Coronavirus (COVID-19): Key workforce management considerations around shift patterns, rotas and rosters

In our previous article and webinar we provided advice on adapting shift patterns, rotas and rosters to support employee wellbeing and capacity during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

However, adjusting to volatile demand, absence issues, staggered processes and new social distancing measures through workforce planning is just one aspect of how organisations need to respond to the pandemic.

Shift work must be managed effectively during the crisis and beyond to ensure the health and wellbeing of employees is protected and that shift patterns, rotas and rosters remain optimised and responsive to change.

It is also increasingly clear that many organisations who had previously operated fixed working hours will have to introduce variable shift patterns to maintain safe working environments.

In this scenario many legacy mechanisms for managing ‘simple’ day-based working will not be viable and more specialist workforce management systems and approaches configured and maintained.

In this article we want to share some of our insight around how effective workforce management will help your organisation maintain control over working time during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and as we all move forward into new operating environments.

Once again, this is a broad overview based on our 30+ years’ experience across a range of sectors.

To discuss your specific situation confidentially with one of our experts, please book a remote 1-2-1 consultation here.


Key takeaways from this article

Identify key workforce management challenges:

  • Decision making: Will a lack of visibility over the status and availability of your employees hinder the quality and speed of your workforce management decisions during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and beyond?
  • Responsiveness: Can your current workforce management system cope with the rapid and substantial changes to shift patterns, rotas and rosters created by high absence rates, new demand profiles, staggered processes and social distancing or hygiene measures?
  • Compliance: Are you organising and monitoring working time effectively whilst managing health, well-being and compliance risks around existing regulations and new Coronavirus (COVID-19)-related guidance.
  • Engagement: Can you remotely manage, communicate and engage with your workforce effectively during these uncertain times?
  • Efficiency: Are workforce management tasks taking up significant resource which could be better deployed supporting other key areas of operations?

Ensure adequate systems are in place:

  • Planning: Consider options around how best to schedule and roster resources on a day-by-day basis and ensure decision making is supported by real time data.
  • Managing: Ensure you can adapt schedules quickly to changing demand and supply and that accurate information flows through to managers, employees, T&A, payroll, ERP and HR systems.
  • Monitoring: Analyse key metrics such as availability, hours worked or holiday allowance and look for potential risks such as capacity shortfalls compliance breaches (e.g. working time regulations) and employee well-being issues.
  • Remote capabilities: Minimise transmission risk by enabling employees to clock in or out, book leave, request changes and communicate absence via their own mobile devices. Also enable administrators or resource planners to work from home by ensuring all key workforce management information and tasks can be accessed and executed remotely via reliable cloud-based software.
  • Remain agile: Make sure your workforce management system can handle new shift patterns, rotas and rosters or ways of working and has the capability to optimise them.


Visibility and control are key

Scheduling employees to meet forecast demand is at the heart of effective workforce management and is one of the many areas that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis will continue to impact for the foreseeable future.

It has created huge day-to-day volatility in both the demand and supply of labour with high absence rates driven by illness or self-isolation.

The introduction of new social distancing measures, staggered processes and hygiene practices will also drive a requirement to closely manage shift patterns, rotas and rosters.

It is therefore essential that you:

  • Maintain an up-to-date view of demand, cover requirements and labour availability.
  • Keep accurate records of who is working, when, how many hours they have worked and over what period.
  • Map key roles or skills interdependencies and effectively transpose this into team-based rotas and rosters to ensure the right mix of employees are available in line with demand whilst factoring in resilience and working time regulations requirements.
  • Explore opportunities for optimising shift patterns, rotas and rosters to reduce the pressure on available workers or find ways to increase capacity.

Keeping a handle on these aspects of workforce management can be challenging in ‘business as usual’ operating environments and has been amplified significantly during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

It’s why workforce management software is crucial to shift working, as it consolidates key information into a single view and the tools needed to make the changes necessary to support capacity, productivity and employee wellbeing.

Working Time Solutions find many T&A solutions have limited capabilities when it comes to managing shift work.


Do you maintain multiple spreadsheets and manual systems to support shortfalls in your T&A system?

The widespread use of ancillary ‘homegrown’ solutions is one of the reasons we developed our specialist cloud-based workforce management software WORKSuite®, which is designed from the ground up to support the complexities and nuances of shift working.

It enables you to:

  • Access live roster information to quickly gain a detailed & accurate picture of cover, hours worked, overtime, TOIL, flex and reserve. This allows you to examine cover delivered and identify potential capacity or compliance issues before they arise.
  • Maintain a single database which captures all working time information. This provides resource planners, managers and supervisors a shared single ‘source of truth’ regarding resourcing, empowering them to make the accurate and timely decisions which is essential during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
  • Use real-time modelling to compare multiple roster patterns and identify opportunities to create optimised schedules that help manage through volatility in demand and labour supply.
  • Search for the best source of cover and assign teams with the right combination of availability and skills to specific roster lines. During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis this will ensure you can create and manage alternating teams to support social distancing measures.

You can arrange a demo of our workforce management software WORKSuite® here.


