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How to implement staggered shifts


By Alan Price, employment law expert and CEO of BrightHR

With lockdown measures lifting, your business may now look to return employees to work. At least, those who can’t continue in their role remotely.

However, coronavirus now presents a significant operational problem. You may have to return many employees to an enclosed working space, for example.

If you’re bringing employees back, then you should consider the best approach.

With the challenges ahead, you may want to consider a staggered shift approach. This will help your workplace health & safety needs. Plus, make it easier for your staff to return. So, what’s this all about?

What is a staggered shift pattern?

It’s where a business plan for employees to start, and finish, work at different times. Typically, it’ll take the same hours, but with a change in their structure.

During the coronavirus pandemic, it’s an essential approach as it can help you control social distancing and infection risk.

So, if you arrange your shifts to keep employees arriving at different times, this can control the health & safety issues you face.

How staggered shift pattern can help with social distancing measures

This step is crucial when it comes to the two-metre rule. That’s the UK government’s guidelines on the issue.

The staggered shifts consideration after coronavirus lockdown is something the government actively wants businesses to consider.

It’s particularly important if you’re in the retail industry, have a bar or restaurant, or run an office.

If you have a lot of employees, or they work in an enclosed working area, then you can take this approach to make sure you stick to the government’s rules.

Here are some of the advantages of this system:

  1. It’ll help you and your staff fix times when they (or you) want to start and finish.
  2. The approach will help avoid traffic in your workplace, particularly during peak hours—so, there will be no crowding onto lifts or queues in the canteen.
  3. In a quieter workplace, you can monitor your health & safety procedures more effectively—simply as there are fewer people at any given time.
  4. It’ll ease pressure on employees, many of whom will feel nervous about their return to work.

In short, you’ll have more control over how your business functions. It may seem odd, but in effect, the fewer employees you have at work, the better you can manage the situation. And that can help your productivity. As well as minimise the risk of infection.

So, while it may seem logical to return your workforce at the same time, if you do that it could lead to an outbreak of coronavirus.

And if that happens, you’ll have to look into remote working more members of staff—or closing down again, temporarily.

A sample staggered shift schedule

How should you approach this system? Well, it’s a bit easier than it looks. You can follow a certain structure.

For example, you can use the 5/4/9 plan. That’s a “compressed” work schedule. Your employees will work nine-hour shifts—and one eight hour day. Making a total of 80 hours over a fortnight.

There’s also the 4/10 schedule. Basically, it means staff work a 10 hour day over four days. That’s during the course of a working week.

That could lead to a three-day weekend for employees as a result. But it depends on when, during the working week, they take their extra day off for the working hours they accumulate.

There’s also a four-week cycle, where your team works two consecutive shifts. What follows that is two days off—then three days back on. Before two more days off.

That then heads around in a rotating fashion, making for an unusual structure—but one that provides you with room to control the coronavirus outbreak.

You can take control

Ultimately, it’s down to your business—you can plan out what you think works best. Nothing is set in stone, of course.

But remember that these aren’t just standard shifts—they can help you to limit the threat of coronavirus.

You must also take all the other steps you can to support your employees. The UK government advice may also change in time—so, stay alert for updates.