Lockdown Stories: David Brandon, co-founder of RotaCloud

Based in York, RotaCloud has been helping companies across the globe plan rotas, record time and attendance, and manage annual leave all from one single platform since 2013. By providing software that makes the complexities of staff management simple, RotaCloud has supported businesses of all sizes across a range of sectors. 

From restaurants and hotels to universities and care homes, RotaCloud’s customer base has provided its team with a unique insight into the varying ways that the Covid-19 crisis has adversely impacted different industries.

With many clients working in some of the hardest hit sectors, RotaCloud took a proactive approach to offering critical support to those that needed it the most during this unprecedented time, whilst also safeguarding its own staff. 

To find out how a multi-million-pound company with 50 employees was able to quickly adapt and successfully weather the Covid storm, we caught up with RotaCloud co-founder, David Brandon. 

We are in this together

Despite the widespread uncertainty caused by the Government’s national lockdown restrictions, David and the team quickly realised that with more than 100,000 RotaCloud users, the disruption caused by the pandemic was going to impact the business. 

“We were heavily affected by Covid-19. In some sectors, such as hospitality, our customer base dropped by up to 95 per cent overnight,” comments David. 

Amid this huge loss of business in such a short space of time, David also understood that many of the businesses RotaCloud works with were facing some of the most challenging times they had ever witnessed.  

He comments: “It’s been so much worse for some of our customers though, and we’ve seen first-hand how absolutely devastating the last year has been for them. So, it’s been really important to us to make sure that we helped them out as much as we could.

“We’ve paused payments for any of our affected customers and given our software away for free to any struggling new customers. Our tools are really useful for helping to maintain social distancing in the workplace and we wanted as many people to have access to that as possible, even if they couldn’t afford it right now.”

Being adaptable creates innovation 

Through the provision of critical assistance, RotaCloud was able to evolve its current service offering and produce new solutions that were designed to address the specific challenges businesses were faced with at this time.

Thinking innovatively meant that the business could be more resilient when it mattered most.

David continues: “I think we’ve weathered the storm better than most. Mainly because we approached this period with the mindset that we just wanted to be as helpful as we possibly could.

“For instance, when the furlough scheme was first announced we knew that our customers were going to need a way to properly track and record their furloughed staff, along with documentation to provide to HMRC. 

“So we designed, built, and incorporated a furlough tracker into RotaCloud within three days of the initial CJRS announcement. And we’ve had some great feedback from customers as a result.

“Continuing to innovate, and to update the RotaCloud product with the tools our customers need,  has allowed us to remain successful. It is one of the main things that has helped us survive the last year.”

Taking a proactive approach 

Despite the seismic changes that were happening across the global marketplace, David’s decisive and calculated stance ensured all RotaCloud employees had access to the necessary resources to make a seamless transition to remote working.  

He comments: “We were really prepared. We saw what was happening early on and had already made the decision to start home working before the announcement from the government came. We adapted the infrastructure we needed and sent tech home with our staff straight away.

“We also put a team in place whose job it was to ensure that everyone had all of the information they needed, as it was really  important to keep everyone up to date on the changing situation. This meant that the transition to home working was pretty smooth for us.”

However, this wasn’t without its challenges. David highlighted that RotaCloud’s two major concerns revolved around hardware and security.

David comments: “People using different computers and not having access to the work network were two initial problems we faced. However, these were pretty easily overcome by moving to cloud-based systems where we could.

“As for security, we needed to rewrite our policies entirely and put in place new procedures to allow remote access, whilst still maintaining an airtight level of security.”

As a leader within the region’s IT industry, David realised what the business had to focus on and what needed improving as society became more reliant on new technologies.  

He comments: “For us it was communication, definitely. Having the right tools to facilitate communication is vital, especially when your whole workforce is remote. We use Slack for internal messaging along with Google Meet for video conferencing. Without these tools our productivity would be nowhere near where it is. 

“Productivity and innovation rely on being able to talk to your colleagues easily. Without that, yes you can physically do your job alone as long as you have all the tech that you need in place, but it’s much harder to be inspired working in silo.”

Looking after health and wellbeing

As well as the technical aspects to running a business amid a global pandemic, David knew the significant toll this was taking on his team’s professional and personal lives. Addressing the mental health of each team member was something the senior team at RotaCloud put high on the agenda. 

David continues: “Protecting our team’s mental health and wellbeing has arguably been the most important thing that we’ve focused on over the last 12 months. It has been such a difficult time for everyone, but it’s really important to make sure every single person feels heard, reassured, and that their own individual circumstances are understood and taken into account. 

“We have staff who’ve been shielding, staff that have vulnerable family members — there’s no one size fits all approach in a situation like this. Logistically we’ve made tweaks to our project management structure to enable efficient working from home; we have far more catch-ups than we did before, to make sure nothing gets miscommunicated, but also so that people don’t feel isolated. 

“We also put in a new layer of management, to ensure that all the extra workload is spread and doesn’t put too much pressure on a small number of individuals.”

As daily interactions between employees have been almost eradicated, David also made sure that those lunchtime chats and quick colleague catch-ups were replaced with virtual alternatives.

He explains: “Socially, we’ve had quizzes, regular video chat drinks, remote yoga, a zoom workshop on financial planning, a wine and cheese tasting evening, all sorts of things. We’re trying to keep the recreational side of RotaCloud as normal as possible, whilst at the same time remembering that things are by no stretch normal at all, and that people need as much support as we can give them. Whether that’s having a beer with their friends and colleagues over video chat on a Friday, or a check in with one of our newly qualified mental health first aiders.”

Continue to learn 

Although 2020 has been one of the most difficult economic and social periods in living memory for many across the world, the forced evolution of many businesses must continue. This is certainly the case for RotaCloud. David now intends to take the lessons he has learnt throughout lockdown forward, especially when it comes to working from home.  

He comments: “These last few months have really opened my eyes to how beneficial working from home can be. So much so, we’ve even introduced a ‘work from anywhere’ initiative, where, rules and regulations dependent, the team can work from wherever they like. 

“One of the development team was working in Italy for a month last Autumn, and I was even working in Switzerland for six weeks in August. The RotaCloud team has adapted amazingly well over the last year, and the way that we’ve thrived is a testament to the people that we have.” 

David’s final thoughts for anyone struggling in these unusual times…

“Keep at it, you can do this. It won’t last forever.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves David, this is exactly the grit and determination that us Yorkshire folk are known for. 

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