8 steps for effective rostering


From building the pyramids of Egypt to organising troops for war, there has long been a need to assemble teams of people in the most efficient manner. The modern-day concept of rostering and shift-work dates to the 1800s with the invention of the lightbulb and the birth of industries like steel mills, iron foundries and textile mills.  

Today, life is generally more complicated – but that doesn’t mean rostering needs to be

What is rostering?

A staff roster is a document that maps out employee schedules, hours and work locations. These are particularly useful for restaurants, hotels, factories, hospitals and industries relying on shift-based work. 

With this in mind, staff rostering can be understood as the process of creating and assigning shifts to cover the operational needs of a business. Shifts are assigned by an employee’s role (such as job title or duties) or by availability (such as first, second or third shift). 

Why does efficient, timely rostering matter? Dynamic work environments need thorough planning, often weeks in advance. Yet at the same time, employers must hardwire flexibility into their plans to account for changing environments, consumer demand, employee needs, and PTO requests. 

This guide outlines some common rostering challenges, emerging trends, and how efficient rostering can improve employee productivity and satisfaction, while optimising the use of available talent and reducing labour costs. 

Rostering in the modern era

The foundations of effective rostering and scheduling remain unchanged – that is, having the right person in the right role at the right time and place. However, in 2024 there are other elements that must be considered.  

At the heart of rostering in 2024 are your frontline employees. Increasing awareness of burnout and work-life balance, not to mention a desire for more autonomy, flexibility, and timely communications are critical elements that must be considered when building out rosters.  

When taken together, these factors mean that manual rostering methods are no longer enough to keep your business running smoothly. 

Current rostering & scheduling challenges

HR and operations managers will encounter any number of challenges. For example: 

  • Meeting compliance obligations. Perhaps the number one rule for effective rostering & scheduling is to ensure you have the required number of staff so that compliance obligations are always met. For example, in aged care, mandated staff-to-aged care resident ratios must be maintained at all times. Similar regulations apply to childcare employers and various other industries that must maintain certain operational standards. 

  • Over- or under-staffing. Most businesses have peak times and quieter times, or they’ll have seasonal variations in demand. Rostering needs to reflect these fluctuations. Scheduling too many staff members may erode profit margins, while under-staffing can negatively impact engagement and lead to higher employee turnover. 

  • Absenteeism. The scramble to find staff who can fill in for no-shows is stressful and time consuming for managers and those staff members required to plug those gaps. Solid processes are the only way to minimise this stress.  

  • Greater employee autonomy and flexibility. A key element of the employee experience (EX) is providing autonomy and flexibility to frontline workers. Just like any other worker, they value being able to pick and choose when (and sometimes where) they work. While this might make for an enticing EX and better work-life balance, it has the potential to cause headaches for managers as they struggle to grant those requests amidst skills shortages. 

  • Manager overwork resulting in errors. Pen-and-paper or Excel rosters are prone to errors. It’s too easy to accidentally fill in the wrong column, look at the wrong row or simply not realise when someone is scheduled twice on the same day. Add handwriting mistakes or typos, the risk of overlooking updates, and accidental file deletion to the mix, and it’s a disaster in waiting.   

Emerging rostering & scheduling trends

Advancements in technology such as AI and automation are transforming how shift-based work is undertaken.  

Humanforce’s Rostering & Scheduling solution can help you navigate through all four of these emerging trends. 

Automation: Rostering can be a labour-intensive drain on time. The latest technology streamlines the process by pre-populating rosters based on worker preferences and past shift allocations. Humanforce’s roster templates and simple, drag-and-drop roster builder means you can see what’s going on at a glance. It will also alert you of any potential scheduling clashes or errors. You can even micro-schedule short-duration tasks and breaks – and build costing, mandatory qualifications, employment agreement conditions, reminders and more into them.   

For shift management purposes, you may want to automate: 

  • Availability changes 

  • PTO requests 

  • Shift replacements 

Depending on your current workflow, you might consider other strategies, including automation of shift offer and shift bidding notifications. 

Flexible scheduling and team member shift preferences: The pandemic showed how vulnerable frontline workers are: their jobs can be stressful and physically and mentally draining. Burnout remains a constant threat.  

