A complete guide to rotating work schedules for small businesses

As a manager of a small business with hourly employees and long shifts, you may want to rotate work schedules to ensure that you always have enough staff to cover all your hours of operation.

But rotating schedules can be difficult to organize, and present serious challenges if not managed well. Staff can become disillusioned, tired, and frustrated, and you risk no-shows and poor results

By getting on top of your rotating work schedules, you can increase productivity, improve work-life balance, and reduce burnout.

That’s why, in this post we explain:

  • The most common types of rotating work schedules
  • The main advantages of rotating work schedules
  • Some of the challenges that rotating work schedules can present
  • How to create a rotating work schedule, and how Homebase can make it much easier compared to doing it all manually
  • Best practice tips for managing a rotating work schedule

Types of rotating work schedules

A rotating work schedule is as it sounds: a schedule where shifts rotate (change), so that team members don’t always do the same shift over and over. For example, the same workers don’t always do the morning shift or the evening shift, but rotate between them.

There are a lot of different types of rotating work systems, but these are some of the most common examples.

Continuous rotation

A continuous rotating system means that workers rotate shifts in a continuous loop. For example, one day they work in the morning, the next day in the afternoon, and the following day in the evening, before starting again.

Backward rotation

A backward rotation schedule is when later shifts are followed by earlier shifts (moving backward in time). For example, if you have a period of working night shifts or afternoon shifts, this will be followed by morning shifts.

Forward rotation

A forward rotation schedule is when earlier shifts are followed by later shifts (moving forward in time). For example, if you have a period of working morning shifts or afternoon shifts, this will be followed by afternoon or evening shifts.

Oscillating rotation

An oscillating rotation pattern is when employees rotate back and forth between shifts, for example, they might work mornings for a while, and then change back to afternoons. If you have three shift periods, the third shift usually remains fixed.

For example, a team member always works the morning shift, but then switches (oscillates) backward and forward between afternoon and evening shifts after that.

Skip rotation

In a skip rotation system, a worker will do a block of the same shift, take days off, and then come back to do a block of another shift. For example, a team member could do a week of morning shifts, take two days off, and then return for a week of afternoon shifts.

Advantages of rotating work schedules

Rotating work schedules offer some major advantages for both employers and team members.

Increased productivity

Changing up employees’ shifts can help to boost variety and therefore productivity, as team members are not always working the same hours, with the same tasks or challenges. This can help prevent boredom, complacency, and disillusion among staff.

Similarly, changing up the staff ‘on duty’ means that different skills are brought to each shift and balanced between work hours. So it’s not always the same person, doing the same things, with the same skills.

This can bring variety and freshness to the job, boosting productivity and improving outcomes.

Perceived as fairer

For example, some industries pay staff differently for different shifts, or require more difficult work at certain hours. This happens in restaurants, where people who work in the evening get more tips, or a coffee shop where the toughest shift is the early morning rush.

In this instance, working different shifts means each worker has an equal chance overall of earning tips, or not always working the hardest.

Better work-life balance

Team members who work rotating shifts may experience a better work-life balance, because they are not always ‘unavailable’ for their life outside of work at the same hours.

For example, when they‘re working the evening shift, they can spend more time during the day with their kids, or head to an afternoon gym class. And when they’re working the morning shift, they’ll have more time to spend with friends in the evenings, or put their kids to bed, for example.

This variety may suit some workers better than others, depending on their needs outside of the workplace.

Reduced burnout

A better work-life balance can help reduce burnout and mean that workers are less likely to get sick or need time off work overall.

Offering workers different shifts can give them much-needed variety and mean that they don’t always have to commit to working at the same time, on the same days.

This can give them flexibility to pursue interests or side-hustles outside of their shifts, or simply give them time to rest, boosting satisfaction and energy.

Challenges of rotating work schedules

However, rotating schedules can present some challenges if not managed well.


Constantly changing shifts can be tiring for staff, who may struggle to get a consistent sleep pattern in place when their hours are changing — especially from night shifts to morning shifts or vice versa. This can cause fatigue and even mean that employees turn up late to their shift, as they struggle to adapt.

Working evening and night shifts also contributes to a range of health problems, including insomnia, heart complaints, and digestive issues, because they conflict with people’s 24-hour ‘internal clocks’ and circadian rhythms (the way that the body keeps time, and wakes up with the sun, for example).

