Blogs & Latest News Future of Shift Work Guide

Future of Shift Work: Looking back…looking forward
Sharing customer learnings

As the UK’s leading authority on shift work, we’ve helped a wide range of organisations rapidly change shift patterns and rostering over the past 12 months in response to the pandemic and Brexit.

It’s been a highly unusual and unsettling time for many, so this article aims to help by bringing together some key shift planning and workforce management learnings from customers across industry and the public sector.

It covers the challenges they faced, how we supported them and what is being done now to overcome uncertainty and effectively transition to a post-COVID world.

It’s part of our Future of Shift Work series of insight and online events exploring best practice.

The first event, 'Future of Shift Work - Best practice and shared learnings from the last 12 months' on Tuesday 20th April 2021 (2:00PM-3:00 PM) will explore many of the topics in this guide and provide valuable insight to help you move forward. 

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Key shift planning and workforce management learnings from customers

Future of Shift Work - Managing volatility

The last year has seen extreme volatility in both demand and supply of labour. Significant change and disruption occurred at short notice, making shift planning and day-to-day workforce management extremely difficult.

We’ve helped customers deliver a wide range of short-term fixes through interim patterns and rapid implementation of systems.

This is helping them manage day-to-day uncertainty and putting them in a strong position to adapt and optimise as they move forward. 

Some of the key learnings in this area include:

Resourcing Issues


- Illness and self-isolation rules created a huge increase in absence levels, leaving many organisations struggling to find cover at short notice and for extended periods. In some industries the twin impact of the pandemic and Brexit has led to a reduction in availability of EU national employees.

- There has been massive strain on manual processes and workforce management systems leading to inefficiency and capacity issues.

- Social distancing and hygiene measures required established ways of working to change and alternative team/crewing structures to be introduced. 


+ Designing a suite of new shift patterns that underpin critical staffing levels and provide ‘flex’ mechanisms to ensure resilience and support temporary changes.

+ Ensuring employee scheduling and task management systems underpin new socially distant working practices whilst minimising the impact on productivity.

+ Putting in place workforce management tools that identify optimal sources of cover and enable rapid changes to be made whilst maintaining compliance.

Future of Shift Work - managing volatile demand

Demand Issues


- Surging demand led to missed service/output targets and employee overworking/fatigue.

- Temporary labour was being deployed to meet demand and cover absence but in a non-targeted and expensive way.

- Falling demand created financial pressures and threatened jobs.

- Adapting and pivoting business models altered demand significantly and required changes to established processes and working conditions.


+ Changing shift patterns to optimise available resources and extend operating windows to 7 days and/or 24 hours. This has provided more options to meet demand, reducing pressure on the core workforce.

+ Embedding rostering systems that anticipate demand/capacity requirements and ensure the efficient, targeted use of contractor/agency resource to bolster labour supply precisely when it is needed.

+ Re-calibrating shift patterns in support of new resourcing models designed to minimise redundancies and make effective use of flexible furlough.

+ Adapting resourcing models to re-deploy employees in support of new product/services and organisational structures and quickly configuring workforce management systems to support operational changes.

Future of Shift work - insight into shift planning, rostering, employee scheduling and working time regulations

Employee well-being


- There was a strong, immediate need to protect the workforce from the possible risk of transmitting Coronavirus (COVID-19).

- When making necessary changes to working time it was important not to compound general uncertainty and concern in the workforce.

- Individuals’ changing attitudes, needs and priorities needed to be factored in when shift planning and rostering.

- There was no established channel with which to communicate regularly with individual employees, teams or the full workforce.


+ Ensuring regular engagement around changing shift patterns and rostering. This includes remotely co-designing new solutions with employees and ensuring feedback shapes ongoing adaptions and improvements.

+ Providing more rostering and employee scheduling options are made available to ensure individual situations and preferences can be considered.

+ Using a self-service mobile app (myTIME) to enable remote two-way communication around working hours and practices. This includes sharing relevant messages, information and links to employees or employee groups.


