“The virus isn’t waiting for us. We have to move quickly.” I first spoke these words to my team on March 9, 2020. Several months later, and with a large resurgence of COVID-19 cases, the prospect of how we return to the workplace in the safest way possible for employees and customers seems daunting.

This pandemic is far from over. We must move quickly, be agile and be willing to take careful, calculated risks, but only after developing, implementing and managing guidelines in order to create a methodical approach to handle the possible outcomes. Many business leaders are facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the pandemic, and lack critical insight that enables them to make fully formed decisions about bringing workers back to the office. Now, more than ever before, it is urgent that organizations begin using and analyzing data to guide key decision making. 

Data is the missing link to visualize and execute a return-to-work and/or school plan

Throughout digital history, reliable data insights have been touted as a vital tool for organizations to reduce uncertainty and make strategic decisions. While the CV19 pandemic certainly makes things more challenging, it is a golden opportunity for organizations to start from the beginning and learn how to properly collect, analyze and make decisions based on insights gleaned from data.

Analyzing testing, symptom, and local risk data, as well as making that information easily accessible to administrators and managers will make coming back to the workplace a smoother, safer process. These insights  allow us to fully grasp the bigger picture and make more informed and effective decisions. Consider the tools and services available that provide this kind of collection and analysis; it could be the reason for organizational failure or success post-pandemic.  

How do we know when to begin bringing our full workforce back?

Unless businesses have an accurate view of what infection rates in their organizations look like at the outset, it won’t be possible to protect employees and prevent transmission of the virus in the workplace. The first step is to ensure each employee is tested and receives negative results before they return to work. There are different ways employers can facilitate this process. First, employees could receive an at-home collection kit and ship their tests to a designated lab. The employer could then collect those results directly from the lab or from the employee. Second, employers can direct workers to a local testing site and have lab results shared directly with their employer.

This solution prevents logistical issues and ensures data is automatically collected. Third, employers could set up their own on-site testing. While this solution might be beneficial for larger enterprises, the logistics of setting up on-site testing — especially for enterprises with more than one physical location — might require more bandwidth than the workforce currently has available. The best recommendation is to have employees get a COVID-19 test at a local site and provide confirmation and results directly to the employer or through other technological means. 

It’s not just the return, but managing the return and following the guidelines 

It will be critical for business leaders to enact and enforce policies that protect employees’ health  sooner rather than later. Monitoring testing trends and infection rates at a community level can help business leaders be proactive about working from home and address capacity in physical locations should levels increase. We should expect that many businesses will need to return to remote working environments if infection levels rise.

Furthermore, should a worker contract the virus, employees should know what the organization’s policies are and what protocols are in place to trace contacts. Additionally, for consumer-facing operations, make a plan for visitors. Will you require temperature checks of your customers? Have they tested negative for COVID-19 and have access to a digital or physical badge to indicate that result? Business leaders should have the answers to these questions ahead of time.

How can we ensure protection for those who enter buildings and public spaces?

For organizations with multiple locations, such as warehouses and corporate buildings, employees who need to enter and exit these locations frequently pose a different challenge than those who enter and leave from the same location on a daily basis. Once an employee receives a negative test result, they should receive a physical or digital badge confirming their testing status.

This badge would enable employees with negative test results to unlock and access the building, both for those entering and leaving the same facility and those that have to pass through multiple locations daily. Employees should be strongly encouraged – even required – to maintain a symptom diary, so any potential COVID-19 infection can be caught and addressed quickly. 

We cannot remain at a standstill forever. The benefits of effectively implementing and monitoring systemic lab testing and symptom checking guidelines for employees using proven best practices will benefit us all in the long run. Leaders in the community have to take a calculated risk in order to keep Indiana’s economy moving. Monitoring CV19 pandemic data in the workplace could prevent infection surges and ensure the success of an organization long after the pandemic has passed. 

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