Lack of stability

One of the most obvious challenges of rotating work schedules is the lack of stability and constant change that it presents to workers.

While some workers may welcome the variety, others may find it stressful, and want consistent working patterns so they can organize activities outside of work, like evening classes.

This constant change, especially if it happens without much warning, can become difficult for workers who need a more predictable or consistent schedule.

Lack of productivity or quality

Assigning workers rotating shifts without much thought for the balance of the team, or the skills of those assigned, can mean that productivity and quality vary considerably between shifts.

Similarly, if the workload differs a lot between shifts, like when there’s more work to do in the morning than the afternoon, this can affect quality and productivity too. The best rotating schedules will take all of this into account, to avoid peaks and dips in output and skillsets between shifts.

Decreased morale

Some staff may experience dropping morale as a result of rotating work shifts due to the uncertainty, fatigue, and constant change it can bring.

If workers feel as though their shifts are constantly changing, especially without much predictability or warning, they may feel as though their employer doesn’t respect or care about them, and become disillusioned.

How to create a rotating work schedule

At its most basic, creating a rotating work schedule is fairly simple. Find out when each of your team members is available, and put them into groups by shift (for example, put them into groups according to when they work, e.g. morning, afternoon, or evening). Then, assign them to one of the three shifts, taking into account their role, skills, and availability.

However, doing this manually can quickly get complicated, especially if there are a lot of different roles or experience levels, changing availability, PTO, and sick days; and you have a lot of staff to assign quickly.

Homebase can make this much easier, by automatically populating a schedule for you based on your rotation pattern, employee roles, and availability. You can also create a template based on a schedule that worked well once, and repeat it, so you don’t have to build each schedule from scratch every time.

Here’s how you do it.

First, set up your ‘perfect’ schedule, based on the rotating pattern you choose.

  1. In your Homebase dashboard, hit Schedule. This is on the left-hand sidebar.
  2. Firstly, set team members’ availability. Hit Team Availability to block out days or times when staff are not available. The scheduler will then take this into account on your schedule, and alert you if you accidentally schedule a team member at a time when they’re not available.
  3. Under Departments/Roles, you can assign the staff you need across your business for each shift. For example, in a restaurant, in the Back of House you may need a Cook and a Prep worker. In Front of House, you need a Cashier and a Server. This ensures that you always have the right staff available for each new shift (so, for example, you don’t end up with two Servers and no Cooks, when you need one of each.)
  4. Then assign staff to each day or hour, rotating their shifts on a daily, weekly, or bi-weekly basis (depending on the pattern you choose). You can toggle between views so you can get more detail on each week or day, by hitting the Day / Week / Month dropdown at the top of the screen. To assign a team member, click on the day or hour you want to give them, on the line where their name appears to the left of the screen (see the image below).

Once you’re happy with your schedule, you can then copy it as a template so you never have to start with a blank page again. You can then use your template as a base, and switch out team members depending on their changing availability.

  1. To create a template of your current schedule screen, click the Tools button with the spanner icon, in the top right-hand corner.
  2. Click Templates (see the image below.) Then give the current view a name, and hit Create. This will make a template out of your current view, so you can refer back to it and use it to build another schedule.

You can also copy the current view to another date if you want to repeat a week’s shift schedule for two weeks or a month in a row, for example.

  1. To copy one week’s schedule to the next, hit the Copy button in the top right-hand corner.
  2. Then choose the dates that you want to copy the current view to (see the image below.)

Once you’re happy with your schedule, hit Publish in the top right corner.

In Settings (on the left-hand sidebar), you can toggle how you want your schedule to be sent to team members, as well as other parameters.

For example, under Schedule Enforcement, you can choose the day that your work week starts, and the hours you want to have available for scheduling.

Under Alerts & Permissions, you can choose to Text the schedule to employees (see the image below). This is a major advantage of using Homebase, because staff receive a notification about a change to the schedule via their smartphone.

This makes it easier for staff, as it reduces the chance that they won’t see changes in time, and they don’t have to check a piece of paper physically to know when they’re scheduled to work.

It also saves managers major time and stress because they know that every team member has received an alert about a new schedule, and they don’t have to worry about printing out a new calendar or manually letting everyone know every time there’s a change.