Our learnings show that the last 12 months has forced many organisations to change the way they operate and think about shift work. Pandemic-related absence has significantly reduced certainty around contracted labour availability, making shift planning, rostering and workforce management much more complex and riskier than before.

This was particularly the case for those relying on Time and Attendance systems, which often struggle to manage the most straightforward shift pattens. Systems have failed when trying to handle high levels of abstractions, identify who is available to provide cover and monitoring hours worked to ensure compliance with Working Time Regulations

We’ve also seen that, in many cases, the pandemic has changed both consumption habits and the way demand is met.  For example, the increase in home working has moved demand from city centres and placed unanticipated strain on organisations managing utilities and infrastructure in suburban areas. 

Organisations have had to quickly recalibrate rigid legacy models and embrace flexible new ways of planning, managing and monitoring shift work. 

Ultimately this will help them continue to quickly respond and adapt to evolving circumstances over the coming months and years.

If you want to know more about these learnings and the Future of Shift Work, we are running a series of online events.

The first event, 'Future of Shift Work - Best practice and shared learnings from the last 12 months' on Tuesday 20th April 2021 (2:00PM-3:00 PM) will explore many of the topics in this guide and provide valuable insight to help you move forward.

                                                                        Secure your place today

Future of Shift Work - Strained workforce management

Many organisations approached us after the volatility of the last 12 months exposed flaws in their current working practices and workforce planning and management systems.

A common theme was that the imperfect methods of shift planning, rostering and employee scheduling that had been tolerated in benign conditions were simply not flexible enough to support the new highly dynamic, complex reality where decisions and changes needed to be made quickly.

Many employers of shift workers who had previously ‘got by’ using spreadsheets or generic workforce management or T&A software, now found themselves exposed when these basic systems cracked under the pressure.

Some of the key learnings in this area include:



- There was no robust mechanism to centrally record and track employee status in real-time (available, sick, self-isolating etc).

- A lack of data on hours worked, skills and availability made it difficult to identify cover for short notice absences.

- Planning forward to meet rapidly changing demand was impossible as there was no accurate way of analysing cover requirements and selecting the most effective, efficient and compliant scheduling options. 

- There was no remote and automated system in place to ensure employees could made aware of working time status and put themselves forward to fill vacant shifts.


+ Ensuring a single secure SaaS database provides immediate access to live, accurate and detailed records or change logs.

+ Configuring intelligent search functions capable of finding the optimal personnel for any specific roster line (factoring in custom pre-defined considerations such as skills) and enabling multiple roster options to be assessed in support of optimisation, scenario planning and decision making.

+ Deploying a mobile app (myTIME) to give employees visibility over key information (calendars, rosters, overtime, time banks, annual leave availability etc) and enable individuals to update status, make requests (e.g. annual leave), swap shifts (through shift bidding), monitor the progress of requests, decisions and consume other important information.

Future of Shift work - insight into workforce management best practicex



- Key rostering and employee scheduling tasks were a slow, laborious manual process. The impact of this on responsiveness, resource and morale was amplified when demand and supply volatility required a much higher volume of change.

- Managing and recording an increased number of variances (absence, sickness, annual leave, overtime, TOIL) leads to accuracy issues. This created increased payroll issues and breaches of working time regulations.

- There was a significant increase in pressure on HR, Operations and resource planning teams who were having to handle increased complexity and workload from remote locations.


+ Creating streamlined workflows, automation and a rules-based engine to ensure that changes be made quickly and accurately.

+ Ensuring rostering decision making is supported with automatic flagging of risks and blocking of actions that may result in sub-optimal outcomes or compliance breaches.

+ Ensuring all shift planning, rostering and employee scheduling tasks can be completed via an intuitive HTML interface that is accessible 24/7 from a wide range of devices and any location.


We’ve found that rigid workforce management systems which are not geared towards shift working have hindered the speed with which organisations can respond to external and internal factors.

The impact of these limitations has been compounded when there are complex, multi-user and multi-site requirements and substantial changes needed to working practices, organisational structures and operating environments.

For many customers it has really highlighted the importance of maintaining an agile, capable workforce management system that can handle dynamic day-to-day changes but also support short-to-medium range shift planning.

