Date posted: 02/12/2021 12 min read

Tech guide: How to get your roster right

Rostering software is more intelligent than ever, with options for almost every business. What could work for your clients?

In Brief

  • Rostering software can now integrate with your payroll, HR, point-of-sale and business operations applications.
  • Some products allow employees to view the team roster, swap shifts, clock on and off, and request leave from their smartphones.
  • Smart rostering solutions take a data-driven approach to automate rostering while considering labour costs, busy periods and compliance with legislation.

David Jank remembers when he had to create a roster in Excel by juggling lists of staff availability, hours worked and arcane award pay rates. The co-owner of Redfern bar Arcadia Liquors in Sydney’s inner city now looks at KeyPay to see which dates his staff can work, creates the roster and publishes it to their phones using project management tool Workzone.

Employees can put in their own leave, which is approved automatically if it is more than two weeks out. Otherwise, it is sent to managers for manual review and approval. An automated roster that integrates with payroll also means staff are more likely to be paid correctly – a major concern given the regular headlines about underpayment and wage theft.

“It’s made our lives as business owners so much better,” says Jank. “And just being able to sleep easy knowing you’re doing the right thing.”

Why rostering software is essential

Rostering software is an essential tool for any services business that manages a mix of staff, locations and skills. Fortunately, it turns out that rostering is a perfect candidate for automation. The process of allocating staff members to shifts is a multi-factor problem where a change in one shift can have knock-on effects for later shifts.

Consider the common scenario of staffing a busy restaurant with kitchen staff, waitstaff and front of house. Each shift will need a mix of experience – junior or new employees need to be rostered on with more experienced staff who can deal with ad hoc issues. Then there is the mix of skills to consider. Is there someone on shift who knows first aid in case of an accident in the kitchen?

You also need to accommodate staff preferences. How many hours does each employee want to work, and on which days are they available? Add to that the compliance burden of making sure no employee works more than a maximum number of hours in a week, and has enough time off between shifts.

This involves a lot of pencil-and-eraser work to complete by hand. Valuable insights, such as total labour cost for the shift, are too much effort to calculate.

These days, roster software can record individuals’ preferences, availability, skills, experience or seniority, and then populate the hours and roles required in a shift. The promise is to create a roster with one click of a mouse button, with algorithms behind the scenes finding the optimal composition.

This is a huge time saver. Instead of the manager doing a ring-around for a replacement when an employee calls in sick, they can offer the shift to other employees on a “first in” basis. Some software even permits selected employees to swap shifts with each other directly, with the manager just needing to approve the swap.

How automation benefits everyone

There are two major benefits from automation. Rostering software is smart enough to take data from point-of-sale software and use it to forecast demand for the week ahead. If the weekends are particularly busy, the software will know the busiest hours and assign extra staff for the shift, or change their start and finish times to match the peak.

This data-driven approach to rostering – constructing the roster to match forecast sales, delivery orders or foot traffic – helps business owners maximise margins. They will have enough staff to take sales and fulfil orders, and fewer staff sitting around during the low periods.

Rostering software will also total the expected labour cost for a roster period and Ideally, this feature would insure retailers and hospitality venues against wage theft claims and the associated negative press. However, if businesses don’t check and update the award rules the software relies on then they are still held liable if they are found to have underpaid employees.

The other critical improvement is compliance. The hospitality and retail industries are heavily regulated and rules are notoriously difficult to follow. Roster software will automatically check whether a roster is compliant. For example, it will calculate the minimum rest between shifts, the maximum work hours per week, whether an employee took a break or a meal and when.

A business can customise its own rules for work breaks and hours to ensure staff are adequately rested and fed, and the regulator amply satisfied.

The compliance support extends from working hours to pay. Some roster software can set award or custom rates for overtime, penalties, loadings and salary costs with every shift. The software then calculates pay for each employee based on the roster and pushes it through to a payroll app for processing.

Ideally, this feature would insure retailers and hospitality venues against wage theft claims and the associated negative press. However, if businesses don’t check and update the award rules the software relies on then they are still held liable if they are found to have underpaid employees.

Smartphones are the new bundy clock

Rostering software has expanded to include time and attendance, with the mighty mobile replacing the time clock. Using one application for both activities makes it easier for managers to compare hours rostered versus actual hours worked.

Smartphones are a huge upgrade for compliance and accuracy. Time and attendance features can track the location of the employee and confirm they are on work premises when they clock on.

The software also uses facial recognition to confirm the identity of the employee. No more “buddy punching” where an employee clocks on for a colleague as well. These two checks greatly restrict the ability of employees to falsely claim for time at work, also known as “time theft”.

Some apps allow users to clock on and off using their voice and face on a kiosk iPad or Android tablet. This touchless clock reduces queues and improves hygiene in this pandemic age.

Smartphones are almost required equipment for employees. Apart from tracking hours worked, staff use mobiles to check the latest roster, take up extra shifts, request leave or mark availability.

Another essential feature is integrations with your business software. Rostering software can connect to payroll, accounting, point-of-sale, HR, business operations, e-learning and job board applications. A solid integration should allow you to push the hours-worked data directly to payroll without the runaround of downloading and uploading CSV files.

A word of warning: software may say on the tin that it integrates with your payroll or other critical software, but the truth is in the testing. The connectors on a software application, called an application programming interface or API, can be of varying quality. Ideally, the API should be fast enough that it can update other applications automatically.

In reality, some rostering software requires users to refresh their screen multiple times to see updates in their payroll application, for example.

This can lead to the rostering software posting double shifts to payroll, which then needs to be corrected.

