Future Pandemic Readiness

14 June 2022 · Mike Steere

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How proactive contact tracing management for employees facilitates continuity of operations

How do we do it better next time?

That’s a key question many business leaders have been asking in recent months as companies begin to reach conclusions about how well they have managed the Covid-19 pandemic and what its overall impact was on their businesses. They are also asking other questions: What worked well? What mistakes did they make? Where were customers impacted the most?

In many sectors such as manufacturing and production, construction, energy, and health care, the absence of workers due to illness or isolating has been consistently near - or at - the top of the list of factors inhibiting continuity of operations (COOP) and productivity through the pandemic.

Beyond the anecdotes, there is science behind this too: A 2021 study from the Warsaw University of Technology examining the effect of Covid-19 on the manufacturing sector found that worker absence had the greatest impact on operational activities.

From a cost perspective, it was estimated in 2020 by the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA) that business continuity losses alone in the United States “totals about $1 trillion per month” due to the pandemic.

But if businesses need to improve their resilience against this problem to be better prepared for the next dangerous variant or disease, what should business leaders be doing?

Keeping employees safer at work

Companies without a contact tracing process are more likely to suffer from widespread business interruption and a drop in productivity and profitability when employees become infected with a pandemic illness.

The critical value of contact tracing is that it prevents exponential growth of virus cases within an organization. Preventing exponential growth of the virus means protecting productivity and ensuring continuity of operations by avoiding having large numbers of the workforce sick at once.

Having a structured contact tracing system in place quickly and accurately provides the details of the close contacts of an infected staff member to health and human resources teams, enabling them to ‘ringfence’ a virus case and isolate the close contacts. This significantly contributes to continuity of operations by ensuring that only those employees that need to be isolated are sent home and allows employees that have not been in contact with the infected employee to continue working.

Ideally, businesses need a system that delivers not only actionable information within a few minutes, but the ability to customize data that meets local health authority requirements or recommendations. 

Contact tracing and continuity of operations 

Continuity of operations during any critical event, including a pandemic, is dependent on the presence of rigorously tested and exercised business continuity plans. From a pandemic perspective, these plans must have the relevant tactics in place to deal with employee health issues, social distancing, mask usage (if relevant), as well as large numbers of employees not coming to work.

Since the pandemic began, it is fair to say that many businesses still do not have contact tracing as a core component of their business continuity plans. It is now time to make that change – particularly if the company has a large workforce. 

Doing so will help the company achieve three things, which all impact COOP:

  • Mitigation against absenteeism and widespread, and sometimes unnecessary, isolation and quarantine 
  • Optimization of available and healthy employees so that the delivery of services and solutions are maintained, and customers feel little to no inconvenience  
  • Maintenance of productivity levels to as close to normal as possible

Contact tracing can make the difference between a company staying open for business or shutting down temporarily or, in a worst-case scenario, permanently. It also ensures that the company’s reputation remains intact because it took the necessary steps to ensure it has the resources to deliver its services and solutions.

Unfortunately, many businesses have not learned their lesson.

Enhancing business risk management

Close analysis of how companies have and have not responded to Covid confirms a number of things. First, that contact tracing is a key part of the response toolkit to infectious viral illness outbreaks. Second, responding quickly with these tools is vital for business risk management. Finally, Covid has also shown us the risks for companies that have no formal contact tracing process in place.

It is important to understand that adopting contact tracing as a long-term strategy will help shift a business’ virus risk management strategy from reactive to proactive. To make this shift means that decision makers cannot wait for the inevitable to occur. They will not have the luxury of time to try to evaluate, source, procure and implement a contact tracing solution. They will need to have their contact tracing solution – whether it is a wearable device, an app, or any other solution - in a ‘ready’ state. The same goes for crisis management: you cannot formulate your crisis management plan when your company is dealing with a crisis. You must have the plan in place and ready to deal with all eventualities before a crisis is on the proverbial radar screen.

Ultimately, a company must view other pandemic response tools, such as masks and sanitizers, as a component of their risk mitigation strategy, along with contact tracing. 

Building business resiliency

Being ready to deploy contact tracing instantly means a business is always ready for the next virus outbreak. This could be a new Covid variant, a new virus, or even a serious flu season – which, pre-Covid, was estimated to wipe about $17 billion off the American economy each year in lost productivity.

