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Beyond Zoom: Digital Workforce Enablement after COVID-19

, | June 2, 2020 | By

by Scott Chesney –

Even as the states move to reopen businesses and restart the economy, the experience of COVID-19 and the shutdown are driving permanent workforce transformation. Beyond the obvious tools like Zoom, companies and employees need to rapidly change the way they work and interact. Both office workers that can and have moved to work from home (WFH) as well as employees that must be physically present in a workspace will need to see changes in how they do their jobs.

To quote Yogi Berra, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” We do not know what public health or economic activity will look like this summer and fall, much less in 2021. However, we can state the following with a high degree of certainty:

  • The U.S. and individual states will continue to progressively reopen business and relax restrictions and stay-at-home orders.
  • These increased interactions will likely cause some type of resurgence in cases and deaths, either in the summer or autumn or both.
  • Even when a viable vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is developed and broadly distributed, the pandemic of 2020 will not be the last time a new virus disrupts life in the U.S. and the world.
  • The changes in how people work and interact that happened during the initial shut-down this spring will never completely disappear. The increased use of WFH and online tools will remain a feature of the new economy.

To deal with this future, RCG is helping our customers and partners with several initiatives to support, empower and communicate with the new demands on their workforces.  RCG and our customers see this period as an opportunity to invest in tools, technology and systems to allow employees to maintain and even increase their productivity, level of innovation, and job loyalty and satisfaction as they work in new ways.  The following are some of the interesting specific opportunities, with proven value and payoffs, that we and our customers are pursuing.

3 Different Approaches to Contact Tracing

Contract tracing is an obvious need as employers reopen with coronavirus still circulating wildly.  New cases and hotspots will occur, and the key to mitigating them will be rapid identification of those infected and tracing their movements and interactions to alert and treat any additional people that may have had contact.  Testing will not be enough, as the U.S. is too big and too diverse, and the world is too interconnected for testing to be applied so broadly that all cases can be identified and isolated.  Effective treatments, while critical to develop, are also insufficient as they will still result in additional virus transmission and unacceptable human and economic losses during the course of treatment. Even when a highly protective vaccine is developed, either SARS-CoV-2 or a future virus will have a high mutation rate, like influenza today, that means that vaccines will probably never be enough by themselves.

On the other hand, we can not ignore concerns about privacy and individual liberty.  The U.S. as a free country that values our liberty, will not and should not apply the same solutions as China and South Korea.  Employers are in a unique position to be able to work with their employees to develop solutions that create a win-win outcome – employees feel, and are, protected at work and employers earn their employees goodwill and protect their bottom lines.

Employee movement and interaction tracking

Healthcare settings, including hospitals, out-patient physicians offices and clinics, lab and pharmacy facilities, and first-responder organizations find this challenge exacerbated by complicating factors:

  • Many employees must be physically present in the workplace to do their jobs.
  • These jobs involve frequent direct contact with patients that may have been exposed to the virus and also have illnesses and other health conditions that can both decrease their ability to fight the virus and increase the degree to which they spread infectious particles.

However, RCG’s healthcare customers are leveraging some critical advantages they have.  This includes the facts that personal protective equipment is becoming more widely and reliably available and that most clinical and non-clinical staff are well aware of the benefits of proper PPE use and are highly compliant in using it.  Equally important though, is the fact that most healthcare related employers have some level of digital infrastructure that can be used to quickly develop an enhanced movement and interaction tracking system among employees and between employees and patients.

RCG’s expertise in developing and enhancing mobile apps is letting us help our clients turn their team member mobile apps into internal contact tracing devices.  This capability can be limited to operation within the walls of the facility, so that staff can feel comfortable they are not being tracked in their personal life.  Inside the system, the benefits of movement tracking clearly outweighs the privacy consideration of on-duty staff.  Using beacons to enhance mobile device tracking precision enables precise in-the-hospital movement history.

RCG’s analytics and health data experts can then build a secure data repository and advanced location and graph-based analytics to notify team members that they may have been exposed while preserving the privacy of the already infected member.  The system also identifies areas and surfaces that are potentially contaminated for additional cleaning.  Even though the current virus appears not to have a primary transmission path via surface contacts, this next virus may be transmitted more easily this way.