Payroll and rostering together

What’s better than a deep integration with payroll? Including payroll and rostering in the same application. Payroll applications such as KeyPay and PaysOnline now include rostering and time attendance as integrated features.

An even more consolidated option is available with workforce management software such as Roubler and foundU. These cover the employee lifecycle, from recruiting and onboarding through to rostering shifts, managing, rostering, reimbursing and pay.

The final step is an HR information system (HRIS) such as ELMO Software. Expanding on workforce management, this category includes staff engagement, performance management and training and education. Rostering and time and attendance appear within a Pay module that includes expense management, payroll and self-service 

There are differences between rostering software that may make one program more suitable than another. KeyPay can publish each individual employee’s roster but can’t send a group roster showing everyone’s shifts altogether, says Jank. He collates the shifts for Arcadia Liquors and his second venue, The Marrickville Hotel, and sends a pdf to staff so they know who else is working with them.

“We are very conscious of our tight, family structure and we want everyone to get a roster that shows the whole team together. It’s just odd going to work and not knowing who you’re working with,” Jank says.

It’s no easy task managing a large number of employees across multiple venues or customer locations. Thankfully, the growing intelligence of rostering software is turning an odious chore into a mechanism for managing profit.

Clocking on in Sydney’s wool store

Hospitality operators have to hustle a hodgepodge of applications that match the manic bustle of a commercial kitchen. Roger Gregg, a director of House Made Hospitality group, runs 100 staff through three venues at Hinchcliff House, a heritage wool store near Sydney’s Circular Quay.

Hinchcliff House’s venues use Bepoz for point of sale, Now Book It for online bookings, Priava for venue management, Stripe for payment processing, Sprout for a customer database and email marketing, KeyPay for payroll and Xero for accounting.

The group recently switched from Deputy to Roubler because they wanted one system that included onboarding as well as rostering and time and attendance. “We realised that instead of using Deputy for rostering and feeding data into a payroll system, Roubler was going to do it all within the same application,” Gregg says.

“We realised that instead of using Deputy for rostering and feeding data into a payroll system, Roubler was going to do it all within the same application,” Gregg says.

“When a new employee starts, it’s all selfonboarding. You can upload your RSA (responsible service of alcohol) certificate and check the boxes to say you’ve read the health and safety manual.”

It takes a minute per employee each week to confirm the roster, or about one to 1.5 hours for the 100 staff, says Gregg. “That’s actually quite fast. Once you lock in a roster the next week is going to be a copy and paste, apart from a few changes.”

Hinchcliff House has an iPad on the wall which staff use to clock on. (Roubler includes facial recognition to prevent any “buddy punching”.)

The group is in the process of switching from the fixed iPad to employees’ mobiles for time and attendance; the Roubler app confirms individuals are located on premises when they clock on or off.

“It makes it a little easier for staff,” Gregg says.

Managing data across all these applications is a challenge. Simple integrations work as intended, such as sharing a customer record from Sprout with other applications. However, if one of the three venues sells a voucher through its point of sale, a customer can’t redeem the voucher when booking tables online via Now Book It or events on Priava. Taking deposits, reserving dates and managing refunds across multiple systems is too difficult.

House Made Hospitality has plans to open several more venues across Sydney next year. It intends to upgrade from Roubler to a larger system that includes features for managing staff performance and training. Gregg says he’d like a system that includes an outsourced HR manager available for two to five hours a month on subscription to work through HR issues.

“We’re happy to pay another couple of bucks a month to have that functionality,” he says.

Gregg recommends selecting software that has strong integrations and excellent customer service. While comprehensive software suites reduce integration hassles, sometimes the individual functions aren’t as strong as smaller software.

“An app like Deputy may not have everything but it just works,” he says.

What you need to know about seven popular rostering and business operations apps

Product Description   Automated rostering  Payroll Time and attendance monitoring 
KeyPay Cloud Payroll and Workforce Management KeyPay is an end-to-end workforce management and payroll platform. It delivers automation and compliance across all payroll scenarios, including true award interpretation, automated super payments, leave management, rostering, time and attendance and employee self-service.  Yes  Yes  Yes
Tanda Tanda helps clients manage and pay staff for the time they work – quickly and compliantly. It calculates the correct entitlements using award rules and rates. Its rostering system forecasts wages, paired with data from other demand systems such as point of sale (POS) or bookings data.  Yes  No  Yes
ELMO Software ELMO offers an integrated cloud solution to help manage an organisation’s people, processes and pay.  Yes Yes Yes

Designed for construction, building, engineering, fabrication and site installation businesses, QicWorks manages jobs, payroll, training, safety, CRM, scheduling, inventory and digital forms all from the one platform. It has a companion app in Android and iOs, with both online and offline functionality.

It removes the need for multiple software applications and spreadsheets to calculate job profitability and progress. Its core product provides users with everything they need to calculate accurate job costings, work in progress, track invoices, schedule and roster resources and collect and approve timekeeping.

QicWorks’ key point of difference is its ability to handle complex rates structures including piece, unit or kit rates, hourly hire, penalty rates, allowances and leave.

Deputy Deputy streamlines scheduling, timesheets, tasks and communication for business owners and their workers. Its software helps businesses navigate workforce legislation including wages, overtime, entitlements and penalties.
Yes No Yes
freshOps is a software-as-a-service solution that helps cleaning business owners grow and scale their operations and businesses.
Yes Yes Yes
 foundU provides HR tools, rostering and payroll technology. It is run from a single and powerful cloud-based platform which is built and supported in Australia. Yes Yes Yes