New Apps Address Employers’ COVID-19 Challenges

By Dave Zielinski April 20, 2020
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​As the coronavirus has changed the way we work and live, new apps have been created to address many of the safety and productivity challenges employers are facing.

These apps include tools designed to reward employees for sheltering in place, check employees' health status and contact-trace COVID-19 carriers to stop the spread of the virus.

Apple and Google Join Forces

Tech giants Apple and Google have announced a joint venture to develop a new app to trace the contacts of those infected with COVID-19. The initiative will encourage people who have tested positive to self-report their infection to public health agencies, and then it will use Bluetooth technology to alert other individuals by smartphone of possible exposure to those who have reported themselves as having COVID-19. The app will work with both Apple and Google software.

The two technology companies say the app would be available as soon as mid-May, according to a statement from Apple.

While acknowledging the potential public health benefits of the app, some experts are concerned about its possible data privacy intrusions. Apple said it plans to maintain strong user privacy and will openly publish information about the app for others to analyze. Both Google and Apple also have said publicly that the technology will not track users' specific locations or reveal an infected user's identity.

SHRM Resource Spotlight
Coronavirus and COVID-19

Shelter-in-Place Rewards for Employees

Hytch Rewards, a mobility incentive platform used in Nashville, Tenn., allows employers to reward commuter behavior that reduces traffic congestion and carbon emissions. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hytch released a new feature for its existing app that enables companies to encourage and reward employees for sheltering in place.

Mark Cleveland, co-founder and CEO of Hytch, said the app gives employers better ability to confirm and manage shelter-in-place compliance in a positive way, recognizing employees for their good behavior. Organizations can deliver cash rewards to employees through the app.

Cleveland said national cellphone data continue to show that some regions of the country are being more compliant than others in social distancing. "Certain states and communities have long had orders from their governors to shelter in place, and others have not," he said.

Hytch modified its existing platform to allow companies and employees to download the app and register themselves as sheltering in place. Users can configure settings to pay cash rewards of any size. "It might be $5 a day, $20 a day or even $100 a day," Cleveland said.

One employer using the Hytch app is Rep. Jim Cooper, the congressman representing Tennessee's 5th district. Cooper asked the 14 employees in his congressional office if they'd voluntarily download the app, and half have done so to date.

"Sheltering at home is a challenge for people, and this app makes it a little less painful by offering a reward," Cooper said. "Most of the shelter-in-place initiatives have been at a macro level, but this is more about individual accountability and the importance of people taking responsibility for their own actions. It's a carrot rather than a stick approach."

Assessing Employee Health Status

Some technology companies have released new apps to help organizations test the health status of their employees during the COVID-19 outbreak. Stratum, a Dallas-based software provider in the health care market, is one such provider. CEO Ryan Trimberger said HealthCheck allows companies to monitor employees' current health status and how infectious disease trends may be impacting each part of the organization. Trimberger said Stratum consulted with infectious disease experts, hospital executives and a law firm in developing the app.

Employees log in to the app, have their temperature taken and then answer a series of health-related questions. "Employees submit their temperatures and responses and then receive results on whether they are fully clear to go to work, whether they may have some warning signals or a full red flag that they should stay home," Trimberger said. He added that the app has particular use for those businesses deemed essential during the pandemic.

Management simultaneously receives a report that allows it to monitor workforce health in real time and make any necessary scheduling changes to accommodate sick workers. A dashboard also is created—with all collected data anonymized to abide by legal privacy requirements, Trimberger said—that allows leaders to track organizational health by office location, department or teams.

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.

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