Customer-Employee interaction recording

Similarly, health systems have the right and responsibility to track interactions of patients and any members of the public with employees in their facilities. This type of program requires a multi-faceted approach as not all patients have and use a mobile app for the facility.  A successful approach includes all the following:

  • Mobile App based Tracking – More and more patients are using apps to pay their bills and check in for appointments. These apps can be enhanced to provide beacon and GPS based location tracking on campus.  Health systems must add features like real-time appointment and wait time indications to continue to drive increased adoption of the app.
  • Integrated appointment management and EHR data – Just knowing the rooms the patient is in and when and for how long gives a good approximation of location even without a mobile app. By using analytics to compare room schedules, clinical notes and employee work records, we can see who was in the room and interacted with the patient.
  • Physical monitoring – At the most basic level, even without mobile apps or enhanced data integration and analytics, healthcare facilities should increasingly monitor and log, manually and photographically if necessary, all patients and staff as the enter and leave facilities and sensitive areas.

By combining the data from these approaches, we construct a full picture of all the interactions between team members and patients, such that both employees and customers can be notified whenever either tests positive.

General Population Opt-In contact tracing

The broadest approach to contact tracing is to give the general population apps that track interactions with other app users and notify contacts when a user tests positive.  Of course, when working with a broad population, security and privacy concerns are paramount.  RCG has learned from our experience that several factors increase participants’ adoption of the technology and improve their willingness to use it. The key factors include:

  • High security
  • Decentralized design to eliminate central data collection
  • No use of location data or uploading of location data from the device
  • Association with a local health brand

RCG is working with health systems to implement apps that use Google and Apple APIs that use Bluetooth and on-device data storage to ensure that participant’s data location is never captured and that data is only uploaded to a server when a user tests positive and explicitly grants permission for that data upload.  To identify contacts, the apps use Bluetooth to anonymously track interactions with other users that have a duration great enough for virus transmission.  The history of these interactions stays locally the user’s device.  Even if that user does test positive and grants access, the only data uploaded to a central server is the list of encrypted keys interacting with the positive user.  Then the impacted contacts can check for their own key in the list without anyone being able to determine either the users that test positive.

What we are not doing – detailed job monitoring or work tracking

One commonality among all our work on tracking and tracing both employees, patients and the general population is that we seek the minimum impact on the user.  Especially in a workplace, a measure to protect public health must not be confused with something that could be used by management or other workers in an intrusive or punitive manor.  Users will be secure that their data is used only to ensure their and others’ safety, not to determine pay or promotion.

Dynamic Workforce Management

Across all industries RCG serves, including both our healthcare clients but also those in financial services, hospitality and travel, and retail, the changes brought on by COVID have shown the absolute necessity of enabling a more dynamic workforce in terms of hiring, scheduling, and shift management.

Automatic and Auction-based shift assignment

The virus and subsequent lock-down have led simultaneously to mass closures and layoffs and also to increased workloads and responsibilities for those left working.  Looking ahead, as companies re-hire, many will seek to create more flexible arrangements, moving many workers to a more independent-contractor type arrangement than a traditional employer/employee relationship.  Essentially, the U.S. economy will become increasingly “Uber-ized” as companies seek to increase employment flexibility and reduce risk in the case or a virus resurgence or new economic downturn.

To manage these types of arrangements, RCG and our customers are developing new systems combining mobile apps, real-time data analytics, and auction-like capability.  Integrating scheduling and analytics automatically ensure that all shifts have a qualified, local and available team member assigned.  The employees have a single app where they can see their schedules and change them easily, whether because they are sick or for any other reason.  Auction capabilities allow employees to bid or request shifts and post availability for automated selection. By combining functional elements from apps like Uber, eBay, and online scheduling tools these systems allow both employers and employees more flexibility around managing schedules and shifts.

Attestations & Certification

A key part of work post COVID will most likely be a requirement that employees certify that they are healthy and fever-free.  At least in healthcare settings, clinical and any other patient-facing staff will be performing frequent temperature checks and self-certifications.  The team-member mobile app will enable entry and verification of this history and data.

Such types of certifications may also find their ways into other workplaces that involve extended interpersonal contacts, such as hair styling and other personal services, transit, and retail.  Large employers should be, and many are, starting to augment their own employee apps to include this functionality.

You are not alone in this effort

RCG is ready to bring our expertise to help creatively overcome the obstacle. At RCG, we focus on partnering with companies taking what appears to be an impossible journey and breaking it down into smaller achievable tasks and guiding you to achieving business outcomes.