The evolution of rostering


The need to assemble teams of people in the most efficient manner possible stretches back to ancient times. From building the pyramids of Egypt to organising troops for war, having the right person in the right place at the right time has always been critical.

The modern concept of rostering and shift-based work stretches back to the 1800s with the invention of the lightbulb and the increased work hours that innovation facilitated in steel mills, iron foundries and textile mills.

Today, labour shortages, increasing compliance obligations and changing employee and business needs have made life in general more complicated. However, it doesn’t mean that rostering needs to be. Thanks to sophisticated rostering software, the management of workers, costs and compliance can all be done quickly and seamlessly.

Let’s take a brief look at the past, present and future of rostering.

The past: A focus on the operational

Humanforce has been at the forefront of innovation in rostering software for more than 20 years. We’ve witnessed first-hand how the evolution of rostering has, in many ways, mirrored the evolution of the HR function in business.

There has been a transformation from the function being seen solely as tactical and operational, towards being data-driven and strategic. The same applies to rostering and scheduling.

A review of rostering over the past decade or so reveals that its operational origins were still evident, but there was early migration taking place from manual, sometimes paper-based roster creation towards digital tools.

However, those manual and even many of the early digital platforms struggled to navigate the complexities of staff availability, over- and under-staffing, managing demand peaks and troughs, and meeting compliance needs such as mandated staffing requirements in industries like aged care and childcare.

There was a higher chance of errors and limited accessibility. Getting word out about new rosters or informing employees of changes to rosters was also a challenge: Employees often still relied on seeing their rosters pinned to the wall in the common area, while roster managers had to hit the phone to find available and qualified staff.

On a positive note, there was a growing acknowledgement of just how complex rostering can be, with more change management taking place as digital tools became the norm and the need to support both managers and employees through that transition became apparent. 

Today: From operational to strategic

Today, the needs of business have changed again, and rostering has become even trickier. For example, consider:

The war for talent: A global survey by Korn Ferry found that by 2030 there will be a global human talent shortage of 85 million people, or roughly equivalent to the population of Germany. Among the hardest hit, both today and tomorrow, are industries that rely heavily on shift-based workers: healthcare, childcare, aged care, retail and hospitality. With that labour shortage comes rostering challenges as operations managers struggle to fill shifts – placing extra pressure on existing employees.

Cost blowouts: Labour costs are being impacted by increasing operational costs and inflationary pressures. According to the Australian Human Resource Institute’s March 2024 Outlook, workers can expect wages, excluding bonuses, to increase 3.7% in the next 12 months - a faster rate than inflation.

For talent attraction and retention, balancing employee demands with what is realistic and sustainable on the business side has never been more important. HR and operations managers need in-depth, real-time oversight of labour costs, which tech solutions like Humanforce can provide.

Legislation and compliance: 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, RDOs, the number of hours since their last shift, and more. In addition, certain industries such as aged care and childcare have mandated staffing requirements that must be adhered to at all times.


Employee work preferences: Traditionally, there was limited scope for employees to request where and when they worked. Today, a consultative, flexible approach is preferred. Of course, there will be times when a manager needs someone to work extra days or back-to-back shifts. However, regular rostering for more than 5 days per week leads to loss of performance and burnout. It’s therefore important to consider staff preferences when it comes to rostering and be mindful of their health and wellbeing. This is important as they may be struggling to juggle work commitments with personal commitments (carer responsibilities, for example). Ideally, employees should be able to nominate their preferences so that rosters can be built around those preferences.

What does all this mean?

In 2024, effective rostering and scheduling is focused not just on the bottom line and keeping labour costs in check; it’s about impacting the business in other positive ways. In forward-looking organisations, there’s a more holistic view being taken, an appreciation that optimised rosters produce a range of other outcomes, including empowered employees, better customer service, and increased employee wellbeing.

Fortunately, technology has kept pace. For example, Humanforce has led the way with:

  • Enabling managers and workers to access and manage rosters through our Work App

  • Automated compliance alerts

  • Communicating roster changes and updates well ahead of time via text message

  • Creation of rosters in the flow or work, with an intuitive user experience that allows managers to ensure the right people are in the right shifts, in the right locations and roles

  • Shift offer and shift bidding features, which help managers fill rosters more efficiently and empower employees to work the hours that suit them best

  • Wage costs shown as the roster is written, giving accurate forecasts and budget control

  • Data-driven insights, which can play a key role in strategic workforce planning and assist in the creation rosters that factor in:

    • Qualifications

    • Employment agreement conditions such as mandatory breaks

    • Worker preferences and availability (leave, RDOs, etc.)