Best practice tips for managing a rotating work schedule

When managing a rotating work schedule, we recommend keeping the following tips in mind for a happier and more productive workforce.

Continuously manage employee availability

Rotating shift schedules work best when you assign times to employees who are not only available to work then, but also happy to do so.

Of course, as a business, you’ll sometimes have to ask a team member to work at a time when they’d prefer not to — maybe everyone wants to work mornings. But keeping availability and preference in mind is key to a happier and more productive workforce. It also keeps scheduling problems to a minimum.

By ensuring that you’re always aware of factors like PTO, sick leave, other commitments, or anything else that could impact availability, you’ll keep staff happier and have fewer no-shows or last-minute changes.

Homebase’s scheduling tool makes it really easy to manage availability, as staff can submit their availability via the app (and you can approve it there too). The tool will also alert you if you try to schedule a team member at a time when they’re not available, so there’s no risk of clashes.

Finetune your communication and feedback processes

One way of ensuring staff preferences and availability for scheduling is to maintain excellent communication and feedback processes among your team.

Work to implement a culture of open communication, where staff feel comfortable letting you know their availability, what’s working, and what isn’t. You could have a system where staff communicate their availability in advance, but feel comfortable letting you know if that changes.

You can also encourage autonomy among your workforce by encouraging open and friendly communication between colleagues. That way, staff share knowledge between shifts to maximize productivity and handovers.

A platform like Homebase makes transparent team communication between workers and managers easy, and emphasizes a culture of transparent and professional messaging.

The Homebase app is specially designed for easy communication between managers and staff, and lets them chat among themselves too, all within the same platform. You can share information about shifts, send documents, and alert them to schedule changes instantly.

They can switch shifts between themselves, and managers can choose whether to require approval or not without the Homebase dashboard.

You can also do things like create groups, for example, for everyone working a particular shift, so you can send messages to the entire on-duty team in one go.

Stay flexible and keep an open mind

Whichever rotating shift schedule you choose, you’ll likely have very good reasons for doing so. However, when it comes to scheduling staff, it’s always a good idea to stay flexible and keep an open mind (because everyone knows what they say about the best-laid plans).

Stay compassionate and open to changing availability, and don’t assign staff to work at times that really don’t work for them. Doing so will cause disillusion, and risks more no-shows and workforce churn.

Using a communication platform like Homebase can make this easier, because staff can organize themselves and switch shifts with minimal input from managers. This gives them flexibility without requiring you to plan out a whole new schedule.

It’s easy to change shifts in the Homebase platform, as you can do the whole thing digitally on the calendar dashboard, and push alerts and changes to staff via text or app.

Keep shifts as predictable as possible and plan ahead

Scheduling shifts in advance will be popular with your workforce as they’ll be able to plan ahead and figure out other commitments in their life.

This will improve morale, as staff will feel that you’re respecting their time and needs outside of work. For example, a restaurant worker may find it easier to psych themselves up to be productive and alert on a long night shift, because they know that they have PTO and daytime shifts lined up for next week.

You’ll also improve productivity and ease scheduling issues, as giving people time to plan ahead increases the chance of everyone turning up to their shifts.

It’s simple to let staff know their schedule in the Homebase app, as they can see a calendar view of their upcoming shifts. You can also toggle between letting them see everyone’s shifts, or only letting them see their own schedule.

Consider your rotation rate

It may be easier for your team to adapt to changing shifts if you slow down the rotation periods, or change them up depending on staff demand. Rather than rotating over a period of 24 hours (so staff shifts change every day) you could rotate over a period of a week, fortnight, or month.

This will depend on your industry, and the availability and preferences of your staff. But slowing down your rotation rate could help reduce burnout and fatigue, so it may be the right choice for you.

Rotating work schedules for success

Rotating work schedules is a tried and true method of assigning team members to shifts. It makes sure their hours align with their availability, and you have the team you need when you need it.

But it can be tough deciding on the type of rotation schedule, and ensuring you get the best of the benefits without the worst of the challenges.

Homebase can make the entire process much easier compared to scheduling manually using pen or paper or juggling spreadsheets. It lets you automatically factor in staff availability, PTO, and staff roles.

It highlights clashes, and you can copy schedules from week to week so you can plan schedules well in advance — saving you time and stress, and alerting team members early. So you can rotate staff schedules with success.

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