3 factors for implementing contact tracing in the workplace

As businesses plan to return to the office, CIOs need to develop a contact tracing strategy for a safe working environment.

man with mask office after covid coronavirus social distancing by martin dm getty images
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The COVID-19 pandemic has raged on now for several months with the majority of employees having shifted to working from home.  Even with cases rising in some parts of the country, many business leaders are starting to think about bringing employees back to the office.  The “when” will likely be decided by a combination of human resources and the CEO but the “how” will fall on the squarely on the already overworked shoulders of the CIO as technology will make a return to the workplace safe and possible.

Businesses will be aggressive

To get a better understanding of the timeline, my research firm, ZK Research, recently ran a Work From Home Survey and asked the respondents, “After the stay at home orders are lifted, when will a critical mass of office workers be back in the physical office?”  The results showed that most businesses will be aggressive although return will not be immediate. Only 7% said most workers would return to the office within 30 days, while 20% were planning for 1-2 months and another 35% said it would be 3-4 months.  That’s 62% of companies planning to bring back a critical mass of workers back into offices in four months or less.

Once workers are back, most will implement social distancing and take other precautions, but many will look to implement contact tracing as a way of understanding when infected people came in contact with others. Deploying contact tracing within the enterprise will involve network services, mobile technology and communications tools. To help technology and business leaders understand and prepare for contact tracing, cloud communications and contact center vendor Avaya recently held a virtual contact tracing leadership forum that was moderated by Chris Luxford from the consulting organization The Aspire! Group and included speakers from the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP), the United States of Care and Avaya.

How contact tracing slows the spread of COVID-19

The first speaker, Romni Neiman from CDC explained the process of contact tracing, which includes reaching out to notify people of possible exposure and provide health, education and guidance on how to stop the transmission of the virus. The goal of contact tracing is to identify people that were in close contact (within six feet) with infected individuals for 15 minutes or more two days prior to symptom onset or two days prior to the test if the person is asymptomatic.  

Contact tracing and the related case investigation is supported through digital tools that can enhance program functionality in a number of areas.  This includes surveillance systems in case management, contact tracing data management, active monitoring during isolation and quarantine and collaboration tools. The CDC has a list of digital contract tracing tools on its website and provides information to allow state and local health jurisdictions and businesses to compare the various types of tools.

Corey Butler, also of the CDC, explained how businesses can help with contact tracing by providing timely information about the work environment and potential contacts and exposures when requested by the health department. The CDC does recommend appointing a designated workplace coordinator to serve as the liaison to the health department. Butler admitted the CDC may not reach out to all employers, but businesses can be proactive as a coordinated approach works better.

Three factors to consider for contact tracing

As businesses plan on bringing people back to the office, implementing some element of contact tracing is key to creating a safe working environment.  A good way to implement contact tracing is to consider the following factors:

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