This realisation is impacting rostering as both employees and employers are more aware of the need for work-life balance. Rostering is no longer about dropping a faceless ‘name’ into an available shift. It’s about knowing your employees, their motivations and preferences and personal circumstances (carer responsibilities, for example). 

A team is only as strong as its individual members, so it’s also important to take into account individual staff members’ strengths and weaknesses as well as their preferred shifts. Pair experienced and inexperienced employees, and pay attention to which staff members work well together. With AI and Machine Learning it’s possible to create schedules that can create optimised labour plans as well as cater for your team’s work preferences.  

The shift offer and shift bidding features within Humanforce help managers fill vacant shifts effectively, without having to resort to agency staff. Even better, employees are empowered to choose the shifts that suit their personal circumstances. 

If someone doesn’t show up for their shift, not only will their manager get an instant notification, but the software will automatically suggest the most appropriate cover based on availability and qualifications.    

Using rotating rosters as a way to offer skill building: Both worker experience and capacity levels can vary dramatically, which means rotating rosters are a great way to ensure performance remains high at all times. Rotating rosters allow managers to create set shift times – such as breakfast, lunch and dinner; or morning, late and night – and then give workers different shifts each week. For example, a staff member might work the morning shift one week, the late shift the next week and then the night shift the following week.  

Not only does this provide greater flexibility for employers, but it also exposes workers to different tasks and is a cost-effective way to build new skills. For example, the opening and closing procedures for a café are markedly different. Employees opening the café need to prep food, grind beans, lay tables and set up daily operations. In comparison, closing shift staff must clean, count cash and lock up.  

Predictive scheduling: All leaders should have a reasonable idea of when work peaks and troughs occur; those busy times of the day/week/month/year when more staff are required to meet demand – and the same for the quieter times. For those in retail and hospitality – and any business with demand-driven variables – it’s crucial to understand your demand curve of sales or demand and roster accordingly.  

AI-driven workforce management systems can also analyse past absenteeism and compare that to service level requirements to accurately predict how many staff members need to be scheduled. 

Well-integrated software solutions are critical here. The more data you have in your system, the more effectively you will be able to predict your demand curve and create rosters to match demand.  

The Humanforce suite presents robust integration capabilities, bringing together payroll, workforce management, HR, wellbeing and other business intelligence systems based on event data, as well as occupancy, foot traffic or PoS data, to help create an interconnected ecosystem. This ecosystem allows businesses to seamlessly link different sources of data to help create more efficient rosters.  

8 best practice tips for effective rostering

Keeping in mind the above challenges and emerging trends, here are eight tips to optimise roster creation in your organisation. 

Choose a roster scheduling strategy 

Consider your organisational needs before building out your process. There are three strategies to consider: 

  • Staggered work roster: This strategy staggers shift times between employees to account for busier times of day, such as the dinnertime rush at a local restaurant. 

  • Duty-based roster: The roster is scheduled according to your employee’s duties. For example, you may schedule more hospitality personnel during check-out on Sundays and Mondays. 

  • Flexible employee roster: Employees can select start and end times within operational hours. Managers set an available window (8 AM to 8 PM), while employees pick the times that work for them (8 AM to 4 PM). 

Think through the roster without individual names 

Work out the allocation of shifts and responsibilities, then cost it according to hourly wage rates using workforce management tools like Humanforce, which includes both Rostering and Scheduling tools and an Awards & Compliance solution. When that’s done, add the names of suitable people for different shifts. This is ‘role rostering‘ rather than the traditional method that builds a roster around the requests of individuals and their busy social lives. Role rostering puts the business first; several of the tips below help to balance this with employee needs. 

Communicate roster information early 

Every member of your team should always have access to their weekly schedule. That’s not just a piece of paper taped to the break room wall; instead, it’s a digital, remote or mobile solution for all staff members. Read more about Humanforce’s Work App here

There are legal requirements for how far in advance rosters must be displayed. More importantly, a roster that’s displayed at least four weeks in advance allows staff to plan their lives and achieve more of the work-life balance we all aspire to.  


