Zac Paulson, Chief Executive Officer of TrueIT
When North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum issued the order in March to close businesses to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, TrueIT was in a better position than many businesses to survive the economic shockwaves. The shutdown increased demand for technology and support to allow employees to work from home. Those are among the many tech services that TrueIT has been offering since 2012.
“Before the pandemic, working remotely was typically a perk offered to a few employees,” said Zac Paulson, Chief Executive Officer of TrueIT. “The coronavirus fast-tracked this trend by five years.”
Now, TrueIT’s staff of 43 employees is itself returning to work at its headquarters in Fargo and at offices in Minneapolis and cities in seven other states. As companies adjust to living with the ongoing threat from the virus, TrueIT’s experience has valuable lessons for others.
1. Respect differing ideas about health and safety.
“We are a local and a national company and people in different locations have different ideas about health and safety,” said Paulson. “In some of our locations, very few people are wearing masks while in other areas most are required to wear them. Our sales team asks before shaking hands and we don’t assume that people want to meet in person,” he said.
2. Establish clear policies
As they returned to the office two TrueIT employees developed respiratory infections.
“Thinking that there might be COVID-19 cases in the office put people on edge. We knew that we needed to clearly communicate a plan,” said Paulson. “We ask people to stay home if they are sick, to not contact other employees and to get tested.” Fortunately, both employees tested negative for COVID-19.
3. Cleary communicate what you are doing around prevention.
TrueIT recently hired an employee who came there after contracting COVID-19 at her previous workplace. When she arrived on her first day, she was concerned that no one was wearing a mask.
“We understood why she was worried, but in the end we decided to keep our policy that wearing a mask in our business is not required and is a matter of personal preference. She could choose to wear one while in the office or to work remotely,” said Paulson. (Note: HealthPartners has a universal masking policy which applies to office workers too and requires that masks be worn on entering and exiting a building, and any time you’re in a shared space, such as hallways, elevators, bathrooms, breakrooms and conference rooms.)
Companies should also clearly communicate how they will screen employees and how to get tested. Dave Johnson, director of HealthPartners Occupational Medicine and Well@ Work clinics, says that questions companies should ask include:
- Do we need a symptoms-based return to work strategy, for instance, asking screening questions, taking employees’ temperature? If yes, how often and when?
- What do we do with the information? What happens next if someone has symptoms?
- What is the policy around sick time and leave of absence related to COVID-19?
- What should employees do if a family member is infected? How can we accommodate employees who have a family member who is at higher risk?
- Where can employees get tested if symptomatic or asymptomatic? There are many tests, which is best for our situation?
- Who can work remotely? Do they have the necessary technology to do that?
Johnson says HealthPartners has been providing about 2,000 tests a day at drive-up testing sites at eight of its clinics in Minnesota, primarily to symptomatic patients. Companies can also get support to ensure new work processes are safe, sustainable and medically informed through HealthPartners Back To Business services. These provide a menu of help such as: facilitating the most relevant and effective type of testing; interpreting state and local guidelines; building a plan for when someone tests positive, as well as a robust strategy for reducing the risk of infection in the future; and also providing support with COVID-19-related leave processes. The services are available to HealthPartners’ clients as well as non-clients.
4. Find the balance between health privacy and transparency.
“So far, our employees have voluntarily shared information. That helps build trust because they know what’s happening with team members,” said Paulson. He acknowledges that might not work in a large company, but every company should clearly communicate what their policy is and be as transparent as they can.
Uncertainty around the coronavirus is likely to continue for months or even years. Even as businesses begin to reopen, Paulson says these steps ensure that TrueIT is prepared if there is a round two of the pandemic.
Matt Nagel is HealthPartners regional sales manager in Fargo, North Dakota which is home to Microsoft’s second largest campus and home to many other fast-growing tech companies like TrueIT
If you’re a North Dakota employer, and would like to explore the health solutions available through HealthPartners (including Back to Business), connect with Matt (Email: [email protected], Tel: 952-807-8170), or visit the HealthPartners page at the Fargo Chamber of Commerce website.