(Editor’s Note: Today’s article is brought to you by our friends at Kronos, a leading provider of workforce management and human capital management cloud solutions. Kronos and Ultimate Software have announced the formation of the Equity at Work Council (EWC), a group of innovators and practitioners working together to understand diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. You can get involved by joining the EWC LinkedIn group. I hope you’ll check it out. Enjoy the article!)
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), contact tracing is a disease control measure that health departments use to prevent the spread of viruses. It’s been around for decades. The process involves someone who has been trained in contact tracing working with a patient to help them recall everyone they’ve been in close contact with while they may have been infectious. To fight the COVID-19 pandemic, contact tracing is one of the approaches being used.
As a result, there’s currently a huge initiative to hire and train contact tracers to help control the spread of COVID-19. If you’re not aware, Johns Hopkins University in conjunction with Bloomberg Philanthropies is offering a free course on Coursera focused on COVID-19 Contact Tracing. The syllabus looks very interesting. The reason I’m bringing this up isn’t to suggest that we should all become contact tracers. It’s because – as HR professionals – we might be faced with a situation where one of our employees tests positive and has to go through the contact tracing process.
I recently spoke with attorney Carrie Cherveny about an employer’s obligations when an employee tests positive. One of the things I learned is that it’s possible that organizations might be asked to cooperate with public health officials who are conducting contact tracing. Again, the goal isn’t for HR to become a contact tracer. But I’m sure we all want to be helpful in these situations because we want our employees and customers to be safe.
That’s when I learned that our friends at Kronos have introduced to their global customer base a new reporting tool, that exists within their workforce management technology, and it’s helping to automate the contact-tracing process in the workplace. So, I asked Gregg Gordon, vice president of industries, about this new feature. We’ve spoken to Gregg before when his book “Human Capital: Your Last Differentiator” came out, which in just thinking about the title, makes our conversation even more relevant today.
As a reminder, Gregg is not a lawyer. Please keep in mind these recommendations are at a broad level. For information on specific situations, you should contact your own legal counsel.
Gregg, thanks for being here. Tell us what got Kronos thinking about contact tracing?
[Gordon] Early on in this crisis, it became pretty clear that contact tracing has vast potential to help minimize risk to employees when carried out by an employer in the workplace – especially when used to support a much broader array of policies and processes put in place to create an environment that is as safe as possible for employees. But traditionally, contact tracing has been a very manual process. So I had asked our team of data scientists here at Kronos to take a look at the data our workforce management technologies collect on behalf of our customers – data like when employees punch in and out of a shift, and from what location – to see if there is any way we can help with this. And, as it turns out, the team discovered that we could actually create a report showing a list of potential contacts based on time and attendance records.
How does the employee contact tracing feature from Kronos work?
[Gordon] Our automated reporting tool can be used as a supplement or to simplify the process of contact tracing for our customers within their own workforce. When or if notified of a presumed or positive COVID-19 diagnosis at one of their facilities, HR or management teams can leverage the new reporting capability to analyze labor records and time and attendance data stored within their Kronos workforce management system to very quickly identify potentially exposed employees, strictly based on who was working at an identified location at the same time as the index employee – who, I should mention, remains anonymous throughout the process.
With this information, HR can take rapid action to notify potential contacts, tell co-workers what they need to do if they’ve been exposed, and take appropriate steps to ensure people receive proper care, treatment, and direction to help reduce risk of further spread.
Organizations using the contact tracing tool will want to develop internal protocols on how to use the tool and determine who will be responsible for communications. We’ve seen many organizations assign the communication responsibility to HR because they’re used to handling confidential and private data. While in other organizations with smaller HR teams, some are developing scripts and checklists for managers to handle employee communications.
What’s the benefit for organizations to use a contact tracing tool, like the one Kronos is offering?
[Gordon] Organizations executing contact tracing via their workforce management system are maximizing use of their existing technology. They’re not spending to launch a new tool, and not having to train employees to track their whereabouts in any new way. It’s just business as usual for the most part.
Further, contact tracing in the workplace is helping to provide an added layer of confidence for organizations as they develop plans and protocols for their reopening. Our customers have told us there are three key benefits to using an automated tool like ours that can help to accelerate the contact-tracing process:
- For businesses to reopen, many are having to obtain approval from a local public health agency. As part of the process – especially if businesses want to accelerate their reopening – they have to demonstrate that they have a plan to operate a safe environment, and one component of this is to launch a contact tracing plan.
- Employees want to know that they’re going to a workplace that is safe, and if someone does become infected, that there’s a protocol in place to rapidly notify those affected and to contain exposure.
- Customers, too, want to know that they can visit their favorite store or restaurant, or stop by their bank or local town hall safely. And, like employees, they’re giving that establishment their trust. Organizations can honor that trust by putting a plan in place to handle the situation appropriately should someone test positive.
The focus here extends beyond helping businesses re-open. Kronos wants to ensure they can safely remain open for the foreseeable future. Recognizing that contact tracing is key to reducing further spread of COVID-19 and ensuring appropriate care for anyone exposed, we are doing what we can to empower the organizations we work with to keep their people safe.
Last question. Knowing Kronos as a workforce management company, what are you hearing clients talk about regarding other protocols to bring employees back safely?
[Gordon] The greater focus here has to be on creating environments that are as safe as possible for employees. Contact tracing is just one, very important, piece of a broader set of protocols and policies to enforce various state, county, or corporate guidelines around social distancing, workplace cleaning, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), checking temps at the door, and so on.
Another priority among our customers is a real focus on mitigating risk through shift design. For example, you can reduce people density by introducing volume-based staffing plans. You can limit exposure between people working different shifts (and create more consistent schedules for employees – something many of them want) by scheduling the same teams together week after week. You could also extend time between shifts to allow for cleaning work areas, or stagger shifts and breaktimes in a way that reduces foot traffic at the door, around the time clock, or in other high-traffic areas. It’s good to see these proactive measures being adopted to benefit employees and the workplace.
I want to extend a huge thanks to Gregg and the Kronos team for sharing this information. If you’re a Kronos customer and want to get your hands on the tool right now – it’s free and available to all Workforce Dimensions, Workforce Central, Workforce Ready, and iSeries Central customers – then you can find out more on the Kronos Customer Community’s COVID-19 Resource Center. And, even if you’re not currently a Kronos customer, you can learn more about Kronos’ approach to delivering contact tracing for the enterprise via workforce management in this executive report published by analyst firm IDC.
We all have the same goals. Organizations want to be successful and keep people safe. Contact tracing is an important part of that process. And if we can make the process easier by using technology, that allows HR to focus on engagement and retention.
Image adapted from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania17