By Sanjiv Luthra
The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines is causing not only excitement but trepidation as employers and employees plan a return to the office.
Workplace safety concerns are driving these mixed feelings, especially given workers’ ambivalence about vaccination.
Although employers can require their people to be vaccinated (with potential accommodations for religious and medical reasons), most businesses will shy away from an enterprise-wide mandate. According to a new Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey, 60% of employers are not planning to impose one.
Moreover, more than one-quarter (28%) of employees will avoid shots in arms as a condition of returning to work, even if unemployment is the consequence.
Balancing Team and Business Priorities
As organizations begin to reopen their doors, they will want to kick-start business — harnessing the energy of people who are thrilled to escape video conferences and home schooling.
But this will require everyone’s trust that the work environment is as safe as possible, even when vaccine supporters and anti-vaxxers are under one roof.
For leaders, safety will be a risk management imperative. The ability to show their teams that they value and empathize with them, while putting appropriate protocols in place, will become a critical skill.
HR executives, line-of-business managers, and others will need to demonstrate that they can act quickly and decisively — reconfiguring departments or offices based on where employees are in the vaccination cycle, in real time.
Employers who want to engender employees’ trust will also need to up their communication game. Sharing full information about vaccination policies and procedures, and empowering employees to take responsibility for compliance, will be essential. Transparency and two-way dialogue will not only increase employees’ confidence; they will help redefine team-building through the pandemic.
The Digital Path Forward
New AI-driven digital platforms, supplementing existing HR technologies, are now enabling companies to rise to the challenges ahead. These incorporate:
- COVID related return-to-work policies, configured uniquely by an employer’s requirements
- A Digital Health Assistant (mobile app) for employees to educate themselves on these policies and to learn about, record and stay on top of vaccines, testing, vital signs and side effects.
- A reporting portal for employers to monitor overall employee compliance, based on the data entered through the app
The technologies are becoming available just in time. Many organizations have been using spreadsheets to record and report on compliance measures, but they are impractical when companies need complete, enterprise-wide data for quick decision making. Digital alternatives, powered by AI-driven engines that turn data into insights, provide more value and scale at the pace of a growing enterprise.
A Window into Safety
At any time, these digital solutions empower HR leaders to fine tune their safe return-to-work programs, based on answers to the following questions.
On the vaccination side:
- How willing are employees to receive vaccines?
- How do your needs for onsite presence align with employees’ needs for being vaccinated?
- How are you managing employees not willing to get vaccinated?
- How many employees fall in each category (yes to vaccine, no and not sure)?
On the operations side:
- How well are these processes being defined — vitals/symptom tracking, testing, vaccine and exemption management, education and change management, and ongoing monitoring?
- What tools do your employees have to take control of their own safe return?
- How can you improve compliance monitoring?
The Key to Success: Employee Engagement
Digital health assistants that are engaging and easy to use are critical to this effort — as employers’ safety improvements depend on employees’ willingness to share critical data:
- Will they take the vaccine or have they applied for an exemption? Which vaccine (Moderna, Pfizer, etc.) have they received? First or second dose? When?
- What side effects (if any) did they experience immediately or over time? What kind of an exemption have they requested?
- Have they been tested for COVID-19, and what type of test did they take? What were the results? What are their temperature and oxygen readings?
Each time this individual data is added to the enterprise platform, a more precise measure of return-to-work safety can be calculated, and processes/policies can be adapted accordingly.
Driving Safety Forward
A new and safe workplace normal is rapidly approaching — and while companies have been physically distanced, many have been innovating to make reopening safe, too. New digital solutions will pave the way for a successful return to work, with safety remaining the number-one priority.