The continuing battle with COVID-19 has forced HR and business leaders to adopt a whole new vocabulary when it comes to their operational strategy. Things like social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and remote work have all become daily if not hourly points of conversation for many of us, whether our businesses are still operating at reduced capacity or we've executed some kind of return to work. But more than any other concept introduced, there's one in particular that's not only the most complex to understand and execute on but also can potentially have some of the biggest impacts on the safety of your employees and the integrity of your business continuity plans: contact tracing.

Managing through uncertainty contact tracing and workforce management banner

What is contact tracing?

Even though it involves an intricate network of data science, communications, and workforce management processes, contact tracing itself isn't that complicated to understand. The basic idea is to limit your employees' potential exposure to COVID-19 or a similar contagion by understanding who they've worked with or come in contact with while at one of your business locations. This is especially relevant to essential employees in hourly positions who don't have the option of working remotely but still need to be protected, and only becomes more important as you bring your organization back up to speed and have more employees returning onsite.

How does contact tracing work?

As you may have seen during some of the recent reopening phases, especially in places like Massachusetts where reopening has continued without spikes in coronavirus activity, many organizations in many industries from barber shops to restaurants to manufacturers are having to manually log people visiting their establishments, establish when they arrived and how long they stayed, and monitor anyone else present at the same time to keep track of potential exposure.

These contact tracing efforts have taken many forms, including things like paper logbooks, whiteboards, and of course our old favorite the Excel spreadsheet. But what if there was a more automated way to do this? Luckily for companies with HCM and workforce management systems in place, there is.

Contact tracing as part of workforce management

Contact tracing is an area for which workforce management data is a natural fit. Think about it – what are we most interested in monitoring, optimizing, and forecasting when we dig into this kind of information? It's all about who is working at what times, which employees have unexpected or planned absences, which groups of employees need to be scheduled together, and a variety of other factors that all boil down to putting the right people in the right places at the right times to be productive.

Now flip that around for a second –if we're already automating the processes of scheduling employees to work and tracking their time once they start a shift, wouldn't it make sense to also use that to assess and possibly reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure since all that information is already being collected? And if we could do that, wouldn't it be a more efficient solution than having to create manual records of the comings and goings of all our employees?

That's exactly the logic that Kronos and Ultimate followed fairly early on in the pandemic when we were assessing how best to help our customers understand and mitigate the risks of this unexpected turn of events. We found that with the right workforce management infrastructure in place, automated reports and people analytics displays collecting all the data from the devices connected to it, like time clocks and mobile devices, could yield a clear picture of which workers were onsite when to simplify the process of figuring out who may have been exposed in the event of someone with COVID-19 being identified in the workplace. This lets organizations take action fast to protect employees rather than having to hunt through the data themselves to determine who's at risk, providing advantages both in terms of business continuity and in terms of the employee experience.

Recognition of contact tracing's importance by analysts

Recently, IDC published a market note going over why contact tracing is something many organizations are focusing on and trying to perfect, as well as how leveraging the existing functionality of workforce management suites can help make the process less painful. Some highlights of the report include the following:

  • How capturing data from clock in/clock out processes provides a strong set of baseline data on employee activity and location
  • How this framework can be expanded beyond hourly workers to also include salaried employees
  • How the automation introduced through contact tracing via workforce management systems makes determining exposure a simpler effort and helps speed up organizations' reaction time in addressing exposure risk

If you're trying to find the best method of deploying contact tracing at your organization, we highly recommend you check out the full IDC market note. We hope this information helps you and your business get the edge in the ongoing struggle against COVID-19 as we all continue to define what our next normal looks like.

Download IDC's market note

Published: Thursday, July 16, 2020