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  • Writer's pictureJoe Bonomo

Microsoft Teams & Shifts for Coordinating Safe Return to the Office

Updated: May 2, 2023

As COVID-19 continues to affect our daily lives, we have all had to adjust to working remotely more than ever. While working remotely is enabled by applications such as Microsoft Teams, certain meetings, trainings, and other sessions are best conducted in person. The need to return to the office is inevitable. But, how do you coordinate the return in a safe manner? Here are some questions we have been hearing within our networks:

How do you return to work safely?
We already rushed to implement Microsoft Teams to work remote, is it going to cost me more to coordinate a return to the office?
If my team returns to the office, and someone later tests positive for COVID, how do I know who was in the office that day?

In this post, we will demonstrate how Corterra safely coordinates returning to the office utilizing Microsoft Teams and Shifts.

Challenge: Maintaining limits on number of people in the office

In the beginning of 2020, Corterra had moved into spacious new offices with numerous conference and huddle rooms each outfitted with wall mounted 65-inch TVs and 12-foot wide white boards – designed for efficient collaboration and problem solving. Then COVID arrived, and we were all forced into our homes. The good news was that as a technology firm we were already well positioned to work remotely, with all of our employees equipped with the essential productivity tools – laptops, monitors, speakers and the Microsoft Office 365 suite of applications, most importantly Teams. Unfortunately, our new office space with all its collaboration tools, was not being used.

As Illinois began to re-open in mid-summer, we wanted to safely allow our client project teams to schedule physical time in the office. Although we had worked with Microsoft OneNote and the Teams-integrated Whiteboard application while working remotely, some of the most challenging sessions could not meet the efficiency of an in-person meeting.

To safely accommodate in-person meetings, return to work procedures were designed to protect the health and safety of our employees in accordance with recommendations from the CDC. Physical markings were made in conference rooms to ensure proper social distancing. In addition, we decided to restrict the number of people in office to ten people each day, well below our 50-person capacity.

Our only remaining issue was managing how we would determine who was going to be in the office each day and ensuring that our ten person limit was followed, all without requiring anyone’s time to coordinate.


Microsoft Teams and Shifts

With all our employees using Teams daily for Presence, Chat, Meetings and Calls, it was easy to implement the Shifts app within Teams to manage a sign-up process for in-office time. Using our Corterra Team that included all employees, shifts were configured for each workday. The shifts were designed to cap the total employees allowed in the office on any one day (i.e. Shift) at 10 employees. Once an employee requests a shift, the available slots decrease until no more slots in the shift are available. This solution met the requirements of our return to work policy, limiting the number of employees in the office. Not only did it limit the number of employees, it provided a simple method to trace who may have interacted with a particular team member, in the case a team member became infected.

Image depicting a screen in Microsoft teams showing slot assignments for each scheduled Shift

Automated Approval

Microsoft Shifts in Teams was working well for us, but there was one aspect that was burdensome. In Shifts, a manager is required to approve shift requests. Each employee signing up for a shift was required to have their request approved. For our “Return to Work” use-case, manager approval was not required. To solve this problem, a Power Automate Flow approves the Shift request automatically. Configured to run every 10 minutes, the Flow approves the request and notifies the requesting employee that their Shift is scheduled.

Image of flow for automation of approvals


Microsoft Teams and Shifts is a critical component of Corterra’s return to work policy. Using Shifts, team members can request days in office, limiting the number of requests. Adding in the capabilities of Power Automate, shift request approvals were automated, providing a true self-service solution for employees. With Shifts integrated into Microsoft Teams, the sign-up process is easy and in a tool already familiar to employees. In addition, no additional cost was incurred.

Needing a return to work plan? Contact us to see how Teams and Shifts can get your team back in the office safely.


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