Running a Second Shift

Setting up a night shift at a busy shop can cause problems, and it can also supply solutions. A good supervisor is key to success. November 23, 2012

We are a small to medium size commercial millwork company. We have 20 employees including our installation crew. What has happened is we have out grown our current space and at the time donít have the financial muscle to buy our own building (hoping in 3-4 years we can). The problem is we canít grow in sales and keep up in the shop because we simply canít fit any additional people or machines in our shop. So we have been tossing the idea around of having a second shift. I was hoping some of you who read this might be able to suggest ways in which you have successfully gone from one to two shifts and any tips to make it as smooth as possible.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor Z:
If you are the owner of this firm, then to successfully have a second shift you will obviously need a great manager that can handle things so that you can sleep at night. I am a one man shop and have an excellent man that is only available at night from 5-10 and he handles the solid wood projects with lots of detail work as our shop is 99% frameless and all we do is cut/edge/bore/assemble. He still needs to reach me in the evenings for the odd design detail that pops up and this keeps me involved later in the day then I would care to be.

From contributor O:
It is all about that second manager and how he can pull it off. You really need to have someone you can rely on, and then supervise like crazy as it starts up. You will work some long hours until you can let it go on its own.

From contributor E:
I don't pretend to know anything about running a second shift, but from the sounds of the responses a lot will hinge on the supervisor for that second shift. I do pretend to know a little about business, so let's say you find the perfect person to manage the second shift (after many hours of interviewing and then training/bringing up to speed). In my minimal experience, being in business in a way that relies so much on one employee is not a good thing. Not saying a second shift isn't the way for you to go, just saying I would be playing the "what if" game with myself before jumping in.

From contributor W:
I presume you are already offering overtime, which is not nearly as expensive as you think. (I calculated that my hourly labor costs for overtime are lower than my regular hours, as the fixed expenses and salaries don't need to be included.) Are you running flex time now? It's possible you could spread out the workers start times so that you are working over a 10-12 hour period each day, while retaining a substantial overlap during which workers can collaborate and be managed. You need responsible people for this. We do it this way in our shop and it works well for us.

You can also let your responsible people work on Saturday. I have a policy against working seven days straight, but allow voluntary sixth day - of course, this is overtime. You might also look into outsourcing whatever can be outsourced - this frees up space and time without any permanent commitment to more workers.

From contributor T:
I have been running a second shift for years. I have about 50 shop employees and run 8-10 on second shift. The second starts at 2:30 and works four ten hour shifts. The second shift foreman comes in an hour early to make the transition, and we also have one of our engineering guys who starts at 10 A.M. and works a few hours into second shift so there is continuity and someone to talk to about engineering problems. We have done a third shift but only temporarily and under unusual circumstances.

Four keys: First, a good steady highly dependable night shift foreman, as noted above.

Second - good coordination and cooperation between shifts. It took a long time for the day shift to stop thinking of the night shift as second class citizens, for the night shift to think about the day shift as prima donnas and for each to stop blaming the other for everything that went wrong. It helps to rotate day shift guys through nights once in a while and vice versa.

Third, having systems and really good training so that the night shift does things the same as the day.

Fourth - having a set of goals. It doesn't work as well just to have people put in hours. We try to establish what has to be completed at night and hold the second shift accountable for getting those tasks done. This is also important for Saturday overtime. Rather than say "I want you to work eight extra hours this weekend, we try to say "I want you to have work packages three through eight ready to ship Monday morning."

Second shift has worked very well for us once we got the bugs out. We are far more responsive than our competitors and we can get a lot more dollars through the shop every year. Also my big machines are running twice as much as they would be otherwise, and paying for themselves faster.

From contributor L:
You are probably going to need to improve your systems for communication flow. It's a pretty simple matter for the second shift to communicate with the first shift because there is some crosslap in the hours everybody is in the building. This is not the case for the morning shift. If your method of monitoring status resembles the Sherlock Holmes system you're going to lose some traction. If you formalize how you communicate then you don't have to rely on clues. A simple list with a yellow highlighter produces unambiguous interpretation.

From contributor Y:
We've never run a full blown second shift but have run the big equipment with a second crew. That isn't as easy as it might sound. It would be even more of an issue with the assembly bench people. No one wants someone else to use any of their space, tools etc. Your conflict resolution system has to be the first order of business!

From contributor G:
We have run a second shift with eight to ten workers (vs. 40 during the day) for approximately four years with varying levels of success. I agree that the there should be a supervisor in the evening shift, however a strong lead man can also do the trick.

The best results with second shift have been when we have a repetitive task that can be easily quantified in the morning. We recently had to build eight very large bars for a commercial project. Each bar takes a carpenter almost two weeks to complete. We did the set up and training during the day on the first bar, measured the progress, then moved him to the evening shift with a slight increase in salary and monitored to assure that the pace was maintained. We typically have CNC, molding line and finishing departments running in the evenings to stay ahead of production. The evening employees are a little more flexible and cross trained to work in various departments. We have always taken strong daytime workers to help fill in the second shift so that they are not always new people.

Our first shift ends at 4:00 pm and second shift arrives at 3:00 pm. We find it best when everyone is accountable and each shift is responsible for their own work and shop production rather than a hand off relay. Managers stay long enough to onboard the work and track the progress before they leave. Daytime managers are also on call for any second shift issues but the employees are very considerate and call only in case of extreme emergency. We also have the equipment/building maintenance guy on call just in case there is any equipment or facility issues that would shut down production.

We do not work second shift on Fridays and have moved that production to Saturday mornings. That way we can bring in some of our daytime workers on overtime to supplement the second shift workers on rush projects. I believe that second shift is a great way to build your business capacity to test if the additional work is a spike or a lasting increase. It is also an excellent opportunity to build the great staff that will produce this additional work. You must be doing something right to be bringing in more work, so ride the wave.

From contributor S:
I've been running a second shift for a couple of years now (3 at night, 25 at day). Itís not to necessarily increase production but to relieve stress, and it works great. A problem during the day no longer means a shipping delay the next day. At first there were a number of late night phone calls but that has trickled to almost nothing. In my market and economy the only way to thrive is to truly provide service. Make miracles happen. Price and schedule is everything.

1. My guys discover a mistake only once the product is on site. Solved by 5A.M. the next morning.

2. Site conditions change or a crazy client changes their mind. Solved by 5 A.M. the next morning.

3. Materials were delayed. We can still get it done.

4. Rush job where only one or two people can work on it at once. We cut that time in half.

5. Contractor calls at 2 P.M. and needs a five box kitchenette in a hurry? Itís being installed at 7A.M. the next morning. I have won over more GC's with that trick than any other.

6. Packed job site during the day? Send in the night crew when things are calm, no overtime.

7) Press, CNC, edgebander, or spraybooth backed up? It can be solved easily. About half of the time my night guys slack off and I don't honestly know what they are doing. But the other half of the nights they are running and sweating and performing miracles (at least my customers think so). It may not be your must productive and efficient shift but with the right guys on it might be your most profitable, only because it sets you apart.