Creative Ways to Schedule Employees During a Crisis

Creative Ways to Schedule Employees During a Crisis

By Tricia O'Connor

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust flexible scheduling into the spotlight. As the virus spread and states implemented stay-at-home orders, many employers reacted by deploying remote workforces.

But what was supposed to be a temporary fix, is now being viewed among enterprise organizations as a long-term flexible work solution.

However, working from home is not one-size-fits-all, and it’s definitely not doable for certain industries.

So, companies are getting creative with employee scheduling to keep their people safe and operations running smoothly. We did a little digging and found some of the most popular solutions being used right now.

Something’s Gotta Give

Workplace fatigue is real. Exploring alternative work scheduling is becoming increasingly necessary as more people suffer burnout, stress, and fatigue from being stretched thin during this pandemic. While workplace fatigue is not exclusive to a health crisis, the coronavirus has caused an abrupt disruption to employees’ lives and organizations’ operations.

Workplace fatigue is hitting vulnerable populations like working parents, employees of color, and immunocompromised people particularly hard. Workplace fatigue is also disproportionately affecting healthcare workers, frontline essential employees, and certain industries like manufacturing and supply chain.

Two issues compounding the workplace fatigue struggle are predictive scheduling laws and limited sick or paid leave for many hourly workers.

The National Retail Federation says predictive scheduling laws commonly include these provisions:

  • Advance schedule posting
  • Employer penalties for unexpected schedule changes
  • Employer record-keeping requirements
  • Removing requirement for workers to find suitable coverage for their shifts if they’re not able to work

Limited paid sick leave is a concern for millions of workers, many of whom are part-time or hourly. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) aims to help curb the numbers of workers who don’t have sufficient sick time. The FFCRA requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for reasons related to COVID-19. But there are quite a few eligibility requirements.

Despite these challenges, employers are doing their best to meet their employees’ needs while still delivering the product or service they’re known for. Here are four creative staffing strategies employers are successfully using.

1. Flex Time

Flex time is a policy that allows employees to choose their work hours, if a traditional nine-to-five workday doesn’t work for them. Employees are still responsible for meeting established goals and productivity output. In some cases, employers may require employees to report to work (even virtually) for specific functions like meetings. About 44% of U.S. employers and organizations offered flex time in 2019.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln advised its department heads they could institute flex time for both hourly and monthly employees during COVID-19, with one caveat: it could not increase staffing costs or decrease departmental efficiency. Click here to read the university’s policy.

2. Compressed Workweeks

A compressed workweek basically squeezes 40 hours of work (the traditional North American model) into fewer days. Long championed by Virgin Group billionaire Richard Branson, the idea recaptured businesses’ attention as more employees struggled to balance work and life during the coronavirus.

The most common compression is a 4/10 model, where an employee works four 10-hour days. This is common in journalism, and media outlets around the country use this model to help reporters stave off burnout and complete multiple assignments each day.

Another compression is a 9/80 which runs over a two-week cycle and provides employees two three-day weekends a month. Read this for details on how it works.

3. Rotating Shifts

When you think of shift work, you probably think of manufacturing, healthcare, and perhaps even law enforcement. But there are plenty of industries expanding into 24/7 service, including technology support and e-commerce.

Rotating shifts, or a hybrid schedule where employees report on alternate days or times to a brick-and-mortar job, are helping workers maintain physical distancing and keep productivity up. Many schools across the country are considering hybrid models to ensure student and teacher safety, and municipal governments are using rotating shifts successfully, too. The idea is to allow employees to report to the office to complete tasks that must be done in person, but to limit interaction between workers.

4. Flex Pools / Part-Time Work

The importance of part-time workers cannot be underestimated. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports one in six workers is considered part-time, and that was before COVID-19 hit. Part-time employees work less than 40 hours per week and are mostly women and low-wage workers. They are a critical component of the workforce, yet they are particularly susceptible to socioeconomic and healthcare challenges because of the pandemic.

Healthcare, retail, manufacturing, and essential services are some of the most common industries that rely on part-time work. But hospitals in COVID-19 “hot spots” are facing a nursing shortage. Leveraging a flex pool can help provide relief to overworked part-time employees.

A flex pool is usually considered a group of workers who can step in to provide alternative coverage during a surge in labor demand. Candidates who participate in flex pools often crave flexibility and may not be able to commit to traditional shift lengths or full-time employment. Retirees and stay-at-home parents are often recruited to join flex pools. For tips on how to implement flex pools, click here.

Move Ahead with EBI Workplace Health & Safety

No matter which employee scheduling method you choose, you need a return-to-work solution to accommodate your workforce needs and ensure the safety of your employees and visitors. A comprehensive suite of return-to-work solutions like EBI’s Workplace Health & Safety can help you move ahead of your competition, keep your staff safe, and your output levels steady. 

As always, our goal at EBI is to support your business goals with valuable knowledge, tools, and insight. Call or email us to let us know how we can help improve the overall quality of your operations.

About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

Learn More About Sterling