May 14, 2020
Many industries across the world have shut down normal operations and others have significantly scaled back activities in efforts to keep workers safe and prevent COVID-19 from further spread. But as various regions experience a “flattening of the curve” and in some areas, a decrease in new cases, companies are now beginning to evaluate how to progressively and safely return employees to their various places of work.
Because the virus can spread through asymptomatic people that might not realize they are sick yet, researchers stress that testing and health monitoring is a crucial step as we gradually start the process of resuming our daily work routines. To gather that necessary data, technology is going to continue to play a pivotal role in providing us insights on the current state of our own health.
Numerous practices and technologies are being explored as ways aid in understanding employee and workforce health:
Wearables and smart watches have become popular because they inform us about health vitals like biometrically tracking unusual spikes in heart rates, and monitoring sleep and weight. These same technologies may have the capability to monitor and track COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever or increased heart rates.
“Integration of biomedical sensors on employees’ arms through smart watches, which can be connected through dedicated analytic servers, can help to test if employees are sick or not,” explains IEEE member Ramneek Kalra.
Another way to track employee health is through the use of passive sensors.
“The passive data gathering happens when the sensor obtains information without the user intentionally providing it,” says IEEE Senior Member André Leon Gradvohl. “For example, airports are using infrared [technology] to calculate the temperatures of passengers passing through the lobby — this capture was done passively. By combining the data obtained from these different sensors, it is possible to infer the health status of employees.”
IEEE Senior Member Paul Kostek envisions corporations installing sensors in break room and restroom entryways to determine if employees are running a temperature throughout the day. But Kostek does warn that this type of passive data gathering “will raise privacy issues that employers and their employees will need to address.”
Another way to understand and monitor employee health is through the use of online chatbots or robot doctors.
“Online chatbots or ‘robot doctors’ will eventually be able to collect information, advise on certain conditions and forward cases to medical professionals,” says IEEE Member Antonio Espingardeiro. “These technologies will recreate virtual assistants through natural language processing, image recognition and machine learning techniques.”
By plugging in or virtually discussing symptoms with a chatbot, employees may be able to seek better guidance on whether or not they should consult a doctor.
In the future, employers face hard decisions about when and how to safely bring remote employees back into offices and facilities. Technology could be a key in helping to monitor companies and workers that need to remain healthy in the age of COVID-19.