Many managers fear that a roster displayed well in advance will need endless rewriting as the weeks progress. But once you automate the time-off requests and shift-change system, you’ll find that rostering doesn’t need to be an endless drama with erasers and white-out. 


To make this work, ensure you have a good understanding of your employees’ needs and their work preferences. Encourage them to bid on open shifts and this will help AI-driven software identify who’s best suited to available shifts without having to ask each and every time. Giving them this level of autonomy and actively collaborating with them to build out rosters fosters self-empowerment and allows employees more of a ‘voice’. In addition, instead of the laborious ‘old school’ method of calling staff members to help fill shifts, automate this with text notifications. 

Everyone needs two days off 

There’ll be times when you need someone to do double shifts, extra days or back-to-back shifts. But regular rostering for more than 5 days per week leads to loss of performance and burnout. If you have someone insisting on constant long hours, they may have financial problems that are being put ahead of the business – avoid this shortcut even if it seems convenient, but offer assistance to that employee if possible.  


Humanforce’s Thrive Wellbeing offers a range of financial wellbeing benefits including financial literacy support, and access to earned wages. 

Start the roster week on a busy day 

Typically, rosters are written Monday to Sunday, from the quietest to the busiest days. But if the week is slow and by Wednesday you decide to start trimming hours, chances are they’ll be taken from the weekend, when you need to be fully staffed to make money. By starting the roster week on a Thursday, you also overcome the ‘end of a long week’ slump. The payroll days can still match the calendar or accounting week, but rostering is about resource allocation. 

Costing rosters should be part of writing rosters 

Traditionally, the functions have been separate, and the bad news on wage costs is only revealed after the week is finished. Modern rostering software like Humanforce shows wage costs as the roster is written, giving accurate forecasts and budget control. 

Flexibility is part of modern work life 

This is where online rostering has an advantage because time-off requests and availability can be handled automatically. Business needs are a priority, but if you keep denying or forgetting requests for time off or changes, staff are likely to call in ’sick’ and eventually move elsewhere. Make it easy with tools like the Humanforce Work App, so that employees can make leave requests and managers can approve those requests quickly and efficiently. 

Ensure compliance and fairness 

Labour laws and regulations can be a legal minefield. For example, Australia's modern awards system is notoriously convoluted: the general hospitality award alone has hundreds of different pay points, while the general retail industry award takes pages to detail all of them.  

Compliance depends not just on the worker’s role and status, but also on the number of hours worked, the days and dates worked, the time of day, providing adequate rest periods and breaks, the number of hours since their last shift, and more. 

It’s all too easy for managers to overlook requirements or miss opportunities to cut costs. They might schedule staff members in such a way that results in overtime rates or additional allowances for food, when a small tweak to the roster – an extra hour between shifts or finishing the shift 30 minutes earlier – would remove this necessity.    

Even more worryingly, they can overlook the maximum work hours, which can result in hefty fines for awards non-compliance.   

With the Humanforce workforce management system, you can input workers’ awards statuses. The software will take this into account when auto-scheduling staff members and calculating shift costs, plus it will alert you of potential compliance issues. 

Ensuring fairness is another issue. When workplaces operate beyond a nine-to-five schedule, day shifts tend to be more coveted than their ‘after hours’ counterparts. On a rotating schedule, all employees are equally exposed to day shifts. This helps to establish a fair workplace, fuelled by positive employee relationships. 

Success stories

Humanforce has been helping employers in shift-driven industries to optimise their workforce management and HR processes for more than 20 years. Here are just a few of the organisations we’ve helped:

Gorilla Events
Rockpool Residential Aged Care
Mchugh Steel

How Humanforce can help

Humanforce was designed to make rostering & scheduling the easiest part of your day. Our intuitive platform creates demand-driven schedules in minutes, tracks costs associated with weekly labour and forecasts margins for upcoming leave.  

Humanforce is a one-stop shop for all your frontline workforce needs. And with real-time insights and scalable infrastructure, you can stay ahead of the curve without printing another timesheet or manually creating a roster.  

If you’re curious to see how we could revolutionise your staff rostering process, feel free to book a personalised demo today. Have some preliminary questions first? Contact us at your earliest convenience.