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man with a face mask texting on his phone.As businesses begin the process of both returning employees to their physical workplaces and welcoming customers back into physical spaces, what needs to be true for that to happen safely? Just as every individual and company has been affected differently by COVID-19, every return will look different.

Whether it’s people returning to desks or going back out into the field, all workplace returns will share common challenges:

  • Maintaining business continuity.
  • Protecting the safety of both employees and customers.
  • Improving processes in this new environment.

One way to think about the return is in three key stages: respond, recover, and reimagine. This process will happen at different paces with different emphases for everyone, and they will not be completely linear—agility in course correction will be crucial. Everyone will learn as they go, continually addressing challenges as they evolve.

Respond

It’s important to keep in mind that people are returning not to a new normal but to a new reality, one where the top priority is safety and clear lines of communication in all directions is critical. Managers need to both support employees and be supported in their decision making.

Managers will likely find themselves leading in new areas, including individual health and location readiness. They will need ways to empower employees to check in remotely, self-screen before entering, and have access to PPE and care when they need it. On the location side, they’ll need to look at things like infection rates and supplies availability to make decision about transitions between opening stages. Locations will likely need new signage, new cleaning protocols, and constant understanding of evolving state and local requirements.

The Microsoft Power Platform can support all these needs, as well as functions like supply chain visibility, and can be tailored to custom requirements. For brick-and-mortars, responding in a way that instills customer confidence may mean reopening with an emphasis on key attributes. For example, for airlines and hotels, ensuring cleanliness; for food and beverage, enabling contactless delivery.

Recover

Some businesses are now taking those first steps back, some are still considering it, and some are trying to pivot completely. Some industries, mainly e-commerce and online, are maintaining continuity, while others have taken existential hits: in the last months, they may have lost employees, revenue, and customers.

It can help to work backwards, starting by identifying the target business outcomes. These could include reconnecting with customers or looking for new revenue streams to replace old ones. Reaching those outcomes depends on using technology that gives you not only data and visibility into your business processes, but the ability to analyze that information to turn it into actionable insights.

Reimagine

The COVID-19 experience is going to change the landscape of business forever. It’s a chance to do things differently, where future-thinkers and early adopters of appropriate technology will be rewarded. It’s also a time to take stock of unexpected learnings. For instance, many companies found that they could have continuity without having everyone in the same space. How do they build on that? Companies that realized they can work with a distributed team now have access to wider pools of talent, unlimited by geography.

Another unintended consequence is that going through this crisis together and peering into each other’s lives through virtual meetings—with dogs barking or kids interrupting—has caused many employers to better understand their employees as whole people, often creating a stronger connection among their teams. Companies that are able to take those lessons they’ve learned about empathy and combine them with the advantages of technology may find themselves positioned better than they’ve ever been before.

Learn more and get a hands-on demo at a Return to the Workplace virtual event.

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