Unfortunately it is a fact of life that from time to time, volunteers will need to cancel a commitment that they previously made to your rota. Sickness, family emergencies and other unforeseeable problems affect everyone occasionally. Any rota management system that is going to be useful in the real world needs to help you deal with the human factor that people can never be 100% reliable.
RotaCentral is built with the philosophy that we will automate as much as possible to save you time and that this frees up your time to handle the remaining rota management tasks that we cannot automate for you. We apply this philosophy to cancelled shifts by separating the cancellations into two types:-
- Cancellations with good notice
- Cancellations with short notice
The dividing line between these two depends on your rota. Essentially the notice period is a measure of how many days are needed to give RotaCentral a good chance of finding a replacement on its own without your intervention. It is generally a matter of the culture of your rota members that determines whether 3 days, or a week, or a month is needed to give someone enough practical and polite notice that you need them to help on the rota. Anything longer is considered good notice and anything less is short notice.
How RotaCentral can automate handling of cancellations with good notice
RotaCentral has two rota settings that are relevant to this question: the Cancellation and the Auto-Replacer.
The Cancellation setting allows you to specify whether or not volunteers have a cancellation button on their personal shifts page for shifts that they have already accepted. It also allows you to choose a number of days notice after which the button will be hidden. This has two effects. Firstly, cancellations where there is sufficient notice can be made by your volunteers without you taking any action, which saves you time. You will still be notified by email so that you are aware. But if there is enough notice then RotaCentral will at some point find a replacement person without you having to be concerned or involved. The second effect of this is that once the shift is coming up and the cancellation notice is short, the volunteers are not given a simple button to press, but instead can only cancel by contacting you using the message writing box on their personal shifts page or by some other means. Psychologically this is a deterrent from cancelling, as they have to go to the trouble of communicating with you. Experience has shown that this reduced the number of short notice cancellations on our customers’ rotas.
If turned on, the Auto-Replacer setting means that whenever a volunteer cancels their shift using the cancel button, RotaCentral will immediately allocate a replacement volunteer and email them to accept the shift. The replacement volunteer is chosen using RotaCentral’s fairness algorithm, which picks people who have not done another shift for a longer period than anyone else on your list. It also takes into account periods of unavailability, the volunteer’s role and all the usual factors. This Auto-Replacer setting also allows you to specify a number of days in case you don’t want your volunteers to be hassled at short notice. Again, the effect of this is that cancellations with good notice can take place without your involvement, to save you time.
What you can do with cancellations with short notice
More problematic are the situations where someone cancels with short notice. In this situation you will be notified by email and the volunteer’s message will be found in the RotaCentral inbox. If they have contacted you through a different medium then the message may be elsewhere. Ultimately, if the volunteer’s reason for cancelling is valid then you will have to resort to finding someone else to fill the shift. In these situations the rota administrators we talk to have a few battle-tested approaches that we will share with you:-
- Choose carefully who you allocate to the vacant shift. At this stage you aren’t necessarily looking for the fairest person to choose, but a reliable person who won’t object to the last minute request. Someone really keen perhaps. Some rota administrators keep a special list of their volunteers who are happy to help in these situations. (We are even considering adding to RotaCentral a capability to automate this tactic.)
- Another approach is to choose someone who is doing the corresponding shift the following week or day. They might not object to moving their shift forward, and this has the effect of putting the vacant shift back, in the process increasing the notice period.
We hope this gives you some insight into how RotaCentral handles cancellations and some ideas about how you might configure RotaCentral to be the best arrangement for your particular rota. Please contact us or contribute to the comments section below if you have any queries or suggestions on this topic.