Learn about the challenges being faced by businesses around the world as they attempt to re-open, and how bots on Workplace from Facebook are helping their staff get back to work.

As Coronavirus cases continue to rise in some parts of the world, governments and businesses are facing a monumental dilemma – continuing to stay closed means they may never be able to open up again, while reopening means asking staff to run the risk that they, or their customers, might be exposed to the virus. Equally, economies are in urgent need of a boost, and so there’s even more pressure on employers to figure out ways to operate.

For some employees, the remote working lifestyle will either start or continue. For others, they will be expected to return to offices, factories, restaurants or retail stores where the new normal will be a sanitised and socially distanced workforce who need to work together from afar to ensure everyone’s health and safety. 

As such, it’s not surprising that according to a recent survey conducted by global human resources consulting firm, Mercer, of 735 American employers more than 45% said they are already struggling with workers who are reluctant to return to their workplaces because of fear of getting sick.

Employers need to develop plans around how to bring employees back to work safely, giving careful thought to working schedules, building entrances/exits and walkways, seating configurations, capacity restrictions, elevator usage, deep cleans, food delivery, visitor policies, and much more. And if bosses don’t assess these anxieties, the resulting discomfort felt by staff could lead to decreased productivity and morale, or increased absenteeism and employee turnover.

When it comes to getting staff back to work, companies are facing 4 key challenges:

  • How to onboard/re-board any new or furloughed employees
  • Welcoming staff back to physical work spaces in a safe and efficient manner
  • Communicating any new remote working practices 
  • Ensuring any new training is completed or health/safety policies are followed

All while also ensuring staff are still enjoying their jobs and company culture isn’t being squashed by these very new, changing and uncertain working guidelines. 

Addressing these challenges will involve a huge amount of time, effort and resources to do effectively – but the need to do it well is vital for the safety of staff, customers and the company itself. 

Fortunately, for companies using Workplace from Facebook or Microsoft Teams to connect their workforce, using The Bot Platform you can create a suite of bots and automation tools that can help with these challenges. Here are 5 ways that bots can help. 

Back to work planning

The first area where bots can help is with the initial planning stages of getting back to work. Governments have released guidelines for how companies can return, but turning these centrally developed government guidelines into a realistic set of working procedures that staff will follow is a whole challenge in itself that varies from company to company. 

UK restauranter, Honest Burgers, had to do this when it came to planning for how they were going to reopen. Using The Bot Platform they created a way of checking in with staff and gathering data on how they were feeling, whether they could get childcare and were happy to return to work, in what capacity and when. The results of this allowed Honest Burgers to forecast who was ready to return without forcing anyone into working if they didn’t want to. 

After gathering this information, the bot was able to create staff lists based on who wanted to return, calculate the distances they lived in relation to Honest restaurants and then display this on a map so managers could easily see which staff were available. This enabled Honest Burgers’ operators to quickly prioritise which restaurants they could open, how quickly, and where the gaps were – and reassign and deploy available staff over time. 

As an added bonus, to celebrate the reopening of Honest Burgers, all returning staff were able to be the first to get a delicious burger in their hands (and bellies). The bot checked staff against their ‘Back to work’ database, confirmed their address was accurate and within delivery distance of a nearby restaurant, sent a custom Delivervoo voucher and an invite to their One Big Lunch virtual event on Workplace.   

This not only allowed restaurants to test out their new ways of working before opening to the public, but it also rewarded staff and created a sense of community as everyone was able to eat lunch together, from afar.

Back to work communications and FAQ support

The need to share accurate, timely, and transparent information with staff is incredibly important. Nearly half of employees are concerned that their employers will bring them back to work before it’s safe, according to a national survey by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research. Internal communication can have a huge impact though – employees who regularly receive updates are more likely to have positive views of their employers, be proud to work there (by 55%) and look forward to going back to work (by 43%).

Bots can provide a great mechanism for ensuring this information is delivered effectively, any questions are answered and unexpected concerns or enquiries are captured and addressed.

For example, telling staff who will be coming back to work and when represents a logistical and communication challenge for many companies. Some companies are bringing staff back by business unit or department, while others are taking a more randomised approach based on the letter their last name begins with or the month they were born. Whichever method they use, by using The Bot Platform companies using Workplace or Microsoft Teams can easily create custom audiences and send out relevant information to ensure staff know when they’re returning to work and the new procedures and policies they will need to follow. 

Getting ahead of the common questions from employees and addressing these concerns about returning to work is another opportunity where bots can help. 

The top five safety requests from employees align closely with CDC recommendations. Employees want their employers to:

  • Extensively clean and sanitize work areas (55%)
  • Encourage sick employees to stay home and institute flexible sick leave policies (52%)
  • Promote ongoing personal hygiene (40%)
  • Provide personal protective equipment (33%)
  • Screen all employees before they return to the workplace (31%)

Why not house all this information in a back to work bot that allows staff to easily and quickly see how their employers are addressing these needs and the guidance and policies being put in place to ensure they’re adhered to. Where will hand sanitizer be kept and how often will it be refilled? Will air conditioning be turned on? Will there be additional signage posted? How will spaces be modified to create more “contactless” environments? All these questions can be immediately answered and employee’s concerns addressed if built into a back to work bot. 

