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Tracing Covid-19 risks as you plan a return to the office

Online roundtable key takeaways: Contact tracing technology, May 27

Communication remains key as real estate investment managers consider ways to minimize exposure risk to Covid-19 upon returning to the office – and trace potential new outbreaks.

During a deep dive discussion into the technology and models behind a contact tracing app developed by PwC, NAREIM members this week highlighted key questions all HR and senior leaders should be asking as they prepare to return to the office over the coming weeks and months.

On the technology front:

  • Understand the layers of data being utilized by any tracing technology – whether Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi data. Bluetooth beaconing may struggle to differentiate between floors of a multi-tenant office building. By adding in a layer of Wi-Fi data, you are able to more precisely pinpoint employee locations in the office, and create a digital fingerprint of movements.

  • Contact tracing apps are delivered in managed environments, where corporations provide devices and are able to push applications to phone users, and non-managed environments, where phones are personal property and apps need to be personally installed by the user. Members underwriting tracing technology in non-managed environments said employee feedback to date had been very supportive of the measures and would install the necessary apps.

  • Contact tracing only takes place within a specific location, highlighted by pre-set geofences.

Communication is paramount – whether you are tracing digitally or more manually. Focus on the health and well-being message.

  • Tracing apps rely on people to keep their phones on them at all times. Communication needs to be clear that keeping phones with them as much as possible is an important step in the health and well-being of all staff and a keep tool in minimizing exposure risk in the office.

  • Location services can be turned off by users. As with keeping phones on your person at all times, clear communication is required regarding keeping location services turned on for the tracing technology.

Communicate clearly how the data being collected is being used:

  • Retention: PwC’s app retains data for only 45 days, providing an assessment to HR leaders of an employee’s exposure risk (low-medium-high) to someone later reporting a confirmed case of coronavirus/Covid-19. The assessment is based on proximity monitoring and scoring based on a phone’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi beacons, as well as the duration and frequency of exposure.

  • Identification: Some systems provide unique identification numbers per cell phone (for example, 123456), allowing for a degree of anonymity until there is a reported case of Covid-19 when a unique ID number at high risk of exposure needs to be informed and it is cross-referenced back to the employee name. Some systems automatically combine unique ID numbers and employee names allowing immediate identification. Understand the best fit for your firm.

  • How will you respond when a confirmed case is revealed? Whether you are utilizing technology or not, how you inform employees of new cases of infection, and potential exposure risks, is key. When using an app, ask how notifications are sent out – via an app automatically or through HR, which controls the message and conversation. How do you want to inform others in the firm and group? What is the best process for your firm?

Tracing apps are a reactive process. How are you being proactive?

  • Tracing technology is a reactive process of protecting a firm’s employees from Covid-19. Self-attestation is a proactive process and, whether conducted digitally or through manual self-reporting, provides a critical assessment of a firm’s exposure risk as well as employee willingness and ability to work in the office. It’s important to understand at regular intervals what percentage of the team are working from home, going into the office, in the field, sick, on leave or traveling for business.

Dealing with business travel and exposure risks

  • For those traveling on essential business, many real estate investment managers are asking individuals to work from home for a period of 14-days after the trip.

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