Supporting employee wellbeing, engagement and compliance

Many organisations, particularly those with field service operatives, may be struggling to manage the additional risk created by the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Given the fluid situation it is essential that employee well-being and communication are factored in when managing shift patterns, rotas and rosters, social distancing measures and staggered processes.

From a workforce management perspective, it is worth considering:

  • What impact will working time changes have on employees? Is there a risk that in adapting to new scenarios you are increasing the risk of breaching working time regulations or creating fatigue and health and safety issues?
  • Do you have access to data that shows performance, highlights gaps/inconsistencies and provides a detailed audit trail should your organisation be required to demonstrate adherence to regulations or best practice?
  • Can you uphold social distancing measures and reduce transmission risk by adapting aspects of workforce management that rely on paper-based processes (booking holiday) or physical contact with shared equipment (clocking in and out)?
  • Do employees have visibility over when they are working or may be expected to work? How do you ensure updates and notification of changes are provided in a timely manner? Is it easy for employees to register absence, and request changes such shift swaps within teams or time off?
  • With government keen to ensure those who can work from home avoid travel and stay away from workplaces, do your HR, management admin and resource planning teams have the ability to effectively schedule, manage and communicate with front-line shift workers remotely?

We’ve worked hard to ensure our workforce management software solution WORKSuite® uses automated process and easy to use tools to give managers and employees more control over working time.

This includes:

  • Dashboards and reports which show hours and exceptions against compliance thresholds. Risks are flagged automatically and changes that may lead to regulation breaches are automatically blocked. It is also configurable to meet industry/organisation-specific requirements which may emerge from Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance or legislation.
  • Our software is cloud-based and can be accessed remotely by desktop, tablet and mobile phones. This ensures most processes including clocking, requests and shift swaps can all be done via employee’s own devices rather than via shared devices or paper-based forms. It also means that the system can be used by HR, admin, resource planners or managers working from home or any location with internet connectivity.
  • WORKSuite®’s employee self-service app, myTIME, allows employees to remotely view planned shift patterns, rotas, rosters and holidays in calendar format. They can track their allowances, check availability and make requests. Crucially managers can push key information and updates including shift availability through the app providing a cost-effective and powerful way to communicate with shift workers.

To take a closer look at our workforce management software WORKSuite®, arrange a demo here.


Maintaining optimisation

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is going to create a huge amount of change for organisations that undertake shift work and those that will need to introduce shift patterns to comply with staggered processes and social distancing measures.

This volatility will require agility and tools that enable shift patterns, rotas and rosters to be adapted, maintained and optimised in response to changing demand and supply dynamics or new regulations and legislation.

It’s therefore essential you consider:

  • Are your current workforce management practices and systems fit for purpose? Many organisations are over-reliant on time intensive manual processes. It may be an ideal time to explore systems that help eliminate unnecessary admin and free up time for managers to focus on more added value work which will be essential during the economic recovery.
  • If new ways of working introduce additional requirements, can your current workforce management approaches and systems flex to deal with them? Some organisations may try to supplement inadequate HR or T&A systems with additional spreadsheets, but this often leads to further complexity and the risk of errors and delays.
  • Is your workforce management system integrated with your T&A, payroll and HR systems? If changes occur, and interdependent systems not aligned, data may need to be manually checked and re-keyed into other systems.
  • Does your system provide the data you need to identify trends, issues and opportunities that will ensure your shift patterns, rotas and rosters adapt to a changing environment?

As specialists in workforce optimisation we’ve built our workforce management software WORKSuite® from the ground up to optimise shift working.

It provides:

  • Specialist capabilities to manage the complexities associated with shift work such as rotations, banked hours, on-call, annualised hours and workforce optimisation. In many cases our system complements existing HR and T&A systems and replaces a series of home-grown spreadsheets which are used by managers to overcome the workforce management capability gap.
  • Streamlined and automated processes that reduce human input and ensure rapid, accurate management of working time. This can eliminate frustrating and time-consuming admin and in a typical organisation can generate savings of £85,000 per annum for every 100 employees.
  • Advanced analytics which uses accurate real-time data from the system to generate valuable workforce planning and management insights. This includes tracking (e.g. holiday allowances and overtime), reports (e.g. absences and Bradford Factor), visual dashboards (e.g. demand Vs. cover) and custom analytics tailored to your specific internal policies and work rules.
  • APIs that seamlessly feed live information to systems such as HR, T&A, Payroll & ERP, unlocking further value and insights from these systems.

In summary

Workforce management is going to be an increasingly important factor in how organisations respond to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

The volatility and uncertainty created by the epidemic is going to create a range of challenges that may be amplified if best practice systems and approaches are not put in place.

We are hearing from organisations across a range of sectors who are planning to adapt their workforce management systems now to support different ways of working and ensure that they can optimise and improve them over time.

If you’d like to see how our workforce management software WORKSuite® could help you do this, then click here to book a demo.

To discuss your challenges or adapting shift work in more detail, then you can hold a secure and free, hour-long remote 1-2-1 session with our experts.

Please continue to stay safe, take care and look out for each other.

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