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How businesses can use technology to return to work

How businesses can use technology to return to work
(Image credit: Veriato)

While the full impact of COVID-19 is still yet to be seen, it is undeniable that businesses have had to transform at unprecedented speed. All of this disruption has seen businesses turn to technologies which can ensure that employees are informed, safe and connected.

During this time the change has been huge. Businesses have relocated to working from home, operated reduced or delivery-only models and even diversified into new industries to keep the lights on. All of this disruption has seen businesses turn to technologies which can ensure that employees are informed, safe and connected.

The move to remote communication and online collaboration has in many cases led to an increased business focus on building community. Employee engagement and communication has quickly become a priority for the boardroom and many of our customers have found that they’ve been able to use Workplace to build an ‘office-like’ culture online despite not being together. Take restaurant chain Honest Burger for example who, despite furloughing of employees and iterations of delivery-only kitchens, managed to keep its staff connected, entertained and informed on Workplace through video conferencing and live streaming, groups and Chat.

A hybrid approach to returning to work

What do businesses need to consider in order to manage employees returning to offices, on-site locations and those working remotely?

First and foremost, businesses need to consider what is best for their employees. No two home lives are the same, and with the pandemic meaning large parts of society need greater support - from home-schooling parents to those shielding to name just two - businesses must acknowledge and act on this, providing necessary flexibility. Crucially, this also means that ‘one-size-fits-all’ return to work plans won’t work and will make businesses seem out of touch.

Providing a platform for everyone to ‘meet in the middle’ will be crucial in keeping a business on the same page. Now that virtual participants will be commonplace in every meeting, it’s no longer acceptable for businesses to treat them as an afterthought. And in reality, they really never should have been an afterthought in the first place. As has been the case during the pandemic, video calls can be the great equaliser for remote employees, acting as a visual reminder of participants situated out of the office and allows them to truly be part of the conversation.

Striving to offer flexibility and prioritising remote workers to level the playing field will ensure that businesses can operate productively with a hybrid workforce and that every employee feels equally valued by, and connected to, the HQ.

Return to work policies

What should be top of mind for businesses as they begin to implement return to work policies for their employees?

It’s critical that employees are kept up to date on new organisational policy and regulations to support them. These updates need to be clear, timely and accessible to everyone - particularly now as many can’t just turn around and ask a colleague where something is kept anymore.

Having both fixed HR policies and standard health and safety guidance, as well as the latest posts from colleagues and leaders, in one online and mobile-friendly application is critical to update those in and out of the office. It creates a ‘Swiss Army knife’ tool to provide easy and simple access for employees, whether they’re on the frontline, in the office or at home. It will also help distribute information quickly and ensure everyone knows what to do if there are regionalized outbreaks in hometowns or near offices.

The important thing to remember though is that policy and conversations can’t always be top-down in times of change. Businesses need to make the time and implement processes necessary for employees to feedback, engage with the business and suggest ideas. Open and honest dialogue like this can help surface important ideas and unite companies and employees, putting them in good stead for a future where working practices can continue to evolve seamlessly.

Remote working

Going forwards, will remote working be the norm? What areas do you think businesses will need to grow and invest in to ensure they can support more remote work in future?

In these incredibly challenging circumstances many businesses have come so far, adapting to meet the demands of their employees, customers and community. Based on this progression, it’s now going to be hard to go back to working life as it was before, and in many cases it would be counterproductive to even try. Naturally, there will always be pockets of essential factory and store workers, chefs and doctors that won’t be able to work from home. Yet, the lessons learned and changes made from working as a distributed workforce should be built on as we look forward.

It’s critical that businesses use this time to reflect on the new muscles they’ve grown, gathering insights and feedback from all around the company to work out what their employees want, what can be improved and what works well already. Taking this time to reflect will push entire companies together - driving productivity and cohesiveness - in the next phase of recovery.

Looking ahead, we expect many businesses to invest in developing their remote working capabilities and community culture even further. This will help to attract and retain previously unreachable talent in the long run by democratizing the hiring process. Enabling carers, mothers, talent outside of the city or country where the organization is based and people of all backgrounds to be part of a company in a way that wasn’t previously possible.

To really create a culture for inclusion for everybody, businesses should look to continue to priorities and invest in technology that enables true remote presence and bridges the distance between remote colleagues. The tech that can enable this, from AR and VR to video, is on course to change how we collaborate and redefine the meaning of the office for good.

  • Karandeep Anand, Vice President and Head of Workplace from Facebook.