Automating work schedules to ensure workers come to the office inside their designated cohort.
Covid-19 (Coronavirus) changed the world, we all know that. Over and above the societal changes, the cultural changes and the huge amount of change experienced in the healthcare and medical arenas, workplaces and workforces have changed.
As many places now get back to post-lockdown working practices, businesses are discussing how to best manage their workforce. In many cases, organizations are looking at options to stagger worker schedules more intelligently so that workplace office space can be more broadly apportioned to provide more room for people, from a static space that actually remains unchanged.
Former doctor creates software startup
A software solution that works in this space was (perhaps somewhat paradoxically) developed in the pre-Covid world, in a hospital accident & emergency (A&E) department. Created by former British doctor and emergency medicine physician Chris McCullough along with CTO partner Nick Mann, Rotageek uses cloud-based technology and automatic scheduling to help multi-site businesses manage and schedule staff to meet demand, drive efficiency and reduce costs.
Now CEO of Rotageek, McCullough explains that he assembled a team to create the software after getting frustrated with staff scheduling at his hospital. Having spent time working at St Mary’s Hospital, London and University College London Hospitals, he says he understood at close hand just how tough it can be to get medical staff with the right skills, working in the right department, with the right co-workers alongside them, on the right day and at the right time.
Rotageek is an online tool that can ‘rotate the geeks’ (or indeed any other type of worker from business manager to salesperson to admin staff and so on) needed in an organization.
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From scrubs to software
Although a trained doctor with a PhD in genetic control of liver cell death, McCullough’s wider interest in software saw him use his spare time to start developing this online tool designed to work in any industry vertical. As a tech startup (McCullough prefers the term startup/scale-up), Rotageek now employs over 40 people and the company is now looking to finesse its software to make it increasingly applicable to workforce scheduling in every industry from petrochemicals to retail to (for want of random examples) baking and brewing.
Quoted in Retail Times, McCullough explains how his firm’s software can be applied outside of medicine in areas like the retail industry. “The [UK and the world’s] retailers and their workforce are demonstrating resilience and flexibility in the face of a crisis,” said McCullough. “Covid-19 has driven an immediate need for retailers and staff to be flexible in working practices and to focus on employee wellbeing. The retailers that are going to flourish in the long term are the ones that invest in digital and physical transformation, and those that put their employees first.”
Other industries that Rotageek has been applied to include automobile breakdown and recovery (RAC), takeaway food (Pret A Manger), telecoms (O2), clothing (Gap), turf accountancy and betting (William Hill), animal care (Pets at Home) and, in fact, cake baking (Lola’s Cupcakes).
Don’t come to work out of your cohort
Suggesting that automatically splitting teams into ‘workflow cohorts’ is the sensible way forward, McCullough insists that managing cohorts has become critical in more recent times, considering Covid-19. He says that by properly defining groups of people, organizations can develop and then feed in ‘business rules’ to ensure they minimize the risk of infection – scheduling the same people together as a cohort. Therefore, if one employee falls sick, it’s clear which cohort needs to be isolated, so firms can protect business continuity.
So how does it work? The ‘engine’ of the (software) machine itself here is called an Autoscheduler.
“The Autoscheduler is a custom-built optimization tool to solve the problem of staff scheduling that allows users to specify their own custom set of rules. It evaluates millions of possible schedule combinations until it finds a schedule that obeys the rules and has a good match to customer demand. Each customer that uses the product has their own database of people, workloads, business objectives and so on, which provides better security and data segregation. The data itself is categorized into ‘users’, ‘locations’, ‘schedules’ and ‘timesheets’, along with some ancillary tables to handle other workforce management tasks, such as ‘employee leave’ and ‘swaps’,” explained McCullough.
All of which is all fair and good, but haven’t we been here before? Scheduling software has been around for many years and workforce technology specialists like SAP SuccessFactors, Oracle with its Oracle HR Cloud, Workday and other Human Capital Management (HCM) specialists have solutions that could already be applied to this space.
“I could wax lyrical about digital scheduling but – to the point, yes – scheduling has been around for a while and quite a few vendors offer it. We believe our Autoscheduler is a game-changer in the market because it creates millions of schedules in a matter of seconds and factors-in employee suitability (fit) to company requirements (demand), availability and work preferences, as well as business-specific constraints, fairness rules and legal requirements to create the perfectly optimized schedule,” said McCullough.
Where scheduling software has sucked
Again insisting that Rotageek’s technology proposition is substantially differentiated from others on the market, McCullough and team claim that other scheduling solutions on the market usually suffer from one of two flaws:
- Other existing software focuses only on assigning a set of predefined shifts to colleagues — this means they can’t efficiently fit demand, especially if that demand changes week-on-week.
- Other existing software handles shift generation and assignment separately— so shifts are created but not filled, since there aren’t employees available without violating business rules.
“The Rotageek Autoscheduler can do both, combining shift generation with shift assignment, so the customer has their important shifts and tasks covered, without violating a single scheduling rule. Couple this with our forecasting tool, where we feed in everything from footfall to transactions — and Autoscheduler helps businesses improve productivity, decrease labor costs (which can be reinvested in other areas), improve customer experience (NPSv +7) and improve fairness sentiment. Some of our retail customers have also reported increases in customer ‘basket size’ (the amount they purchase) and revenue,” concluded McCullough.
Coming full circle back to health
Rotageek has come full circle (i.e. back to medicine) and now signed a partnership with Locum’s Nest (a software platform that connects health professionals to vacant workspaces) in order to improve UK National Health Service (NHS) rostering.
There will arguably (or perhaps certainly) be a greater need for this type of workforce scheduling software in the post-Covid world. Certainly for people with children and other family commitments, understanding when and where you need to be for work could be about to get a whole lot more complex in the future.