COVID-19 and comms – we’re not done yet
We’ve been living with the reality of COVID-19 for a while now. The shock and stress that has rippled across the globe is gradually being replaced with an acceptance that the way we live and work is changing for the foreseeable future. So, as we continue to adapt and find our way, what have the initial learnings been from the internal communications community?
We were recently able to explore the challenges faced in our webinar, ‘Six things COVID-19 has taught us about IC crisis communications’. As I watched and listened to our clients at global medical products and technologies company, ConvaTec and not-for-profit health system provider, Main Line Health, describe how they have rapidly adapted their communication practices, I was struck by how much the role of internal communications is changing, forever.
The ability to send timely, targeted and transparent communications to the entire workforce means that many employers are fully engaging with their employees properly for the very first time. It seems the days of formal CEO newsletters are gone. People are getting a small insight into their leaders’ personal lives with authentic videos made from home, and this little glimmer is making the relationship more genuine. Could this be where trust begins to flourish?
As we continue to grapple with this different way of life, we start to explore how human and business behaviour is adapting. As Giulia Cherbavaz, media manager at ConvaTec, noted, “There’s nothing like a pandemic to break the last part of resistance to digital transformation.”
People have stopped railing against technological change because, well, they have little choice. Unsurprisingly, the adoption of cloud services is on the up as businesses strive to better equip their remote workforce or reach those key workers on the shop or manufacturing floor. In early April Microsoft reported a spike in the use of its Teams product, adding up to more than 44 million daily users, worldwide. That’s double the number of users the company reported back in November last year and interestingly, requests for Team integration from our clients has almost tripled in this time. And according to app tracking firm Apptopia, Zoom was downloaded 2.13m times around the world on 23rd March, that’s up from 56,000 a day two months earlier.
And it’s not just the software usage that’s increasing. It’s the hardware too. The CIO of Cisco Australia and New Zealand reported the roll out of 130,000 corporate provided devices to employees and partners critical to keeping their business running, in just 10 days! It’s amazing what happens when people quickly accept the situation and adapt to their new circumstances. The old rules get broken and transformation can happen at lightning speed.
One thing all our guest speakers agreed on in the webinar , was that people are incredible. While resistance may be futile, our ability to adapt and cope will have surprised many of us. Sure, let’s not pretend it’s stressful trying to work and homeschool the kids and be with your partner 24/7 but despite the social distancing people are supporting one another, whether it’s colleagues or family members the virtual tools and channels of communication have come into their own. Company cocktail nights, fancy dress pub quizzes, cookery classes, working out with Joe Wicks. You name it there is something for everyone.
We may still be in the thick of COVID-19 and recovery will be a staggered affair, but every business and every person will have their own story from this experience. It’s therefore critical that the trust, empathy and transparency we’re seeing now continues not only in the aftermath but for good. And it’s worth remembering what Bridget Therriault, strategic communications and corporate affairs leader at Main Line Health, said in the webinar, “Those organisations that act with humility, support their people through the heartache and worries while also celebrating one another’s successes will show their true selves. Your brand and your people are being tested in more ways than you could have ever imagined and if successful you will be celebrated for your actions as we begin to move forward”.
Internal communications has played a vital role in carrying businesses through this crisis but our work is far from done. It’s time to start on the road to recovery. The world is still watching and how we mobilise our employees while ensuring their safety won’t be easy. How we sustain or drive productivity will be a challenge. Returning to work will call for a fluid approach and shift in our companies’ priorities. Providing credible, personalised and measurable communications will be at the very heart of this next phase.
By Nicole Alvino, cofounder and chief strategy officer, SocialChorus
How UiPath robots are helping with the NHS backlog
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many hospitals to have logistical nightmares, as backlogs of surgeries built up as a result of cancellations. The BMJ has estimated it will take the UK's National Health Service (NHS) a year and a half to recover.
However software robots can help, by automating computer-based processes such as replenishing inventory, managing patient bookings, and digitising patient files. Mark O’Connor, Public Sector Director for Ireland at UiPath, tells us how they deployed robots at Mater Hospital in Dublin, saving clinicians valuable time.
When Did Mater Hospital implement the software robots - was it specifically to address the challenges of the pandemic?
The need for automation at Mater Hospital pre-existed the pandemic but it was the onset of COVID-19 that got the team to turn to the technology and start introducing software robots into the workflow of doctors and nurses.
The pandemic placed an increased administrative strain on the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) department at Mater Hospital in Dublin. To combat the problem and ensure that nurses could spend more time with their patients and less time on admin, the IPC deployed its first software robots in March 2020.
