-10PM
Bruce Wayne Kitchen 40 25 M-F
Peter Parker Kitchen 40 25 Th-Sun
Steve Rogers Bar 20 25 T-S, 6-10PM
Natasha Romanoff Service 20 20 M-F, 9AM-1PM
[Insert Table]

Step 2: Plot the days of the week (or whatever date range of rota being made), and take note of events that will affect operations such as holidays and local events that are expected to bring more customers than usual.

January 7 January 8 January 9 January 10 January 11
(Monday) (Tuesday) (Wednesday) (Thursday) (Friday)
Example:
Bank Holiday
[Insert Table]

Step 3: Create the shifts for each day of the week, together with the shift start and end times. Then determine what roles and how many employees under each role are required to work for each shift. If it is possible, use other data sources such as a POS system with historical data to forecast demand for this task. You can then set this as a template for the following weeks, so that you won’t have to start from scratch every time.

January 7 January 8 January 9 January 10 January 11
(Monday) (Tuesday) (Wednesday) (Thursday) (Friday)
AM Shift
8AM-12PM
AM Shift
8AM-12PM
AM Shift
8AM-12PM
AM Shift
8AM-12PM
AM Shift
8AM-12PM
Manager Manager Manager Manager Manager
Kitchen Kitchen Kitchen Kitchen Kitchen
Service Service Service Service Service
PM Shift
12PM-4PM
PM Shift
12PM-4PM
PM Shift
12PM-4PM
PM Shift
12PM-4PM
PM Shift
12PM-4PM
Manager Manager Manager Manager Manager
Kitchen Kitchen Kitchen Kitchen Kitchen
Service Service Service Service Service
[Insert Table]

Step 4: Fill in the shifts one by one with your employees, guided by their scheduled availability and contracted hours. Keep an eye on the roles of the employees when scheduling, to make sure they match the roles required in the shift.

Name Wage Jan 7 Jan 8 Jan 9 Jan 10 Jan 11 Total Hours Employee Wage
(Mon) (Tues) (Wed) (Thurs) (Fri)
AM Shift: 8AM-12PM
Clark Kent $30 Manager Manager Manager Manager Manager 20 $600
Kitchen Kitchen Kitchen Kitchen Kitchen
Service Service Service Service Service
PM Shift: 12PM-4PM
Clark Kent $30 Manager Manager Manager Manager Manager 20 $600
Service Service Service Service Service
Bar Bar Bar Bar Bar
[Insert Table]

Using Data to build Better Rotas:

  1. Compare rosted hours vs. actual hours Budgeting wages is essential in order to stay on top of operating costs, especially because staff is usually the biggest expense for businesses. Managers and business owners should keep an eye on the variance between rostered and actual hours on employee, team, and location levels. This gives managers a quick view of the difference between planned wage costs and the actual costs based on employee time sheets. Doing this will help managers easily track down what’s causing the variance between the planned expense and the actual cost. Factoring in other costs such as overtime, allowances, and leaves also helps the budget stay accurate.

  2. Compare wage costs vs. sales Integrating your wage costs with your sales (usually through a POS system) enables managers to make smarter decisions in terms of employee scheduling. Because sales data can help forecast demand, using this as a guide when creating rotas helps managers schedule the right amount of staff every time. This data is very valuable for companies that want to keep wage cost percentages under control. But ultimately, customer service and retention are affected when businesses are over or understaffed. By comparing wage costs and sales data, managers will be able to see which days in the week, times of day, or particular stores are busiest, and thus will be able to create rotas guided by that information.

Tips on Managing Rotas

  1. Standardise all processes related to rotas. For example, set a process for requesting for time-off and implement a deadline for requests. Ideally, the deadline should be set before the rotas for the week is published. Deadlines for shift swapping should also be implemented. In case any changes need to be made to a published roster, there should also be a process in place to notify affected employees.

  2. Use a platform that can be accessed by all staff at any time. Because there is still a chance for rotas to change after being published, managers should create an easy and convenient way for employees to access the latest version of rotas. The traditional way is to upload it as a live file, like on Google Sheets. However, the easiest way is to use an employee scheduling software, so that updates are uploaded as they are edited online, and employees can access them easily.

  3. Set contingency plans in case employees can’t make it to their shifts at the last minute. This is something that can’t be avoided with any type of business, so it’s better to be prepared. Keep a positive relationship with your contingent workforce to augment any unfilled shifts. Doing so will make communication easier, making operations easier to manage.

