In many countries, people are starting to return to their physical places of work – but it’s not quite the same work environment we all remember. 

To keep your employees safe during this period of transition, you’ll need to make some changes! Some of these changes will be legal requirements, while others are crucial for helping your employees feel safe. 

In this post-pandemic landscape, employee expectations about the work environment have changed dramatically. As a responsible employer, it’s your job to meet these expectations. 

COVID-19 was a huge challenge for businesses of all shapes and sizes. However, the return to work has the potential to be just as tough. If you’re concerned about overhauling your business yet again, then we’ve got you covered. 

In this post, we’ll look at how technology can be your secret weapon in facilitating a safe return to work. We’ll even show you how to boost employee engagement, during a time where your competitors may be struggling to even navigate this challenge. 

Managing the return to work: Turning a challenge into an opportunity 

Returning to the office may be a daunting prospect, but it’s also an opportunity to demonstrate that you care about the safety and wellbeing of your staff. After so many months spent working remotely, it’s understandable that your employees may feel stress, anxiety, and uncertainty about returning to the workplace. 

According to a recent report, 88% of UK companies agree they have an emotional duty of care to their staff. By taking a people-first approach to this latest challenge, you can immediately put your staff in a more positive mindset. 

Keeping your employees happy isn’t just the right thing to do, it can also deliver tangible benefits for your business. A happy employee is going to work harder and stick around for longer, so you won’t have to waste time and money finding their replacement. Hiring a single employee can cost a business up to $4,129, so keeping your staff happy should always be a top priority. 

By using technology to support a safe return to work, you can present yourself as a responsible employer who truly cares about the health and happiness of your staff. This can be an effective way to transform your stressed and anxious employees into engaged staff members who are eager to return to work. 

Let’s look at three ways that technology can facilitate a smooth and stress-free transition into the new normal. 

1. Socially distanced scheduling made easy 

Social distancing is a big concern for many businesses. To help your employees maintain a safe distance, you may need to limit how many people are onsite at any one time. This might mean staggering the days when employees are expected to come into the office, and when they can work from home. You may even need to implement structured shift patterns. 

Creating a schedule can feel like a juggling act at the best of times. However, the added pressure of limiting the number of people onsite can quickly turn this frustrating task into an outright nightmare. 

Even worse, the concept of scheduling may be completely new to your business. If you previously offered flexible working hours, then your attempts to implement a schedule may be particularly chaotic – not to mention unpopular! 

And there’s more: with the pandemic still disrupting our daily lives, your employees may need to make last minute shift change requests. For example, if the local school closes due to a COVID-19 outbreak, then you may find yourself with a list of employees who suddenly need to work from home due to childcare commitments. This can throw your carefully-constructed schedule into chaos, as suddenly you don’t have enough onsite staff to keep your factory or shop open. 

Here, an enterprise-grade scheduling application such as Microsoft Shifts is essential. This cloud-based app has everything you need to build a schedule, and assign shifts to your employees. Your staff can then access this schedule at any time, directly from their Microsoft Teams dashboard. 

As a cloud-based application, Microsoft Shifts is accessible regardless of geographical location. By using an app such as Shifts, you can be confident that your staff can access up-to-the-minute scheduling information, simply by logging into their Teams account. 

You can also use this app to create To Do lists, which you can then assign to specific shifts. This can eliminate the need for face-to-face contact between staff and managers. With Microsoft Shifts, the employee already knows what’s on the agenda, before they even arrive onsite.

Since managers can assign work remotely, they don’t even need to be in the same location as their team members. This can be another way to reduce the number of people onsite at any one time. 

During this period of transition, there’s an increased chance that employees may need to adjust their schedules. Making lots of last minute changes to your schedule doesn’t have to be a recipe for disaster! Microsoft Shifts has a clear system for submitting and approving shift change requests. As soon as you approve a request, the schedule will update automatically and your staff will immediately have access to this new information.

By default, you can view and approve shift change requests by logging into your Teams dashboard. However, currently you may be juggling a larger workload than normal. When you’re under pressure, it’s easy to forget to check Microsoft Shifts for new requests. 

To help you respond to requests as quickly as possible, we’ve created a Power Automate workflow for Microsoft Shifts. By deploying our simple workflow, you’ll receive an email or SMS notification every time an employee submits a shift change request. This can help you identify any problems with your schedule, and then resolve them as quickly as possible, so your business continues to run like a well-oiled machine. 

2. Keep the lines of communication open (and contact-free)

COVID-19 was a huge challenge for employers and employees alike. However, after months of working remotely, the return to work is another major challenge. 

Even with the best planning and strict safety precautions, your staff may still have some concerns regarding how you’re managing the return to work. It’s important to give these people a way to voice these concerns, and provide suggestions on how to improve the working environment. 

Modern communication tools such as Microsoft Teams have everything you need to keep the lines of communication wide open. This might involve arranging regular virtual meetings where your employees can make their voices heard, or digital Q&A sessions where staff can put their questions directly to the people responsible for managing the return to work. 

However, not everyone feels comfortable raising their concerns publicly. To help encourage more people to speak out, you can create surveys and questionnaires using a tool such as Microsoft Forms. To encourage honest feedback, you might also want to make these forms anonymous. 

3. Continue to support remote working 

The concept of working from home existed long before COVID-19. However, the global pandemic has brought remote working into the spotlight in a way we’ve never seen before. 

Prior to COVID-19, 99% of employees wanted the option to work remotely. After a long period of working from home, some of your staff may be eager to return to their physical place of work, and stay there. However, others may have a newfound appreciation for working from home. You may find that some of your staff are reluctant to return to their physical places of work on a full-time basis.

To help keep your staff happy and engaged, you may want to consider giving them the freedom to choose where they work. This might involve designated working-from-home days, or you may even give your staff the freedom to completely dictate their own schedule. 

By taking a more flexible approach, you can make it easier for your staff to juggle their responsibilities. This might involve working from home when their child is ill, or when they’re waiting for an important package to be delivered. With 45% of people spending over an hour commuting to work, your employees may also appreciate being able to skip the morning commute a few times each week. All of these small benefits can add up to a more engaged and productive workforce. 

You also shouldn’t assume that all your staff will feel safe returning to the office. Some people may be waiting for their vaccine, or care for a family member who’s still considered high risk. Forcing these employees to return to their physical place of work, is a surefire way to alienate them and destroy their overall productivity. 

If you do decide to offer remote working, then you’ll need tools that support this new way of working. Cloud-based platforms such as Microsoft 365 can ensure that all of your data and applications are accessible, regardless of your staff’s location. 

By implementing a cloud-based platform now, you can empower your workforce to work from the location (or locations) where they feel safest, and happiest – no matter what the future holds!