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Managing your team rotas can be a challenge for many small businesses – whether you try and use a calendar app, a spreadsheet like Excel, or another combination of apps and software which aren’t designed for the job.

We spoke to Essex based Animal Ark about how they went from an inefficient system to a solution that met all of their requirements. Below, they share their story from identifying the right platform for them, what success looks like, and top tips for other small businesses.

We also hear from Animal Ark’s technology provider Deputy about the trends they are seeing in the market.

Nathan Basha, Owner, Animal Ark Veterinary Centre

What was the primary challenge you were looking to solve within the business?

We needed an efficient scheduling system. Efficiency meant three main requirements, our team had real time access, it needed to be intuitive for the HR administrator to be able to schedule and maintain, and thirdly we needed effective communication especially surrounding changes/updates to scheduling.

Did you have an existing solution in place, or were you building from scratch?

We did have an existing system which was a combination of multiple applications/software. The main issue was that it was not efficient to administer and not automatically integrated. It also had limited capability in keeping team members up to date/in real time.  

What key features were you looking for, and how did you go about identifying a platform that might work for you?

Ease of use. You can have the most comprehensive software in the world with every piece of functionality you could ever dream of, but the reality is most businesses only use a specific subset of that functionality. The key for us was to identify what we needed for our business and for the bits we needed to use, how easy was it to use. 

Deputy stood out for two reasons, ease of use and support. Ease of use, not only from an end user perspective but also the onboarding experience. In relation to support, it was not only about day to day support, but I got a clear sense that Deputy as a product was continually being invested in and improved on. 

How are you planning to measure return on investment and what does success look like? 

We measure our return on investment by the efficiency created.  How easy is it for our administrators to manage the system? How easy is it for our leadership group to plan their scheduling? How easy is it for the individual team member to use?

In regards to software implementation such as Deputy, I would define success as happy team members. If the software works on a day to day level, it does not hinder our team and they have the information they need at their fingertips. That lets them get on with looking after our clients and patients with a clear mindset and no distractions. 

How have your team adapted to the new technology?

The team have adapted well. The success of any software implementation is directly proportional to the amount of time spent integrating/training the end user. Saying that, Deputy is relatively simple and intuitive to use. As a process we held walk through ‘how to’ sessions. The sessions were aimed at various end users depending upon their varying levels of use/responsibilities within the software.   

What would your top three pieces of advice be for other small businesses?

1. Define what you really need the software to do. It is easy to get hooked by fancy functionality that is not core to your business or functionality that has no significant bearing on the success of your business.  Map your processes to the software and if it doesn’t meet your business needs, keep looking.

2. Play with it. Get team members from various parts of the business to play with it. Everyone has different needs which drives how they use software. Does it work for them? 

3. Create a great onboarding experience. First impressions count. Keep the onboarding simple and targeted to that specific user.  

David Kelly, General Manager, EMEA at Deputy.

What are the key challenges you’re seeing small business owners face when it comes to managing people?

For great small businesses, the headache isn’t winning new contracts, it’s to work out how they quickly scale up to deliver that work. SMEs need to know that they have no barriers to business from a people perspective and can grow teams in a sustainable way.

The key challenges include: knowing where your staff need to be and when; that you have appropriately trained people working with the right levels of junior support and senior management; and that you pay your team members correctly first time, every time to ensure you remain compliant. Employee engagement is vital to success: enabling your team to do their job to the best of their ability with clarity, transparency and trust.

How is technology changing the way small businesses can manage their shift-driven teams?

Managing people can now be cloud-based, underpinned by the fact easy-to-use software now integrates with the phone and everyday life. In a world of email, WhatsApp and telephone calls, apps that enable employers to manage work shifts, payments and communicate all in one place are changing the game. These apps provide employees with more transparency and control over their work-life and free up managers from the burden of rota management.  

Why should SMBs invest in a specific tool rather than ‘making do’ with a combination of software and apps?

Managing shift rotas manually and across spreadsheets and calendars is a hugely time-consuming process. As soon as a rota is drawn up it can be out-of-date within hours if, for example, somebody falls unwell, has a childcare emergency or requests leave.

Dedicated workforce management apps like Deputy automate the whole process:

  • They give managers back their valuable time to focus on developing and growing their business – a live dashboard instantly gives you the information you need
  • They can automatically design shift schedules for you, taking into account historical data, budget limitations and the availability that your staff have provided
  • They integrate with other systems including payroll and – particularly for retail and hospitality businesses – point-of-sale systems so you can take a data-led approach and match staffing to demand, to help maximise profitability

What are your top employee management tips for small businesses?

1. Treat your staff well – they are your engine for growth. Take them on the journey with you by giving them the tools that help them have more transparency and control over their work lives.

2. Automate processes where possible to extract yourself from repetitive management tasks. For example, by empowering your team to swap shifts between themselves, with updates made in real-time on your system. Or by integrating timesheets directly with payroll, eliminating costly payroll errors and improving employee engagement.

3. Multiply efficiency by integrating the systems you use. Look at which of the technologies you use integrate with each other. Does your payroll provider talk to your workforce management app and salary advance platform? Does your sales data help you to make decisions about who you need to employ, particularly at seasonal times of the year? Many cloud-based apps connect easily and integrate seamlessly providing significant savings by reducing admin time, automating repetitive tasks and improving data accuracy (thereby eliminating errors).

This is now all possible with different software providers linking up to create an ecosystem of technology that you can tailor to your business needs.