Employers should introduce 'four days on, ten days off' rota to avoid virus spread

Employers should introduce a 'four days on, ten days off' work rota to limit contact between staff and prevent the virus from spreading as the population returns to work.

That’s the new recommendation from the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) to tackle a potential second spike in coronavirus cases.

The system would see a business’ workforce split into two teams, which consecutively alternate between four days at the office/on site, and 10 days at home.

In effect, the two teams would halve the number of employees in close proximity at any one time, making social distancing easier to enforce.

The 10-day period at home would also include a mixture of working remotely and days off in lieu of weekends.

Due to the time it takes to become infectious with the virus, any individuals who become symptomatic are more likely to do so in their ‘off’ period, therefore limiting the spread of the virus.

The system has been created by Professor Keith Willison, chair in chemical biology at Imperial College London, and Matthew Lesh, head of research at ASI.

They argued that the method would allow the population to return to 40% employment or education and reduce lockdown’s impact on the economy.

Yet the response from the HR community has been mixed.

Eugenio Pirri chief people and culture officer at the Dorchester Collection told HR magazine: “I think this idea of coming up with ideas to try to bring people back to work is a good plan.

“Without a doubt, all businesses will need to look at scheduling in a very different way, whether through start times, shift patterns and increased working from home. Having people work in teams is logical given it ensures the safety of the many.

“I would suggest that this plan be one of a few options that could be considered given that not all business run a strictly 5 day a week, 9-5 operation.”

Samantha Hamilton, HR director at Dakota Hotels & Traveleads said the strategy would be better suited to office-based professions.

She said: “Employees from these industries would need ongoing financial government support if short time working measures need to be imposed for long periods of time to ensure compliance with this strategy.”

“That being said, working in dedicated teams to reduce exposure and more strategic scheduling is feasible and undoubtedly should be a feature of most reopening HR strategies.”

On the other hand, interim HR director and chair of the London HR Connection Craig McCoy deemed the proposal “impractical.”

He said: “It does not reflect the typical operating cycles of businesses and presents difficulties in the day to day flow of communication. While it can have advantages in reducing congestion on public transport at peak hours, there are probably other ways of staggering working days andhours in a more manageable way.”

The ‘four days on ten days off’ proposal follows a government briefing that warned of the sustainability of its Job Retention Scheme, which was first rolled out in March. In the briefing on 5 May health secretary Matt Hancock asserted: “We’ve got to wean off it.”

A senior government source also told The Sun, “People are addicted to the scheme. We’re not talking about a cliff-edge but we have to get people back to work.”

The roadmap moving toward a return to work is a welcome development on current lockdown measures. However, businesses are advising of a cautious move forward.

Ray Sieber, managing director at Zest Benefits told HR magazine: “Starting to reduce the furlough scheme needs to be symbiotic with the measures taken to ease lockdown to avoid having an adverse impact on both companies and their workforces.

“If the government can find a way to taper relief down alongside a viable equivalent increase in employees returning to work, then this could be a win win; boosting the economy on the one hand and protecting jobs on the other.”