  4. Prepare rotas ahead of time. Publish rotas at least a month in advance to give employees enough time to plan their schedules around it. This also gives some adjustment time for managers in case shifts need to be swapped around among employees.

  5. Stay updated with your staff’s data. Keep an updated record of all employees’ leave entitlement and make this information accessible to employees as well to make filing and approval of leaves quicker. Also keep a calendar of all employee leaves as a reference, to make creating rotas easier.

  6. Use a time and attendance tracking technology to accurately track when employees clock in and out of work. Making use of this type of software will give you access to attendance and actual wage data, which can be analysed in relation to rota data and provide valuable insights for optimising rotas.

Rota-Building Tools Comparison

Pen and Paper Google Sheets Rota Software
Ease of use Customisable to fit the managers’ and employees’ needs. But since everything needs to be done manually, from creating the rotas to sending them out to employees, this may be too tedious and time-consuming. Requesting and keeping track of staff’s leaves and unavailability will also be done separately and may be disorganised, making it prone to human error. Google Sheets are also fairly customisable to contain rota information needed by managers and employees. Formulas can be used to compute for wages; work-arounds such as providing a column for employee requests or through adding comments can also be done. However, keeping track of staff’s leaves and unavailability will still be done separately, and will require more time. Having all the features that a company needs in a rota software would be the best option. All the needed information are on-hand, and will shorten the time spent by managers in creating rotas, allowing them to spend their time on more things that add value to the business. Providing an easy way for employees to also request for leaves and time off and for managers to approve these will reduce admin work.
Accessibility When rotas are posted on a wall in the workplace or handed out to employees one by one, changes and updates to the rota will be difficult to disseminate. Managers will need to contact every team member that will be affected by the change. Quick replacements will also be more complicated to find when staff can’t make it to their shifts at the last minute. Using Google Sheets for rotas means employees can access them online via desktop or mobile. They can be emailed to be notified when rotas have been published and managers can be emailed as well for comments and edits made by staff. However, managers will still have to do approvals one by one; tracking might also become time-consuming since these are done through database sheet(s). Companies should invest in rota software that will allow managers and employees to not only access but also edit rotas on the go. Software also allows changes to be communicated quickly and sent to the people that need to know about them in real-time. Because communication is more efficient, replacements for last minute no-show’s can also be easily arranged through features such as Shift Swapping.
Compliance Managers will need to do their own research on compliance and labour laws to make sure they are paying their staff the correct rates. Wages also need to be calculated manually which, when factoring in the different pay rates and awards, can be a tedious task that can result in inaccuracy. FAs aforementioned, formulas can be used in Google Sheets to make computations for wages quicker and more accurate. However, like the manual process, managers will still need to do their own research on compliance to make sure the awards they are using are correct. Because some rota software already have rules and pay rates built into their system, they are automatically computed with the wage costs. This ensures that companies are always compliant and accurate when paying their employees. Employees are also given security in knowing they’re being paid the correct amount for the exact hours that they worked.
Data Backup It will be a complicated process for managers to optimise rotas since the data won’t be stored digitally; there is always a big risk of losing records should they not have a backup copy stored somewhere that the company can readily access. Projecting wage costs won’t be as quick,and integrating with demand data and sales will also have to be done manually. Data will be stored digitally, so that will make some of the number-crunching work easier to do. The disadvantage is that it doesn’t make a big difference when integrating with other data sources like a POS system. Rota software that can automatically compute wage projections and set wage budgets are the easiest way to keep labour costs under control. Having an attendance tracking feature in addition to this will also help managers compare planned to actual wage costs and optimise rotas in minutes. Businesses should also invest in rota software that allow for integrations with POS systems so that demand and sales data can be viewed together with wages in one dashboard, so that rotas can be optimised even more.
[Insert Table]

As businesses, customer satisfaction is the main goal that managers should aim for when creating rotas. Customer satisfaction is achieved when staff are doing their best work. And staff doing their best at work depends on the way they are handled by their employers, with the right shifts and work environment as big factors in achieving this goal.

Read more: Empowering Frontline Staff with Modern Technology


Managers can easily lose sight of this vision when getting caught up in all of the time-consuming administrative work. However, it is essential that they are always aligned with these goals, since rotas can be one of the biggest factors that positively or negatively affect your customers’ experience with your business. A good rota results in a highly-engaged staff, efficient operations, and higher productivity in the workplace --all of which could potentially increase profitability for the business.


Therefore, businesses should support their staff as best as they can in the form of an optimised rota to succeed in delivering the best service that they can offer.

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