The last 12 months has forced many organisations to ‘fix’ underlying issues with their resourcing models and workforce management systems. This is putting them in a strong position to manage continued uncertainty and adapt quickly to emerging trends.

If you want to know more about these learnings and the  Future of Shift Work, we are running a series of online events.

The first event, 'Future of Shift Work - Best practice and shared learnings from the last 12 months' on Tuesday 20th April 2021 (2:00PM-3:00 PM) will explore many of the topics in this guide and provide valuable insight to help you move forward.

                                                                        Secure your place today

Future of Shift Work - Looking forward

Often seen as ‘too difficult’, the last 12 months has demonstrated that changing shift patterns and implementing new workforce management systems can be done quickly and effectively.

We’ve also learned that this has opened the eyes of many organisations to the importance of shift planning to anticipate, adapt and thrive in complex change environments.

There is no doubt a degree of uncertainty will persist for the foreseeable future, but many customers are being positive and proactive, using their optimised systems and approaches to plan and get ahead of the economic rebound.

Some of the key points for discussion in this area include:

Scenario planning

Customers are looking to create shift patterns and rosters that both support ongoing demand and supply volatility, but also a phased transition into new ways of working aligned to business and employee needs. This includes modelling and simulating scenarios to create purpose-built resourcing models that factor in potential changes to finances, legislation, processes and a host of organisation and industry-specific factors. They are creating a bank of ‘ready-made’, highly flexible solutions which can be quickly implemented without significant disruption, additional cost or risk to employees. 

Adopting best practice

The last 12 months have swept away old certainties and demonstrated a willingness to innovate and change when it comes to working time and working practices. Many customers see this as an opportunity to re-imagine how they plan, manage and monitor shift work and create new optimised resourcing models that better balance the needs of the organisation and its workforce.

Planning in deferred demand

Some customers have delayed long-term strategic initiatives as focus has rightly been on responding to short term resource issues. We’re now helping organisations identify the impact this will have on their demand and design shift patterns which will allow resource to accelerate these initiatives as well as dynamically manage volatile core demand and labour supply.

Increasing agility

Many customers see the need to introduce more flexible resourcing models so they can better respond to potential future disruption and ensure adequate resource is available to fully capitalise on emerging opportunities. We’re seeing an increased focus on Demand-Led Rostering and Annualised Hours as platforms to achieve this which can be tailored to precise requirements of organisations and their employees.

Employer brand

Everyone has been through a tough time over the last 12 months, particularly front-line workers and those unable to work from home. There is a real focus amongst customers on ensuring employee well-being and preferences are at the heart of new shift working approaches. Attracting and retaining the best talent will be key in the recovery and working hours and conditions are viewed as a central component in their ‘offer’.


The breakneck speed of SaaS adoption over the last 12 months will continue. With working from home here to stay, customers are demanding that their shift planning and workforce management software is cloud based so that it is secure, can be updated easily and is accessible at any time and from any location.

We sense that across our customer base the experience of the last 12 months has created a strong desire to sweep aside legacy approaches in favour of optimising and innovating.

Many see it as a fundamental priority if they are to put their organisations and workforces in a position to quickly adapt and thrive in the future.


What now?

As the leading authority on shift working, we are keen to share the key learnings from customers with as many employers as possible.

You can access and benefit from this insight via numerous initiatives we are running over the next few months.

Online events:

If you want to know more about these learnings and the Future of Shift Work, we are running a series of online events.

The first event, 'Future of Shift Work- Best practice and shared learnings from the last 12 months' on Tuesday 20th April 2021 (2:00PM-3:00 PM) will explore many of the topics in this guide and provide valuable insight to help you move forward

                                                                         Secure your place today

Remote shift planning clinics:

If your need is urgent, you can arrange a free remote, hour-long 1-2-1 session with our experts to discuss your shift work challenges and potential solutions

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We can arrange an online demo of the rostering, employee scheduling and working time regulations compliance tools in our industry-leading cloud software WORKSuite®

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