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10 steps to stagger work patterns during COVID-19

To operate a COVID-safe workplace consider how people can be organised to reduce the number of contacts per employee, ease the pressure on public transport and minimise the risk of virus transmission.

This page was updated on 24 September.

We all must play our part in minimising the risk of virus transmission. To operate a COVID-safe workplace employers should consider how people can be organised to reduce the risk of infection, whilst maintaining their operational capacity.

Introducing a shift pattern and ‘working bubbles’ are effective ways to minimise the risk of infection, whilst also helping to support the NHS Test and Trace initiative. Not only will this way of working mean that employers can provide accurate information about meaningful contacts should an employee test positive or have symptoms of COVID-19, it will contain the spread to a small group, rather than potentially sending an entire workforce into isolation for two weeks.

Establishing shift patterns can be a complex undertaking
and will differ in every work setting, but there are three common factors that businesses should consider when developing their strategy:

  • Assessment of employee skillsets
  • Identification of retraining and upskilling requirements
  • Effective communication throughout the process

To get started, follow our ten-step guide to safely reopen your workplace.

  1. Introduce a shift pattern and fix shift groups to reduce the number of contacts each staff member has and to ensure that where contact is unavoidable this occurs amongst the same people. This also applies to staff required to share a vehicle, travel together or stay in onsite accommodation as part of their role.

  2. There are many different ways to re-organise shift patterns such as splitting the workforce in half from one to two shifts. To ensure that all necessary skills are covered on each shift, conduct a skills audit to understand what is required to manage the daily workload, whilst complying with Health and Safety requirements (such as the need for First Aiders onsite). To support you, we have developed a skills matrix template which can be accessed here.

    If it is not possible to cover all tasks and processes on each shift, it may be necessary to adjust operational delivery or timescales, or to redeploy resource from less critical areas of the business. A good rule of thumb to cover all the skills your business needs is to have three people trained up for each essential skill in your business. This will help create a diversity of skills across your workforce and ensure resilience even in the event of employees required to take a leave of absence. Read more about multi-skilling your workplace on our factsheet.

  1. Communicate and engage with your staff during a consultation period prior to implementing any new shifts or groups to ensure change is managed effectively. In addition, remember to review employee contracts to ensure shift patterns are designed in accordance with your legal obligations (consider full-time vs. part time employee requirements).

    In some cases, you may have external and/or temporary personnel supporting your permanent in-house workforce (e.g. vehicle drivers) and it is crucial that these staff members are also briefed on new ways of working.

  2. Stagger work start and finish times, avoiding the usual peak hours when public transport could be congested. Transport for Greater Manchester have released guidance to help keep individuals safe whilst using public transport. Support is also available for other travel methods including cycling, through the Cycle to work

  3. Extend the time between shifts. Allow the previous shift to leave before the next shift arrives to minimise contact at “pinch points” such as entrances, exits, break rooms, change rooms, timeclocks and others.

  4. Allow extra time per shift for cleaning, both during and at the end of a shift. HSE has published guidance on cleaning your workplace to reduce the risk of the spread of coronavirus. The government has also published guidance on cleaning in non-healthcare settings including general principles of cleaning during the COVID-19 pandemic and principles of cleaning after an individual with symptoms, or a confirmed COVID-19 case has left the setting or area.

  1. Consider using one-way systems with appropriate signage to minimise contact especially at bottlenecks such as entrances and exits.

  1. Ensure social distancing is always adhered to including during shift handovers. The Growth Company has developed a signage pack for businesses to download and use in the workplace to further promote appropriate social distancing measures.

  1. Do not share items (tools, pens, materials, handheld devices and others) and if possible, allocate these to individuals. If devices must be shared between shifts, ensure they are properly cleaned between transfers and a drop-off-pick-up process is established to reduce the risk of transmission through worker contact.

  2. Avoid having staff facing face-to-face where possible and opt for working side by side or facing away from each other. You can also establish physical barriers to separate workspaces (clear plastic screens or curtains) and further minimise contact. Don’t forget to also consider appropriate arrangements to minimise risk of transmission during staff breaks. Key suggestions include the following:
    • Use safe outside areas where possible as risk of transmission is lower
    • Provide more regular breaks for staff to wash their hands more often
    • Stagger breaks so that fewer people are in the communal areas at one time
    • Repurpose other rooms such as meeting rooms and use as break areas
    • Reconfigure seating so that people can maintain distance
    • Encourage employees to stay on site during working hours


Detailed guidance on managing shift patterns for specific settings is available through the government’s Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) page.

More information is available on the UK Government’s Coronavirus Business Support website. For more personalised advice call us on: 0161 237 4128 or email us at:


The information provided is meant as a general guide only rather than advice or assurance. GC Business Growth Hub does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information and professional guidance should be sought on all aspects of business planning and responses to the coronavirus. Use of this guide and toolkit are entirely at the risk of the user. Any hyperlinks from this document are to external resources not connected to the GC Business Growth Hub and The Growth Company is not responsible for the content within any hyperlinked site.

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