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From now on, every company must become a digital health company

The pandemic shows that businesses must take on a new responsibility for the health of their employees and customers. Here’s a to-do list to get you started.

From now on, every company must become a digital health company
A downtown office building is nearly empty on March 13, 2020 in Boston. [Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images]

No matter how much time you’ve spent thinking through the future of work, it’s time to rethink the future all over again. In my scenario planning, I didn’t account for a world that would require overnight support for a remote workforce, new spaces that promote physical distancing, rotating shifts to minimize contact between people, or the provision of onsite medical testing as a result of a global pandemic. But here we are.

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The trajectory for the future of work, and what work will even look like, is now forever changed as a result of COVID-19. One thing is for certain: The future is being defined today, shaped by the health and wellness of employees and customers.

As the world prepares to reopen the economy and get back to work, we will not be returning to the work experience we once knew or any form of business as usual. Every organization will reimagine work now and in evolving phases with a live virus still out in the wild. Organizations everywhere and in every industry are having to quickly learn how to protect people and promote health and safety, all while maximizing productivity and business success. To thrive in this new era, every company must now become a digital health company.

Beyond “digital first”

Becoming a health tech company adds to the list of aspirational metamorphoses as legacy organizations were already investing in becoming technology companies. Through digital transformation and innovation initiatives, the goal was to help traditional companies evolve into digital-first businesses, operationally and strategically. In the wake of the pandemic, companies must also plan at scale for phased reopenings; managing the health and wellness of employees, customers, and supporting ecosystems; and focusing on new growth opportunities.

Most companies didn’t plan for this moment and don’t have the necessary expertise and capabilities at the ready. This complicates and perhaps delays the ability of any company to safely reopen, operate, and grow.

It’s all a work in progress, requiring an entirely new series of scenario planning to prepare—quickly but thoroughly—to get back to work while protecting employees and customers, during an active pandemic.

The questions to consider are practically innumerable, but answers for every scenario are necessary now and as we move forward. These include:

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  • How do we get our business set up for this new world?
  • Do we need an expert advisory board and/or a chief health officer?
  • How many people are allowed in a common workspace at any one time?
  • How do we rethink conference rooms for live meetings?
  • How do we fit people into an elevator safely and manage shifts for people to go up and down between floors?
  • How should we establish health-centered protocols for future disruptions as they happen locally and globally?

Right now, someone in your organization should be tasked with developing the strategy and the playbook for reopening offices and retail spaces. Maybe that’s you.

A digital health and work planning task force should also be assembled, one that consists of internal stakeholders and external medical and tech experts, assigned to introduce a phased approach to getting back to work, working safely, and managing the rollout of COVID-19-inspired roles, policies, processes, and technologies.

The digital health playbook

Ferrari has raced to become an early health-first company. In an interview with the BBC, Gianfranco Casati, Accenture’s chief executive for growth markets, shared an example of Ferrari’s “Back on Track” plan. (Clever name noted.) It was developed in conjunction with virologists and health experts to create a safer workplace for employees.

Disney executive chairman Bob Iger raised the notion of health checks at Disney parks around the world in an interview with Barron’s. “Just as we now do bag checks for everybody that goes into our parks, it could be that at some point, we add a component of that that takes people’s temperatures,” he said.

It’s also been reported that Disney employees will wear masks, sanitizer stations will be scattered throughout the parks, and density restrictions will limit the number of guests at any one time.

Thermal scanners and temperature tests will not catch infected employees, customers, or guests who are either asymptomatic or presymptomatic. But this is exactly why every organization has to become a digital healthcare company. Every solution will be unique to the workplace, even for state, country-wide, and global organizations.

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I am the global innovation evangelist at Salesforce. Our founder and CEO, Marc Benioff, has led a massive effort to source and deliver 50 million pieces of personal protection equipment to medical professionals on the front lines. We just released Work.com, a suite of COVID-19-inspired tools and services to help companies immediately integrate digital health capabilities, data, and best practices to help reopen and manage their workplaces while promoting employee wellness and safety. The goal is to help executives expertly accelerate their company’s return-to-work readiness, give decision-makers a 360-degree view of employees, visitors, and their ecosystems across locations to operate safely, and help make data-driven decisions in real time to survive and eventually thrive and grow.