    • How far ahead of time rosters need to be shared with workers

    • Demand peaks and troughs

    • Shift uptake rates (and declines)

    • Overtime and penalty rates

    • Compliance risks

Other features within Humanforce can also help ease what has traditionally been a labour-intensive drain on time. For example, our roster templates and simple drag-and-drop roster builder means users can see what’s going on at a glance. It will also alert roster managers of any potential scheduling clashes or errors.

Rostering has never been a case of ‘one-size-fits-all’. For example, in the events & stadia industry, staffing needs vary greatly depending on the events occurring in any given period. Shifts need to be linked to events so that employees know where and when they can work, and costing can be tracked.

Event Manager is a feature of Humanforce’s Rostering & Scheduling solution that allows for the creation of events and the bulk addition of shifts against those events. Rostered shifts and timesheets can be linked to events for accurate reporting and pay purposes.

The future: Leveraging intelligence for competitive advantage

HR is at the dawn of a data-led revolution. The data-driven insights mentioned above are only the tip of the iceberg.

Well-integrated software solutions are critical here. The more data you have in your system, the more effectively you‘ll be able to leverage that intelligence to optimise operations.

The Humanforce suite already 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.

All leaders should already 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 optimised rostering platforms will eventually take these insights to the next level with demand forecasting, which will utilise other related forecasted data - such as transactional, revenue, attendees, enrolment, and foot traffic data – to forecast headcount and staffing coverage requirements.

From there, AI powered rostering platforms will be able to automate the shift generation process based on that demand forecast. Auto-fill functionality will assign right-fit employees to vacant shifts based on specific objectives and restraints, while ensuring compliance requirements are met.


 Other innovations will focus on:


  • Worker preferences and the move towards making rosters as employee-centric as possible. This will also benefit employers in their efforts towards greater diversity, equity and fairness. For example, fairness of representation can be enhanced by ensuring everyone has equal access to shifts. The requirement for Australian workers to consent to work on public holidays is another step towards this.

  • Greater flexibility, including technology that streamlines the ability of employers to tap into and appeal to the gig-based worker pool.

  • The right to disconnect – for example, by pausing roster notifications until a reasonable hour, at times that are preferable to employees.

Creating intuitive, customisable and user-friendly interfaces is also key. Humanforce’s latest innovation is Roster Manager, a powerful, intelligent rostering experience that streamlines the rostering view, creation and publishing process.

Introducing Roster Manager

Designed to fast-track and simplify the way workforces come together, Roster Manager is a single rostering interface that allows operations and roster managers to complete all their rostering needs with a few clicks. It offers three different views of a roster, allowing users to view their data in a way that best suits them.


Key features include: 

  • Roster Alerts: Generated rosters will clearly highlight any compliance warning to observe or action. Users can surface working hour exceptions, overtime warnings, and qualification limitations to optimise their roster and enhance compliance.

  • Shift Fill: Users can directly fill shifts and offer vacant shifts to workers. Shifts can be filled several ways, with options to select their most trusted or highest performing employees, or easily access the data required to fill shifts based on operational needs (e.g. specific qualifications or costs).

  • Filtering and Grouping: Users can surface their desired rostering information and navigate directly into the detail they need with a range of dynamic viewing and grouping options, such as Area, Shift Definition, Employment Type, Event, Location, Department, and more.

New to Humanforce and keen to know more about how Roster Manager and our HCM suite can help your business? Take a short product tour of Roster Manager here or contact us today to speak to an expert or schedule a demonstration.

For existing Humanforce customers looking to activate Roster Manager, log into Humanforce Help and follow the simple steps outlined here.

About Humanforce

Humanforce is the best-in-one platform for frontline and flexible workforces, offering a truly employee centred, intelligent and compliant human capital management (HCM) suite – without compromise. Founded in 2002, Humanforce has a 2300+ customer base and over half a million users worldwide. Today, we have offices across Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

Our vision is to make work easier and life better by focusing on the needs and fulfilment of frontline workers, and the efficiency and optimisation of businesses.