Going beyond compliance with the US COVID vaccination mandates to keep operations running smoothly

Recent US vaccination mandates for companies have created a tremendous challenge that needs to be effectively solved in a world that has increased complexity exponentially for organizations and their operations. While organizations understand the need to collect vaccine and test records, most are overlooking the need to equip front line operations managers with timely information about who can, and who cannot work from the office. And doing this in confidence to protect sensitive PII & HIPAA data makes day to day management even harder!

The vaccine mandate and the impact on return-to-office plans

On September 9, President Biden announced that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing a rule that will impose new directives for employers with 100 or more employees to reduce the spread of COVID and its latest variants. This will require all employees to provide proof they are fully vaccinated or produce a weekly negative test result before coming to work. When enforced on January 4 2022, companies that match the criteria, including all banks, financial institutions, and insurance companies will risk steep fines from $70,000 to $700,000 for repeated violations.

Not surprisingly, before the mandate announcement, companies cautiously encouraged employees to return to the office and get vaccinated, avoiding making it compulsory from fear of backlash. In the past few months however, in a bid to get employees to return to the office while ensuring safety precautions, more organizations, including the largest banks, have mandated proof of vaccinations and other rules for those working from the office. Back in August, the PWC Pulse survey showed that more than two-thirds of executives said that their companies should implement vaccine mandates, though only 30% percent strongly agreed — perhaps sensitive to the anti-vaccination sentiment across sections of the workforce.

Even so, many banks had to go back on their return-to-work plans, with some having to delay launch several times, as the delta variant of COVID rips through the United States. This is reflected in the latest West Monroe quarterly leaders' poll - only 40% reported that their new hybrid work plans are fully operational, compared to 67% that were expecting to have them in place by now according to the Q2 data. It will remain to be seen if the vast majority (33%) will be able to implement as they expect by the end of the 2021.

Interestingly, though recent findings from the CED (Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board) survey show that nearly two thirds of executives support the mandate – likely as it is taking the decision out of their hands - the reality is that 56% of business leaders say that they will find it difficult to implement the vaccine-or-test requirement. And this may speak to not just having to prove to the authorities its compliance with the mandate, but the challenges that this brings to each level of the business and the impact on managing the day-to-day work and resources.

Employers need to act quickly or risk the result of steep fines, significant disruption of operations, and most significantly putting employees in risky situations with privacy or health concerns.

Don’t let eligibility data disrupt your operations

As expected, companies will first determine new policies or update old ones to reflect the mandate. This won't come free of challenges, especially for HR leaders that will have to implement the new policies, communicate to employees who will likely raise privacy concerns, amongst other things. Companies will need to implement new processes and find an efficient and safe way of gathering the information and proof from employees, safeguarding their privacy, and ensuring fairness for their jobs in the future. In addition to working closely with the employees, the CEO, HR, IT and Operations leaders will all need to be ready to rapidly deploy to meet the mandate, while ensuring no disruption to the daily operations.

The role of the Operations leaders here is crucial. Beyond the financial repercussions and prioritizing employee safety and privacy, companies need to ensure that this will not bring further disruptions to the business. Companies shouldn't forget that this data is powerful and can make or break operations if not put in the hands of the managers that ensure the smooth running of all functions.

This is perhaps why the most impacted ones are the operations middle managers. Those who must forecast and plan to ensure the right resources are being deployed for the work that needs to be done every day. Managers need to know who is eligible to work in the office or any location. They don't need to have access to details of eligibility. Still, they do need access to this eligibility status to effectively plan their resources, ensure they are deployed on the right projects, and remain compliant.

So how can businesses go beyond the compliance and support managers without disrupting operations?

The complexity this adds to the manager's role doesn't just come from the ability to manage this data in the business efficiently, but making this available to managers alongside other operations data in order to enable them to make timely decisions about their workforce, and answer a new question: Who is eligible to safely work and from which locations?

Companies may not have realized before the pandemic, but their operational situational awareness was built around having people in offices where supervisors and leaders could see and get a pulse of what was going on. Having to go remote changed that; one of our customers vividly described this: “It's like having a paper bag put on your head! Suddenly you have really lost any sense of perspective...”.

Companies will need to make this information available to managers in real-time, alongside other data such as wellbeing and performance insights. And they will have to make this available in an efficient way and avoid adding more effort to the manager's job which has already become more and more complex in the past two years.

As companies are starting to understand, implementing a hybrid model has been even more challenging than going fully remote as the pandemic hit. Having access to real-time operational and workforce data is critical to effectively redefine, implement new working practices, and manage the workforce wherever they work.

Going beyond compliance

Understandably, in the short term the focus for the organizations will be compliance. But it is important to go beyond simple compliance and keeping the workforce safe, by operationalizing the data. This will enable managers to make informed decisions about the day-to-day availability of resources and work inventory, so they feel in control and are confident their employees feel safe, treated fairly, and supported throughout this new way of working.

At ActiveOps we continue to develop new management process automations to help simplify the manager's job and enable them to focus on what's important and supporting their employees. Therefore, we have enhanced WorkiQ to allow your managers to manage the mandates simply and efficiently. Our solution helps inform managers of their staff's availability to work which keeps the company running smoothly, maintains employee confidentiality, and keeps everyone safe.

How is your company dealing with this new challenge? How are you ensuring that this won't disrupt the business and add more unnecessary effort to your managers?

Want to know more?

Whether your organization already has a policy in place or looking for a solution to manage the mandates without disrupting your operations, we’d love to help. To find out more, contact us at managedifferently@activeops.com. Or visit www.activeops.com/covid.