By James Lintern, co-founder of workforce management software provider, RotaCloud
“Managing a team in the current environment is more difficult than ever. There are increased workloads to deal with, your staffing capacity might be reduced due to illness or self-isolation, and with the regulations and tiers constantly changing, organising your workforce can feel like a never-ending task.
“For many sectors, like hospitality, retail and healthcare especially, rota planning is and always has been, vital. However, to ensure staff are kept safe, this year has meant that more traditionally office-based businesses have needed to implement rotas as well — something they’ve never needed to do before. So finding ways to manage staff, quickly and easily, no matter the industry you’re in, has never been more necessary.
“When it comes to managing your workforce in a situation that changes on a daily basis, there are three fundamental things to focus on: accessibility, accuracy, and reliability — and whatever tools you use to manage your team need to fulfill some basic criteria. Your employees need to be able to access their schedules from anywhere, and need to know where they need to be (and not be) at all times.They need to know that the information they’re seeing is correct, and they need to be sure that it’s up to date. If any of these things are wrong, your team can break down, and not only will this cost you more time in the long run, a break-down can potentially endanger your team’s health. Especially if it leads to a breach of staff ‘bubbles’ or ‘shift-groups’.
“With the tiering system currently being reviewed, and potentially changing every two weeks, this means that staff schedules need to change frequently too — and also often at short notice. And so real-time access to the rota, both on and offsite, is vital. The best way to do this is to make use of a web-based service. Whether this is uploading a spreadsheet to a storage service like Dropbox, or building the rota from scratch in a cloud service like Google Sheets — both of which have free options. The platform you choose also needs to be mobile-friendly so staff can check their schedules from their smartphones.
“To reduce mix-ups, and to save you and your staff time, the rota system you choose should also automatically notify staff when the rota has been updated. For example, if your rota is in Google Sheets, employees with access can go to Tools → Notification Rules and receive an email whenever a change is made. With rota planning software however, notifications can be sent automatically when a shift is published, changed or deleted — but only to the relevant employees.
“There’s no point streamlining access to the rota if staff can’t rely on it to be correct, however. And to build a reliable, accurate schedule, you need certain information for each employee, such as:
- Roles they’re qualified to work
- Locations they can work at
- Groups they are authorised to work with
- Contracted hours
- Dates of any leave
“Ideally, and dependent on sector, you might also need to know:
- Required staff coverage across the entire period
- Your staffing budget
“And all of this needs to be stored in one, central place. Rota planning software can combine all of this information automatically, or you can also use tools like Google Sheets, Google Forms, and some basic macros or scripts. But if you’re pulling in information from different sources, this can make things even trickier. So to simplify the process, try to;
- Map out the entire flow of relevant data through your team, and who’s responsible for each data set. Where can employees request leave? Who processes these requests? Who informs the rota coordinator of annual leave? What format is the leave data sent to you in? And then where is it stored?
- Make a note of every instance of manual data entry along each branch. Think about where you could simplify these data flows and eliminate manual data entry, which as well as being time-consuming can lead to mistakes.
“Once you’ve audited this, try to consolidate where you can, and then look towards automating wherever possible. Tools like Zapier and IFTTT can be used to automate data transfer between different sources and save lots of time, rather than manually retrieving different data sets every time you need to change the schedule.
“In times like these your work schedule needs to always be up to date and available to everyone who needs it. There are some great free tools available but if you’re finding that rota planning is still taking up too much of your time, specialist software is a good alternative and most services offer free trials.”