Salesforce has also released a playbook to help leaders assess their return-to-work readiness and guide them through detailed steps toward reopening and eventually growing the business. Here’s a checklist of action items for companies that want to become digital health companies:

Establish health leadership

  • Consider hiring a chief health officer to advise on new and evolving programs, to help manage health today, and to foster a lack of disease across locations.
  • Establish a “back to work” team led by a cross-functional group with representatives from digital health, IT, healthcare/medical, architecture and design, HR/EX (employee experience), and CX.

Become a technology company

  • Set up a centralized workplace COVID-19 digital command center with satellite hubs at key locations to support local workforces and customers.
  • Create a data-centered culture to track employee and customer behaviors and on-site, local, and overall COVID-19 trends and hotspots; define data sources and seek to establish a single source of customer truth to drive better decisions and engagement.
  • Extend data, insights, and societal impact to partners, supplies, and the broader ecosystem.

Plan to get back to work safely

  • Create a guideline matrix to aid rapid but informed decisions; connect government guidance, medical expert advice, local leadership, and data.
  • Outline a unified plan to get back to work for employees and customers in retail environments.
  • Establish safe workplace policies and processes for employees and customers.
  • Workdays begin and end with commuting, so consider how employees will get to and from offices.

Reimagine work, workspaces, and flow

  • Design healthcare and wellness checks and measures at important milestones in the employee and customer journey (for instance, thermal scans, COVID-19 testing, antibody testing).
  • Organize PPE sourcing (supply chain) and on-site distribution strategy and introduce sanitization stations in key locations where touching common items is second nature, such as around door handles, buttons, and switches.
  • Establish a support protocol for employees who test positive and develop a digital certification protocol for recovered employees.
  • Create a crisis task force and a response protocol for events, including a plan for sending employees back to work from home when necessary.
  • Redesign space, offices, open areas, kitchens, conference rooms, lobbies, reception areas, and restrooms to promote physical distancing, provide safety barriers such as a clear shield between workstations, and guide movement and traffic flows (consider beacons or computer visioning to monitor and manage behavior).
  • Introduce work shifts in order to control flow and workplace density.
  • Rethink food and beverage distribution.
  • Set up a regular deep-cleaning program.

Manage the new workforce with care

  • Offer an employee portal with real-time updates, resources, and policies, and introduce an employee and customer feedback loop that evolves over time.
  • Train employees on all new processes and available resources; introduce clear signage on-site that promotes desired behaviors.
  • Introduce assistance programs and resources, both analog and digital (mental health, childcare, COVID-related financial support).
  • Develop employee health and wellness apps and encourage their adoption.
  • Introduce new 1:1 check-in processes and employee surveys to monitor wellness.
  • Update employee engagement programs; overcommunicate with the goal of keeping everyone informed, promoting wellness, and reducing anxiety.
  • Track best practices.

As the economy reopens

Until there is a vaccine—assuming there ever is—the next normal of work will require organizations to become truly customer- and employee-centric and empathetic. This is uncharted territory, and it will continue to be as we test and learn. At the same time, this isn’t our last pandemic, nor is this our last crisis. We should plan for another wave of COVID-19 infections. We should plan for natural disruptions to businesses locally and supply chains worldwide.

Becoming a digital health company is good for business, and it’s good for people. Not only does it leave an organization prepared for operating in disruptive environments; it sends a message to the market that the organization is resilient and innovative.

In the past, companies took their time and shaped their own approach to becoming technology companies. For many, doing so was part of their digital transformation strategy. But digital transformation itself didn’t evoke a sense of urgency for a unified, purposeful response. The pandemic exposed shortfalls in every digital transformation investment. Critical operational functions and business processes were broken, missing, or outdated. You could say that digital transformation itself was digitally disrupted.

When it comes to becoming a digital health company, we can’t make the same mistakes. We have to get the planning, logistics, behavioral monitoring, and supporting technology and processes right, right now. The health and wellness of customers and employees are everything. In times of pandemic disruption, humanity is the killer app.

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Brian Solis is global innovation evangelist at Salesforce. He’s also a digital anthropologist, best-selling author, and keynote speaker. Brian studies market digital disruption, corporate innovation, and the evolution of markets and customer behaviors.

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