Using Technology to Aid Your COVID-19 Back to Work Strategy

Using Technology to Aid Your COVID-19 Back to Work Strategy

  • Data Analysis /
  • Enterprise /
  • Technology /

The variety of responses to the pandemic have created so much uncertainty and misdirection that the general public has developed a considerable amount of confusion and mistrust. People are worried about their safety, and experiencing anxiety due to fear of the unknown and lack of planning. Knowing this, where does a business start to build a return to work strategy? Do they just follow the CDC guidelines without addressing the mental state of employees? How will this be implemented and monitored?

Having employees return to the office seems like a risky endeavor with a wide range of government guidelines and timelines varying so greatly. There is an extensive amount of research to be done and a vast quantity of  information to consider. The four types of interventions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests focusing on are: limiting direct and indirect person to person contact, identifying and isolating potentially infectious people, increasing hygienic protocols, and using personal protective equipment. While sounding simple, these recommendations in actuality entail an enormous amount of change for a business to undertake and manage in a short amount of time.

In order to rebuild trust, it is essential that employees are reassured that safety is a top priority. The best way to alleviate anxiety and restore efficiency is to have a plan. This plan must enable your employees to navigate their new environment with ease. This article will help you create a plan that holistically considers the employee experience and enables a successful return to work.

The 4 Pillars of an Effective Return-to-Work Strategy

Your return to work plan and supporting tech platform must be a foundation supported by 4 pillars, which include: Protect Employees, Communicate Directly, Improve Efficiency, and Mitigate Risk. Each of these pillars must be addressed to create a strong return to work foundation, and must match YOUR business goals, physical space adjustments, and budget. Each business is unique, with diverse employee cultures and different environments. To build trust, safety, and reduce anxiety you are tasked with finding a balanced COVID-19 response that addresses the needs of your business, your employees, and ultimately your customers.

1) Protect Employees: Each business will require different levels of contact tracing to protect employees. When you are establishing a strong foundation of safety that will work for your business, it is imperative to find the optimal level for your employees to feel comfortable. This will facilitate rebuilding their trust. According to George Rutherford, Principal Investigator of California’s Contact tracing program, businesses will “need to find people and isolate them within four days of exposure” to make a dent in reducing exposure. Some businesses may only want to trace interactions in the office. Others may gather additional information through a daily check-in process, which includes a physical safety check-in at entrances to confirm that individuals are not showing signs of COVID-19, and checking their personal Health Pass ID. Health Pass IDs display interaction levels with COVID-19.

2) Communicate Directly: A single channel for all COVID-19 communication will provide your business the agility needed to disperse information quickly, and act on it. Employees being able to access all COVID-19 information on their phones will accelerate adoption and allow your business to be more actionable.

3) Improve Efficiency: You will need to equip your employees with tools that will not only keep them safe, but also help them work more effectively as they navigate a changing environment. Employees will need to work in new surroundings, re-optimize their workflows, and access location-specific information and data.

4) Mitigate Risk: Businesses must find ways to reduce risks. This means reducing high touch surfaces and large congregations of people as well as having more data on hand to make fast educated decisions. Having real-time data to know what is happening with your staff and business will allow you to be proactive, agile, and decisive. Continue to look at risks beyond the pandemic, such as possible workplace injuries and safety issues.

Finding The Right Balance

A business must find the right balance between getting enough data from employees to accelerate its responsiveness, and what employees feel comfortable in providing to their employers. For example, employees may feel fine with the safer environment trade-off by using an app that anonymously traces interactions around the office. However, they may not feel so comfortable with a thorough check-in process that captures more private information. While it may give businesses data to be more responsive in creating a safer, more proactive and agile organization, it may prove to be intimidating to employees providing personal information both physically and digitally. If a harmonious balance is not met, employees may push back or find ways around the process. What it really comes down to is: are employees willing to adopt the level of action required by a business to cover the four pillars of a safe return to work plan?

How Do The 4 Pillars Help Provide a Safe Environment and Protect Employees? 

In order to meet the challenge of creating a safe and productive working environment a business will require data-driven accuracy and tech-enabled agility. It will demand a synthesis of solutions to complete the tasks with each pillar being addressed. As a business redesigns its physical layout, creates new policies and enforces new rules, it must find a way to manage the orientation of its employees with these expedited updates. Businesses must consider the weight that is upon employees and their mental health. Adding to the list of tasks may not be possible as teams shrink and the workload becomes even heavier. 

Companies looking for force multipliers — ways to do more with less — should be looking at technology to automate tasks, and give employees access to view data and leverage it, enabling them to make smart decisions. Technology has the ability to equip each employee with the tools to be more independent and navigate their new environment on their own. 

The four pillars allow you to view the entire employee experience and plan how your company will rebuild trust and reduce anxiety. Companies can no longer afford to be afraid of change due to lack of agility, they must embrace it, and be in a state of constant improvement. So, as we dive into the four pillars, think about how your employees will adopt your return to work strategy. How will staff access and process all of the new information? How will your business become more agile in a constantly evolving world, and more proactive in mitigating risk?

Using Data to Evaluate Conditions in the Work Environment

Data will play a significant role in how your business becomes more proactive in addressing potential risks moving forward. Businesses are looking for ways to be more efficient with less. How can an organization minimize the burden to the staff while providing the proper security everyone needs to continue to do the work? Look for force multipliers. 

