COVID-19 is approaching 4 million confirmed cases (over 1.2 million in the US) and nearly 270,000 deaths globally. The pandemic has flattened industries, shuttered companies, and cascaded through virtually every country in the world.
Until the COVID-19 vaccine is created sometime in 2021, which is currently projected to be January or later, and we achieve herd immunity, the virus will remain a lasting part of our personal lives.
As cases subside in specific countries and regions, businesses have begun to reopen. China and South Korea, among the first countries to either encounter or combat the pandemic, have been operating under a new type of normal for weeks. Italy and Spain are starting to limp back. Recently, Georgia became the first US state to begin partially re-opening. Other states have started to follow suit.
Businesses in countries that are contemplating a return to normal operations will have to decide when they open and how to handle the safety and exposure of their operations, workers, and customers. Of course, many workers who can do their jobs remotely will continue to do so. Physical offices and operations will take additional steps to minimize the number of employees on location, including creating a greater reliance on shifts. Those who return to physical offices will encounter a new, initially uncomfortable, workplace protocol.
Asia has begun offering the blueprint of what other regions can expect. For example, social distancing is the norm. Photos of Hyundai employees eating at work cafeterias separated by glass partitions demonstrate what will likely occur elsewhere. Elevators in some buildings have clearly partitioned spaces to ensure individuals are staying as far apart from each other as possible. In countries where immunity confirmation and tracking are possible, they have badges or mobile apps to demonstrate they’ve been cleared to work.
The workplaces that employers will need to create will be very different as they evolve. Drawing from deep experience with the healthcare industry and essential companies, UST Global has created Return to Work tools, protocols, and solutions that will ensure all businesses have best-in-class policies in place to ensure the safety of their workers and customers while ensuring compliance with new regulations that may arise. Here are five examples of changes to be expected in corporate settings.
Health Monitoring and Checks Before Returning to Work
While people infected with the coronavirus may be asymptomatic*, absent a COVID-19 test, checking temperatures for fever is the most surefire way to determine if an employee is ill and should not be in the workplace. Clinical thinking is that we will eventually move towards SpO2 voice-based biomarkers. Regardless of whether the elevated temperature is the result of COVID-19 or some other illness, employees with an elevated temperature should stay home until they are illness free. Companies will need the appropriate instruments and operational expertise to take on this healthcare activity.
* Asymptomatic or mild undiagnosed symptoms seem to exist in up to 20% of the population, especially in major cities
New protocols will require employees to keep at least six feet of distance between each other, properly wash their hands, and use advanced protective equipment. While management is responsible for communicating these new policies, enforcement will require video tracking. Most businesses already have video capabilities but will need new software to analyze that information and procedures for when an employee is not adhering to policies.
Seamlessly collecting data will involve the use of wearables. In certain organizations with advanced telemetry and analytics, wearables and tracking may already be commonplace. In organizations where data collection has not been the norm, significant education about the wearables and privacy concerns will be paramount to employee comfort with and acceptance of the new normal.
An important line of defense against COVID-19 spread is understanding whether your employees are in high-risk situations. Digital questionnaires and applications will classify your workers by risk and impact, e.g. if they have family or household members showing COVID-19 symptoms, are in a high-risk category based on age or comorbidities, or have been exposed to COVID-19. Similar to triage being performed by physician offices, managers will need to understand and plan for employees isolating and working from home based on their risk level.
Real-time Tracking and Risk Assessments of Viral Spread
All of the data above is meaningless without advanced analytics to provide context. A software dashboard can process all of the information to give real-time probabilities of important data, like a potential dashboard for exposure or outbreak.
Companies will also be responsible for monitoring and tracking a number of new processes, some of which will be regulated by the government, including,
Essential operations, like hospitals, grocery stores, and distribution centers, have already begun adopting some of the new procedures on an ad-hoc basis. Companies yet to come back to normal operations would be wise to prepare to do all of the above in a methodical way.
Throughout this new normal, organizations will need to strike a fine balance between privacy and security. UST Global has ample experience providing guidance on new comprehensive plans for blue-chip organizations. Specifically, UST Global’s Return to Work solution is flexible depending on regional customs and specific workplace needs. We bring accelerators and state-of-the-art technology, as well as the scale for large organizations.
Syam Adusumilli is Chief Healthcare Transformation Officer at UST Global.