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SKELETON CREW/STAFF or SKELETAL CREW/STAFF  is the minimum number of personnel needed to operate and maintain an item — such as a business, organization, service or ship — at its most simple operating requirements.

"We'll be operating with a skeleton crew until after the holidays."
"We'll resume operations soon with skeletal staff strength." 

The most basic level of staffing, the bare minimum for the business or operation to function; it probably won't work well or efficiently at that level, but it will keep going.

"He'll work with a skeleton crew of about five people." 

'Skeleton' here refers to the basic structure, bare bones of things. The skeleton of your financial plan is a basic outline of that plan. The skeleton of the report you are writing, is only the most important parts of it, without many details.

"I still have only a bare skeleton of my novel. Damn you writer's block!"

When used as an adjective, 'skeleton' can describe something reduced to a basic structure (e.g. a skeleton outline is a brief, sketchy overview) or something having the smallest possible number of people who can operate without a lot of support and still get a job done. 

"On weekends the hospital has a skeleton staff."

Skeleton crews are often utilized during an emergency and are meant to keep an item's vital functions operating.

"At weekends we have a skeleton staff to deal with emergencies."

According to the OED, people started using 'skeleton' to describe a pared down staffing in the late 1700s, in a military context: skeleton battalions/regiments/squads, etc, when, for example, after a battle, a battalion was a mere skeleton of its former self.

"Efforts have been set on foot for filling up the skeleton regiments of our army." 

It wasn't until the 1920s that you start seeing people use the term in a business sense, and that's also when its use starts really taking off. 

"We'll be operating with a skeleton staff until after the holidays."

The phrase is about twice as popular in AmE as it is in BrE.

"Her payroll ballooned from a skeleton crew of eight to a peak of 48 employees."

* SKELETAL may also refer, figuratively, to something that exists in its most basic form, something that has not yet been fleshed out: skeletal outline/frame/ structure, etc. 

"I only submitted a skeleton draft."

However, when used figuratively, it normally means very thin, skinny, haggard, or emaciated due to hunger or some illness, like a skeletal stray dog that has probably been living on the streets for a long time. 

"The bum was a skeletal old man with a scraggly beard."

If what is meant is a reduction in the number of workers, the most common adjective is 'skeleton'.

"So that's why it was hard to get a train this morning! The train companies decided to run the trains on a skeleton crew!"
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