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New COVID-19 HR tools: AI office design, vaccine management

Major IT vendors are rolling out products designed for the post-pandemic office environment, including systems for managing in-house vaccination clinics.

Major vendors are developing new types of tools to help HR manage their post-pandemic workforces. This week, ServiceNow, IBM and Salesforce introduced new systems to help firms return to the new normal.

ServiceNow released a vaccine administration management product designed for employers who manage a COVID-19 vaccination program.

"Many organizations have run flu shot clinics in the past, and we believe this [COVID-19 vaccinations] is a component of that," said Mike Luessi, general manager of ServiceNow's global healthcare and life sciences division. When employers outside of healthcare will be able to offer these vaccination clinics is unclear, he said.

IBM upgraded office planning tools with a drag-and-drop office design that also manages flexible work environments. The tools can, for example, help HR managers space out workstations appropriately.

Pandemic's effects on the office

Both the ServiceNow and IBM HR tools reflect how the pandemic is changing business operations.

IBM's upgraded office tools include a social distancing feature for layout design. The vendor also foresees a future workplace where many workers will work from home at least part of the time, creating a demand for mobile applications to reserve desks or meeting rooms.

Indeed, Kendra DeKeyrel, director of IBM's workplace management system Tririga, said the future office will be a hybrid environment "where the office is used more as a destination for collaboration."

IBM also offers indoor mapping capabilities using Esri ArcGIS (Geographic Information System) Indoors. IBM's Tririga indoor modeling capability predates COVID-19, but the update allows for dynamic adjustments. This AI-enabled tool will enable HR managers to make occupancy changes, social distancing requirements, as well as other design needs.

IBM also gives employees, via a mobile app, the ability to reserve desks and meeting rooms, locate other employees in an office and create service requests. The mobile app includes maps that can help route employees, and a heat map system to provide employees with information on occupancy. It can support a variety of location technologies, such as Wi-Fi connections that can determine the whereabouts of workers in an office building, DeKeyrel said.

In-house vaccination unknowns

ServiceNow's vaccine management tool is already used by healthcare facilities and public health agencies. The North Carolina Dept. of Health is one such user, according to the vendor. But the tool could also be used by any firm undertaking an in-house COVID-19 vaccination program.

However, business-based, in-house programs still face unknowns. Except for healthcare facilities, COVID-19 vaccines aren't being distributed in other business environments. Vaccine management systems may also need to deliver digital certificates that can be used by employees for commercial travel, for instance.

A lot of companies right now are of the same mindset, which is we're going to encourage people to get vaccinated, but we're not going to require it.
Brian KroppChief of HR research, Gartner

Luessi said its system is designed for flexibility and rapid updates to meet any new regulatory requirements, business needs and technology changes, such as digital vaccine certificates. Its vaccine management system was designed to be updated every two weeks to keep pace with technological and regulatory changes, he said.

Workday recently announced a vaccine management tool, and, earlier this week, Salesforce announced its Vaccine Cloud to manage workplace vaccinations.

One notable feature of Salesforce's Vaccine Cloud is that it can support a digital vaccine certificate under an agreement with IBM to integrate its Digital Health Pass, a digital certificate verification tool.

It's unclear whether employers will want to manage COVID-19 vaccinations this year, said Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at Gartner.

Most firms are "strongly encouraging" employees to get a vaccination but not requiring it. Legal concerns, along with the absence of a clear recommendation from federal authorities, has firms holding back on any vaccination requirement, he said.

"A lot of companies right now are of the same mindset, which is we're going to encourage people to get vaccinated, but we're not going to require it, and we're not going to track it," Kropp said. But that could change later if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comes out with a different recommendation.

Firms "are looking for a government agency to tell me that I have the right to [vaccinate]" and won't get in trouble if they run an in-house vaccination program, Kropp said.

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