By Daniel Hommes, CEO of DEARhealth and C. Willem Houck LL.M, MBA
The question is as old as work itself: how to get most out of your employees? And what is most?
Before the great pandemic of 2020, most of us had accepted the imperfect status quo. We kind of know who is productive and how to stimulate them to be the better version of themselves but a lot was left to subjective measures. The pandemic and the resulting seismic shift to Working From Home (WFH) has put this question back on the front burner.
From monitoring input to measuring output
Not too long ago the prevailing management technique to increase productivity was strict rules and monitoring. Employees were expected to be at work at a certain hour and stay there for 8 hours not including the fifteen minute coffee and half hour lunch breaks. As long as the employee was sitting at her desk, she was assumed to be productive. Her supervisor was checking in on her from time to time to make sure she was there. Productivity was measured by input variables, time spent at the office, number of calls made, number of documents produced, etc.
While the remnants of this behavior are persistent, notably in the manual production industry and to a lesser extent in large corporate America, in the last couple of decades the startup culture emanating from Silicon Valley caused some relaxation of the traditional rules. Casual Fridays were introduced as were open offices and even some experimentation with flexible workspaces were done in the 90ies of the last century. However, if anything, this made navigating the office culture more complicated than ever. Consider the introvert who thrives by stability. What is he supposed to wear on Friday and worse, where is he supposed to log on to the server?
The employee has needs too
The individuals’ needs have long been neglected. Rules, whether cultural or policy, explicit or implicit are imposed on everyone, regardless personal preferences.
This is the area where enormous progress has been made recently. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning enable us to analyze and optimize the productivity of an individual contributor. Does she perform better in a formal traditional office setting or one where she’s free to choose how she does her work as long as it gets done?
Take the example of the question all businesses face in the wake of the pandemic and its subsequent closing down of much of the economy. Many people say that the harder decision than to close down the economy is to open it up again. This is probably true as opening up involves much more nuance. How does the workspace look when we open up? How many people can the office accommodate given the social distancing rules that will be enforced at least until a vaccine is available? And – most difficult – how do we decide who should come back to work and who can continue to work from home?
Return to Work; a practical example
A case example of a decision making process is depicted in the graph below. The first gate is simple and obvious: If you’re infected with COVID-19 you should stay home and be monitored for the severity of disease including triggers for appropriate medical care. There are several tests, of which the latest approved by the FDA is the so called Rutgers saliva test, an at-home saliva self-collection assay, developed by RUCDR in partnership with Spectrum Solutions and Accurate Diagnostic Labs, that allows for broader screening than through the standard method using nose and throat swabs at a health care facility or testing location that requires a physical interaction with a health care professional.
If tested positive, the employee will be quarantined, clinically assessed and monitored. If tested negative the Return to Work (R2W) assessment will rank an employee according to her productivity score on the Work From Home Index®, a DEARhealth proprietary index that measures the employees’ productivity when working from home. The index covers all relevant domains to predict an individuals’ home productivity. The technology is born out of recognition that work productivity should be on the radar of health experts since 1 in 3 US employees is diagnosed with at least one chronic condition which in turn is associated with significant presenteeism and absenteeism.
In a productivity study in individuals with a chronic condition, individuals using DEARhealth experienced a 28% increase in productivity and a 35% improvement of the #1 issue of work-related productivity impairment resulting in $11,261/person/year in savings.
According to the employers’ return to work policies, including the number of people that are allowed in a certain workspace, the DEARhealth R2W Recommender taps those employees whose score ranks them in the first wave going back to work.
The productivity of the employees who continue to work from home will periodically be assessed. The result will be input to the R2W Recommender of a subsequent wave.
Those employees who return to work will be subjected to an automated, CDC compliant daily Covid screen, incorporated in the employee App.
At a point in the future, a substantial number of employees at a certain worksite will have been infected with COVID-19, recovered and developed antibodies, such that a status of so-called ‘herd-immunity’ at that site is established. The platform through the App will trigger the right moment for antibody tests to establish this ‘herd-immunity’. Once established, the worksite is cleared for full operation.
COVID-19 didn’t freeze the economy, it accelerates existing trends
Those of us who need structure and co-workers around them cannot wait to go back to the office. They most likely have experienced a hard time getting their work done at home because of distractions and have felt lonely and uninspired without anyone to bounce ideas off of. Then there’s some of us who really didn’t mind being at home because they get their work done when they want and at the same time be with their family when they want. The rest of us find themselves as usual liking both models.
The use-case illustrates how Artificial Intelligence now helps determine the employees’ preferences and their productivity. It helps managers design employee centric individual work models and getting rid of imposing the company wide ping-pong competition ‘because we want to feel at home while we’re at work’.
Dan Hommes is a medical doctor and founder of DEARhealth. Willem Houck is an executive level proven innovator in blue chip companies as well as a successful investor and operator in early and growth stage healthcare and technology businesses. He is an advisor to DEAR health and lives in New York City.