The CEO’s guide to safely reopening the workplace

This is a summary of an article that appeared in the MIT Technology Review. (see link below)

One of the most significant implications of reopening economies across the world is that the onus of dealing with COVID-19 will be shifted from the public to private sectors. Considering the rapid pace at which it spreads; business leaders need to be mindful about the decisions they make because of their potential impact.

The current crisis is caused by a virus for which there is no treatment available at the moment. Companies and leaders alike a grappling with when and how to reopen. The important question is how to determine who had the virus, who has it and who has never had it.

There are two types of solutions to this problem; information-based solutions will entail making educated guesses regarding who is infected and who is immune. This information will be used to allow people in the workplace. This is an imperfect solution and will lead to some spread based on the accuracy of forecasts. The second type of solutions are always-on solutions which will aim to limit the spread of the virus when infectious people do enter a workspace.

Information Based Solutions

There are a number of ways to forecast who is more likely to be infected. Most current tests are not only unreliable but have limited availability. As conditions improve, this situation will change. Another avenue being used to collect this information is checking temperature of employees before entering the premises. However, it is not effective on its own and needs to be combined with more accurate metrics such as chest X-rays and tests monitoring blood oxygen levels.

Employers will also be able to deploy sensors to track an outbreak. Information from these tools can be used to forecast the likelihood of an outbreak in a particular department. Information based solutions are not precise and there is margin for error. Thus, leaders need to undertake a cost-benefit analysis to ascertain whether the risk of reopening is worth taking when weighed against the financial upside.

Always-on Solutions

With most technology required for information based solutions currently under development, we’re largely dependent on always-on solutions. There are two types of always-on solutions; the first type focuses on making interactions safer for everyone and include items such as masks, sanitizer stations and glass screens. The second type aims to reduce the number of interactions and entail initiatives such as redesigning physical spaces, workflows and people management processes and reduction in capacity.

There are costs associated with always-on solutions such as protective equipment and more frequent and thorough cleaning as well as the cost of limiting capacity.

Your Solutions

Businesses in different industries are adopting different always on solutions depending on their distinct needs. And it is up to the each business leader to design a mix of the information based and always-on solutions that works for them. You should decide how you will determine who is infectious and immune; how to collect that information; at what frequency and how you will mitigate that risk. You will also need to determine how your business processes will be redesigned to limit the spread of COVID-19. For some businesses, it would make more sense to have the workers continue working from home. These decisions should be taken after due diligence since they will ultimately determine who survives this crisis.

The original article can be accessed here

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