Safety in Numbers

Providing essential workers with reliable tools and personalized guidance around COVID-19 ensures safety while deepening employee engagement.

By Katy Bruya

Washington Trust Bank (WTB) is known for its commitment to employees and clients in the Northwestern U.S. When COVID-19 first registered in Washington State, it was clear that the HR team had to act quickly to figure out the scope of the issue, what impact it could have on the community, and what they needed to do.

There were a lot of unknowns, but what WTB did know was that any COVID-19 strategy had to prioritize the health and safety of its employees, their families, and clients. One major roadblock, however, was the reality that its 250 branch employees at over 40 locations were all considered essential workers during the pandemic and needed a reliable way to determine whether it was safe for them to go into work each day.

At this stage, any HR team would benefit from taking stock of all the options on the table. In the beginning, the WTB team considered a range of solutions, including manual temperature screenings at each branch location.

Yet hiring individual screeners for all 40 locations wasn’t tenable, and after reviewing possible strategies, it became clear that the best way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 was avoiding having someone bring it to work in the first place.

For WTB, a digital tool turned out to be a game-changer in the back-to-the-office road map. “Back With Care™,” a return-to-work platform from Buoy Health, enabled WTB to implement its own safe, clinically-validated solution en masse. Built off of a web-based, artificial intelligence-powered health software, the platform allows WTB’s leadership to assess employee risk for COVID-19 on a daily basis while also navigating employees to additional health and wellness resources and the latest guidance from the CDC and WHO.

Implement a Program with Purpose

Implementing a new digital solution can come with challenges, but effectively communicating the use and purpose of the tool while listening to employee feedback can go a long way, both during and beyond COVID-19. Recent workplace studies have found that upwards of 78% of U.S. employees believe internal communication and engagement need to be a higher priority within their companies. At a time when stress, uncertainty, and fundamental concerns about health and well-being are at their peak, it’s more vital than ever to get it right when it comes to communicatingnew methods and tools to employees.

A “test run” strategy that piloted the technology with a small group of employees was the right solution for WTB. Employee reactions and responses informed the broader launch to the rest of the company. More importantly, these sessions aided company leaders in developing messaging for employees around why they were being asked to complete an at-home assessment and how it benefited everyone. WTB was able to carefully explain the rationale behind certain symptoms that were included in the screenings and make real-time changes to the program depending on employees’ feedback or concerns.

One issue that came out of the pilot group, for example, was that certain employees had headache-like symptoms that they knew were not related to COVID-19. WTB’s leadership added custom language at the end of the assessment to ensure that employees were attesting honestly to unusual symptoms while excluding symptoms they’d already discussed with their physician. Balancing the “letter of the law” from the CDC with consideration for someone’s common sense and personal history ensured the effectiveness and accuracy of employee screenings, and made employees feel heard and valued.

Once the bank was ready to launch “Back With Care™” to all employees, the intranet and corporate communications portal were used to notify employees about the platform via customizable templates, in addition to providing direct links to the assessment by way of daily texts. WTB continues to schedule follow-up conversations about what does and doesn’t work, what’s lacking, and what’s overkill.

Following the initial launch, WTB consulted with staff around ongoing communication needs, ultimately leading the company to reduce the frequency of its text communications with employees. In this case, employees needed fewer reminders and messages, and frequent dialogue helped the team decide the best course.

Empower Teams with Digital Resources

Executing a new digital program around the return to work can also empower employees to do more with digital tools. Corporate research shows that the broader workforce wants to enhance its independent tech and digital skills, yet only 50% of staff feel they have the resources at their disposal to learn and excel at new technology. Having an intuitive COVID-19 safety platform that listens and adapts to employees can encourage them to engage and offer feedback more broadly on a wider array of tools and portals at a company’s disposal. While WTB’s employees know how to look up their insurance claims history and their deductible year-to-date online, bringing on the new COVID-19 program reinforced employees’ ability to self-manage symptoms and triage care online themselves, integrating them more fully and actively into the digital landscape of the company than ever before.

Implementing a digital solution can connect employees to a stronger sense of personal responsibility for one another’s well-being as the pandemic prolongs and vaccination delays continue. Not only did WTB give employees the opportunity to accurately self-assess their COVID-19 symptoms, but the company also helped them develop an awareness of their potential impact on each other. Each employee with symptoms received a personalized recommendation about whether or not to come into the office, as well as any other necessary next steps. Employees had to face themselves each day and say, “I have these symptoms that the CDC says could be related to COVID-19. Should I really come onsite and potentially risk the safety of my colleagues?”

Implementing a return-to-work solution helped each of WTB’s employees make safer, wiser decisions that ultimately protected not just themselves, but their coworkers, clients, and neighbors as well.


Katy Bruya is senior vice president of human resources at Washington Trust Bank.

Posted March 16, 2021 in Risk and Compliance

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