Once upon a time, many people I knew worked rotating shifts. Coors, Merck, R. R. Donnelley, DuPont, Hershey--those plants provided a large percentage of the better-paying jobs where I lived.
Shift work was a given: Machinery that costs hundreds of millions of dollars needs to run not only around the clock, but often through the weekend too. None of us particularly liked working shifts. But that's where the money was.
Over time, though, the prevalence of shift work has changed. Manufacturing has shed approximately six million jobs over the past 20 years. Many of those jobs have shifted to the service sector; food service is the new manufacturing (albeit at significantly lower wage rates).
Today, I know few people who work shifts, and even fewer business owners who try to implement shift schedules, if only because research shows rotating shifts can have a negative impact on employee health and well-being.
But as companies start to reopen, that's likely to change.
Take hair salons in Georgia. One now has stylists working at every other station to stay six feet apart. Since a work station is in effect a piece of "machinery," that practice naturally cuts the salon's capacity in half.
The same is true for any (previously) well-designed work area; efficiency and proximity, both to equipment and to people, often go hand in hand. Machine shops. Auto repair facilities. Florists. The list goes on. Any place people work nearby to get work done may need to fundamentally change the way it does business.
Except perhaps office work. Since approximately 70 percent of U.S. offices are open plan, maintaining social distancing without leasing additional space will require most companies to cut the number of employees working in those spaces by half. The solution is simple: Allow more people work from home, either some or all of the time.
But if you run a business that requires people must be present to perform their duties, the only way to maintain current capacity may be to move to shift work. Or to create work schedules that spread hours across seven days, not five.
Maybe I work 10-hour days Monday through Thursday and you work Friday through Sunday and from home on Monday, and we periodically switch so you don't always "lose" your weekends. (This means you sometimes work seven days in a row, but sometimes you get seven straight days off without using any vacation.)
For most small businesses, going to half-capacity will mean going out of business. The only way to generate sufficient revenue may be to spread employees across two or even three shifts and to see weekends as normal workdays.
If that applies to you, start planning for it now. If you've had to lay off employees, let them know that returning to work will mean returning to different work schedules. They'd rather find out now instead of later. And they may be a lot more understanding now than they will be later.
Because no one likes shift work.
But, if they're like I was, they like shift work a lot better than no work at all.