As the Covid-19 experience validates, companies that protect their workforce using contact tracing can lessen the impact of these viruses on staff absences and isolation. That benefit stems from an accurate, fast, and efficient approach to virus management. 

The benefits don’t stop at reduced absences.

Having proactive contact tracing as part of an organization’s business continuity plan means that, in a worst-case scenario, the company can rapidly implement its contact tracing solution, change or optimize how it manages its inventory, human capital, and the delivery of its products and services.

These capabilities make it more resilient and all stakeholders benefit. Pandemic resiliency is now incredibly relevant as businesses negotiate new agreements and seek new partners with which to face an uncertain future together.

Enhancing confidence up and down the supply chain

At the 2020, 2021, and 2022 World Economic Forum’s annual Davos meetings, supply chains and the problems caused by the pandemic were focal points of many discussions.

The Forum reported back that supply chain stability is now a C-level issue, and that securing supply chains and making them even more resilient is now a priority issue for business leaders.

Many corporate executives have likely been hearing the same messages from their stakeholders. Companies need a 360-degree view of their supply chain and its pandemic risks. They need to adopt technologies that enable them to anticipate specific risks and interruptions, including pandemics, and to respond appropriately to these risks.

It is for this reason that a proactive virus management plan with contact tracing at its core must be adopted by every business serious about protecting its supply chain and its ability to survive the next pandemic.

Being pandemic-ready from a contact-tracing perspective shows that a company is committed to its business continuity, operational security, delivery of services and solutions via its supply chain, and long-term existence. It also makes partners, suppliers, and customers confident in the company’s ability to meet its contractual obligations. 

In fact, as soon as stakeholders know that a company is well-prepared for the next pandemic, and that it has the right tools to support its continuity of operations, they are more likely to do business with them. That's because they see it as a company that not only manages its risks, but those of its partners up and down the supply chain.

Boosting productivity 

Employees who arrive at work every day knowing that there are no measures in place to protect them from a pandemic are unlikely to work as motivated individuals. They may also look for work elsewhere.

Unanticipated benefits of contact tracing for workers have emerged through the Covid-19 pandemic in three key areas. 

First, it has made employees aware that management, and the company that they work for, had invested in keeping them safe. This was particularly evident in instances where companies issued employees with wearable technology. Second, it made workers feel confident knowing that their employer was providing oversight and was taking a proactive role in helping to identify close contacts and that they did not have to carry that burden or worry themselves about undetected spread of the virus. This is particularly reassuring for workers with vulnerable people in their close family or friend communities. Finally, workers who know that their employer is proactively managing their risks and has plans in place to mitigate any issue or event, pandemics included, are more than likely to be more motivated and productive, and committed to their employer. 

How workers ‘feel’ may appear to be a soft metric to many, but all these factors combined made workers feel safer and better about coming to work during a pandemic. 

Where to from here?

Since Covid began, some businesses have successfully adopted contact tracing to better manage operations. These businesses have mainly used a ‘manual’ contact tracing process, where contact tracers isolate positive cases and call employees who may have been in contact with a case to alert them and remove them from the workplace by quarantining them. In many instances, there has been no reason to do so. Not only has this process proven to be labor intensive, time consuming and invasive, it has also had a negative influence on businesses' COOP.

Due to this impact on businesses, contact tracing is moving towards wearable devices. There are significant benefits to businesses from a COOP and resiliency perspective. Businesses will be able to respond rapidly to a pandemic event and will have access to all required data to make key decisions. Employees will be protected, their risks minimized, and they will continue to work while only sick individuals and their direct contacts will be isolated or quarantined.

Market analyst predictions estimate that the contact tracing market will grow sizably to a $26 billion per year industry by 2027 as businesses look to ensure their COOP and to be better prepared for ‘next time’ – and there will be a next time.

Mike Steere is a co-founder of SaferMe (www.safer.me), one of the world’s leading contact tracing and safety software companies, with products used across more than 30 countries. Through the pandemic, he has worked with Fortune 500 businesses and other well-known international organizations, helping them to maintain productivity and continuity of operations. Contact him at mike.steere@safer.me

This article first appeared on www.drj.com on June 13, 2022.


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