When it comes to back to work communications, it’s not just about getting staff ready to return. It’s also about the ongoing support and communication required to monitor how things are going. Creating simple survey and feedback tools can help employers check in on how staff are feeling, measure their confidence in how these new policies are working, and provide them a channel to flag any concerns they have. 

These surveys can easily be sent to all staff or specific segments of the company, and the results can be measured over time by creating automated recurring broadcasts that are sent on an ongoing basis. UK customer support company, Moneypenny, launched a ‘How are you doing’ survey bot to check in on everyone’s well being and gauge their work-life balance. Within 24 hours 75% of staff had answered the survey.

Training staff on new health and safety procedures

Alongside general back to work comms and answering questions from staff, there will also be a substantial retraining requirement to ensure staff are aware of new policies, training has been recorded and understood. And many staff are, quite rightly, nervous about companies having inadequate training available.

By using bots, companies can easily create their own tools that promote learning resources, educate staff and track their completion of new training materials. Training modules can be linked to from the bot or hosted directly within it, whether it be text, audio or video based. Staff who have completed training can be logged and those who have incomplete modules can be automatically reminded to complete them. 

As well as training staff on new procedures, bots can also help with the delivery and execution of these new procedures too. For example, hospitality and experience company Ennismore have been using bots for a variety of use cases during their lockdown and reopening phases.

For example, Ninth Floor is their new office bot and was used to see how staff felt about returning to work and whether they would prefer to work from home, the office or a combination of the two when Ennismore reopened. Based on staff responses, the bot then sent out relevant office guides and safety policies, ensures they’ve been read, shares entry and seating information, and checks in on staff when they are scheduled to be in the office to keep track of who has been at various Ennismore properties and when.

With different countries having different policies and procedures, global organizations like Ennismore need a way of quickly adapting to those varying rules. In the US, for example, it’s a legal requirement for Ennismore staff to answer questions each day before their shift begins to ensure they are safe to come to work. 

Using The Bot Platform, Ennismore have been able to easily create Daily Health Check tools to keep staff safe and ensure training and safety policies are being followed and understood. 

Compliance and tracking

Reopening will also come with a need for compliance and tracking tools to ensure any new health and safety standards are being met. Some of this might be in the form of ongoing hygiene surveys and quizzes around new working procedures. Or it might be creating new processes around how to book desk space or meeting rooms to ensure capacity limits are understood and met. 

Bots can help with all sorts of compliance efforts and policy tracking – be it ongoing surveys and procedure testing or the creation of logging tools and incident reporters. 

For example, why not make office cleaning data be as transparent as possible by creating a list of workspaces along with real time data on when they were last sanitised. The team responsible for keeping the office or stores clean could then use a bot to update cleaning logs, while staff could easily see which areas have been sanitised and feel more confident that they were safe at work. 

Equally, staff could also use a bot to report incidents or health and safety hazards. For example, maybe a meeting area wasn’t cleaned properly, items of PPE are running low, or particular areas such as walkways or elevators are getting too crowded.

Using a bot, staff can easily report these compliance issues and feel confident that their concerns are being heard, listened to and addressed.

Looking after company culture and staff wellness

The final area where bots can help companies get back to work is around company culture and staff wellness. While workforce reentry will include major logistical and operational planning, it’s not just the physical well-being of employees that must be taken into account. It’s equally as important to respond and look after their staff’s emotional and psychological health too – a topic that, regrettably, is being discussed far less than the more obvious social distancing, personal hygiene and workplace sanitization aspect of going back to work.

There are a number of ways that bots can help with it comes to aiding staff wellness and company culture. And the first way is simply around better preparing managers for taking responsibility for their team’s wellbeing. This could include familiarising team leaders with the warning signs of emotional distress, factoring more time into their days for staff check ins, helping people understand what is and isn’t within their control, and informing them of resources or teams they can call upon for help. 

As well as helping to create better managers and team leaders, bots can also help with culture building activities too. For example, while staff will need to adhere to social distancing guidelines, the need for a degree of personal connection with colleagues will be as important as ever – and the last thing any employer wants to see is a workforce that avoids interacting with each other. 

So why not recreate the spontaneity that comes with working together in-person, but do it in a way more suited to these new ways of working. Create a buddy bot that actively encourages different people from your organization to meet, talk and connect with each other. These can be scheduled to take place on a weekly or monthly basis and can be available to your entire company or specific departments or segments of staff. As well as matching staff together, the bot can also include a few conversation topics and ice breaker questions. In this regard, bots can help connect staff who are returning to work and build culture in a spontaneous way, while also fostering a sense of community.  

Equally, there may be new hobbies that staff have got into recently, or fun activities that could be promoted which could help boost company morale. Maybe there’s a book club, a movie discussion group or a gamer community within your organization? Using bots, it’s easy to surface up these interests and invite other staff to get involved. 

However you’re planning on getting back to work, bots can help.

As companies get closer to reopening, either at part capacity or full, there’s an urgent need to understand how to operate in the best way for staff, customers and the business. Having effective and trusted lines of communication will be of critical importance, and being able to develop your own suite of bots and work tools can help address any re-entry anxiety your workforce may have.

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Author Tom Gibby

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