Why Employee Digital Contact Tracing Could Play a Key Role in Retail’s Reopening
Retailers across the U.S. have prioritized safety throughout the pandemic in order to keep their employees and customers safe and their businesses open. However, employers are hesitant to require their employees to get vaccinated given potential negative implications and pushback from those employees who do not or cannot get a vaccine.
And looking further down the road, the idea that we will soon live in a world where COVID-19 doesn’t exist, what some have coined "COVID Zero," is an impossible goal according to experts. As we look to jump-start and reopen our economy, retailers are hoping to encourage employees to get vaccinated by offering incentives like bonuses and additional PTO. However, as many continue to grapple with whether to actually mandate vaccinations, there’s more they can — and should — be doing to keep their employees safe in the long term.
Retailers’ Investments in Contact Tracing, Despite Limitations
To build both shopper and employee confidence amid a reopening, more retailers are turning to solutions like contact tracing technologies to help keep their employees and shoppers safe.
There are certainly challenges to successfully implementing digital contact tracing within a retail environment. While tracing both employees and in-store shoppers might be an ideal solution, it's an impossible task due to the tech limitations. For one, contact tracing in general has yet to successfully take off since the pandemic began, and attempts at public tracing have fallen flat given many public health programs relied on at least 60 percent of citizens opting in.
There’s also plenty of consumer privacy concerns for widespread contact tracing. In a retail setting, in order to conduct a successful consumer trace, store owners would need shoppers’ health and contact information at the very least — something that many consumers likely wouldn’t be willing to share.
Employee-Focused Solutions Remain One of the Few Realistic Contact Tracing Applications
This far into the pandemic, it’s important for retailers to be realistic about contact tracing solutions they can effectively and thoughtfully implement. One option that has come to the forefront of the discussion is an employee-focused digital contact tracing program.
Consider this: an average of 41 employees work in a single grocery store, and many more at larger chains. There’s also plenty of part-time workers with matrixed, four- to six-hour shifts, moving around the store in different departments. The result is widespread overlap and touchpoints between different employee groups, putting the full staff at risk of an outbreak. As a result, some retailers have been forced to completely shut down stores when one of their employees tests positive for COVID, a brutal blow to many retailers that are already struggling to meet their bottom lines in the middle of a pandemic.
Like masks, social distancing, good hygienic practices, and temperature checks, digital contact tracing for employees can be a critical tool to help retailers mitigate risk from COVID-19. The solution makes it easy to help determine which employees were exposed without needing to take a broad swath of people off the schedule or completely shutting down operations. Managers can identify who needs to quarantine and for how long.
And as for employee privacy concerns, digital contact tracing tools enable employers to quickly conduct a trace while maintaining anonymity, and are built with privacy top of mind.
Contract Tracing Isn't Just an Investment in Safety, But Corporate Culture
According to PwC’s most recent Pulse Survey, 43 percent of chief human resource officers are preparing for work in a post COVID-19 environment by placing a priority on corporate values to help maintain or improve culture.
While many retailers might see contract tracing as a simple investment in employee safety, it can also serve as a tangible example of a company living its values by committing to its frontline workers. An investment in contract tracing, alongside other health and safety measures, sends a clear signal that a company stands behind its worker which, as a result, can ultimately strengthen its corporate culture.
Looking ahead, retailers can either hope for COVID to miraculously disappear, or they can make the investments in employee safety by turning to tools like digital contact tracing in order to help protect their employees and consumers, and keep their doors open.
Tyson Cornell is U.S. consumer markets leader at PwC, a global network of firms delivering assurance, tax and consulting services for your business.
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