The IPC at Mater plans to continue using robots to manage data around drug resistant microbes such as MRSA once the COVID-19 crisis subsides.
What tasks do they perform?
In the IPC at Mater Hospital, software robots have taken the task of reporting COVID-19 test results. Pre-automation, the process created during the 2003 SARS outbreak required a clinician to log into the laboratory system, extract a disease code and then manually enter the results into a data platform. This was hugely time consuming, taking up to three hours of a nurse’s day.
UiPath software robots are now responsible for this task. They process the data in a fraction of the time, distributing patient results in minutes and consequently freeing up to 18 hours of each IPC nurse’s time each week, and up to 936 hours over the course of a year. As a result, the healthcare professionals can spend more time caring for their patients and less time on repetitive tasks and admin work.
Is there any possibility of error with software robots, compared to humans?
By nature, humans are prone to make mistakes, especially when working under pressure, under strict deadlines and while handling a large volume of data while performing repetitive tasks.
Once taught the process, software robots, on the other hand, will follow the same steps every time without the risk of the inevitable human error. Simply speaking, robots can perform data-intensive tasks more quickly and accurately than humans can.
Which members of staff benefit the most, and what can they do with the time saved?
In the case of Mater Hospital, the IPC unit has adopted a robot for every nurse approach. This means that every nurse in the department has access to a robot to help reduce the burden of their admin work. Rather than spending time entering test results, they can focus on the work that requires their human ingenuity, empathy and skill – taking care of their patients.
In other sectors, the story is no different. Every job will have some repetitive nature to it. Whether that be a finance department processing thousands of invoices a day or simply having to send one daily email. If a task is repetitive and data-intensive, the chances are that a software robot can help. Just like with the nurses in the IPC, these employees can then focus on handling exceptions and on work that requires decision making or creativity - the work that people enjoy doing.
How can software robots most benefit healthcare providers both during a pandemic and beyond?
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, software robots were deployed to lessen the administrative strain healthcare professionals were facing and give them more time to care for an increased number of patients. With hospitals around the world at capacity, every moment with a patient counted.
Now, the NHS and other healthcare providers face a huge backlog of routine surgeries and procedures following cancellations during the pandemic. In the UK alone, 5 million people are waiting for treatment and it’s estimated that this could cause 6,400 excess deaths by the end of next year if the problem isn’t rectified.
Many healthcare organisations have now acquired the skills needed to deploy automation, therefore it will be easier for them to build more robots to respond to the backlog going forwards. Software robots that had been processing registrations at COVID test sites, for example, could now be taught how to schedule procedures, process patient details or even manage procurement and recruitment to help streamline the processes associated with the backlog. The possibilities are vast.
The technology, however, should not be considered a short-term, tactical and reactive solution that can be deployed in times of crisis. Automation has the power to solve systematic problems that healthcare providers face year-round. Hospital managers should consider the wider challenge of dealing with endless repetitive work that saps the energy of professionals and turns attention away from patient care and discuss how investing in a long-term automation project could help alleviate these issues.
How widely adopted is this technology in healthcare at the moment?
Automation was being used in healthcare around the world before the pandemic, but the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly accelerated the trend.
Automation’s reach is wide. From the NHS Shared Business Service in the UK to the Cleveland Clinic in the US and healthcare organisations in the likes of Norway, India and Canada, we see a huge range of healthcare providers deploying automation technology.
Many healthcare providers, however, are still in the early stages of their journeys or are just discovering automation’s potential because of the pandemic. I expect to see the deployment of software robots in healthcare grow over the coming years as its benefits continue to be realised globally.
How do you see this technology evolving in the future?
If one thing is certain, it’s that the technology will continue to evolve and grow over time – and I believe there will come a point in time when all processes that can be automated, will be automated. This is known as the fully automated enterprise.
By joining all automation projects into one enterprise-wide effort, the healthcare industry can tap into the full benefits of the technology. This will involve software robots becoming increasingly intelligent in order to reach and improve more processes. Integrating the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning into automation, for example, will allow providers to reach non-rule-based processes too.
We are already seeing steps towards this being taken by NHS Shared Business Service, for example. The organisation, which provides non-clinical services to around two-thirds of all NHS provider trusts and every clinical commissioning organisation in the UK, is working to create an entire eco-system of robots. It believes that no automation should be looked at in isolation, but rather the technology should stretch across departments and functions. As such, inefficiencies in the care pathway can be significantly reduced, saving healthcare providers a substantial amount of time and money.