Leveraging BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) technology can be a huge force multiplier. BLE’s are a wireless personal area network technology that uses beacons to deliver information. You will need less staff to keep track of all staff interactions with an accuracy within a couple of feet. This means fewer false positives if an infection does happen. If COVID-19 does emerge in your business, BLE device location history on your employee’s phones give you the ability to send targeted notifications to all at-risk individuals with little to no effort. They receive the alert with the proper instructions on what to do next along with directions on when to return. 

In order to be responsive to the needs of its staff, businesses will need tracing and data to obtain knowledge and foresight on what employees are experiencing. This is why a check-in system is so important. Not only do you need to keep track of potential COVID-19 symptoms to ensure a safe working environment, but you will also need to keep track of how and where employees are working or why they aren’t working. For example, employees can be caregivers for sick family members, or caregivers for children if schools or daycare centers are closed. Employees could have technical issues and be unable to access work files. Having data on what is happening on-site and off-site will help you be more educated, proactive, and inclusive. In order to adapt, find new efficiencies, and meet the needs of your employees, organizations will need to know what challenges they are facing in this new pandemic environment. Evaluating daily, weekly, monthly data and correlating that to productivity, will help a business discover the proper solutions to drive efficiency and support happier employees.

Businesses can also gather data to understand how people work in the new environment that you have created. Used well, data opens a window to see the interactions and bottlenecks, unlocking insights to inform proper adjustments. Sharing data allows staff to make more safety-conscious decisions, fine-tune their new workflows, and create smarter, safer offices.

Data will also give you the knowledge to make educated decisions quickly. It will allow your staff to do the same. With data, you will be able to be more proactive and precise to meet the demands of the future while creating a better employee experience for your staff. 

Using the Employee Experience App to Enable Agility

Businesses will not have the luxury of mismanaging safety. Speed becomes essential in creating a safer and more productive environment. That’s why Emerge built the Employee Experience App platform. Below are some ways our platform can provide your business with the agility to safely bring your employees back to work:

Imagine being able to send an automated alert to individuals when a room becomes too populated, and employees are unable to properly social distance. Each employee in the overcrowded room, receives a notification stating the room is at capacity, along with the call to action to wear a mask or reduce numbers in the room. An automated, timely and precise notification has the ability to literally be a lifesaver.

A designated channel for communication gives businesses a tool to cut through the noise; to deliver timely alerts and messages directly to employees’ handheld devices. Imagine if a business needed to close down a department due to potential COVID-19 exposure, you could alert all staff of the closure in seconds, as well as all of the employees that came in contact with that department in the last 14 days. That’s in addition to notifying all of the employees that individuals came in contact with. Employees would get a direct message on their phones with directions on what to do based on their level of interaction. This alert would be accessible in the app along with other COVID-19 information creating a single channel for easy reference and access. Accessibility alone makes it such an important pillar in creating a sound return to work strategy. 

Using an app that leverages BLE technology focuses on the entire employee experience, enabling them to navigate their new environment safely and efficiently.  By focusing on improving the employee experience and helping them solve day-to-day problems, you will drive engagement and increase adoption of the platform needed to create a safe environment.

Having a dedicated channel for health or social impact topics opens a new avenue of interaction with more relevant notification and alerts. Employees need to know they aren’t alone. Create content that inspires, motivates, and educates your teams. Your employees will feel more invested. Build alignment by communicating the company’s objectives and be transparent by sharing wins, struggles, and what lies ahead. Send targeted news, policy updates, and notes from leadership. Gather more data with online surveys and polls. Inspire with videos and stories of how other coworkers are doing. 

Wayfinding becomes another feature that can be immensely helpful when dealing with larger office spaces, buildings, or campuses that may have completely changed due to COVID-19. Departments may have moved, buildings may be closed, workspaces may be completely different, and equipment may have been relocated. Enabling staff with a tool to build new efficiency into their daily routines is an easy way to find immediate ROI. Being able to communicate building changes such as new entrance and exit locations, meeting rooms, flow management for security and social distancing, updated location hours and location closures, nearest common area locations, sanitation locations, or COVID-19 testing sight both on-site and offsite. This information may change weekly, daily, or monthly, and having the right technology will help you remain flexible.

In addition to supporting employee happiness and efficiency, we can take actions specifically to reduce risk of COVID infections through “smarter office” techniques. For example:

  • “No touch” technology and reduces interaction strategies, such as digital menus of cafeterias, cafes or on-site restaurants, touchless payment integrations, and the ability to order food or have it delivered to your department.
  • Social distancing tools and communications that allow employees to time their visits to shared common areas based on non-peak times.
  • Meeting room booking systems can be integrated into the application.
  • Automatically notify cleaning staff that a room needs to be cleaned after being used by a large group.
  • Check-in systems for shared desks and confirmation they have been cleaned (or trigger an alert to cleaning staff to clean between uses).
  • Overall information sharing with staff to create transparency and a sense of safety. 

Adopting the Employee Experience App

When it comes to workplace dynamics, we are experiencing rapid and continued change – some sources say “a year of change per month” is underway with no end in sight. As your business adjusts to incorporate best practices, it will need to be proactive to meet new guidelines and requirements. That entails equipping your business with the right tools to ensure safety. Lead with data-driven accuracy and tech-enabled agility to make quick decisions and mitigate risks. We created the Employee Experience App for this reason. We are user experience professionals, technology experts, and master product builders. We know that focusing on creating a top employee experience will also facilitate the creation of a more successful contact tracing system that will be more widely adopted. 

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