DHG introduces COVID-19 workplace re-entry framework, analytics tool

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In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Dixon Hughes Goodman created a workplace re-entry readiness framework and risk analytics platform that the Charlotte, N.C.-based firm is now offering clients.

The framework, a phased strategy for re-entering the workplace, and the analytics platform, a customizable dashboard with public and private data on metrics like contagion risks and infection curves, are the results of a collaboration between the firm’s workplace re-entry advisory team and data analytics team. Both tools were developed by DHG to assist the firm, which has offices in 13 states and London, begin safely returning to work. The firm launched the products externally at the beginning of July.

“It is the product of a lot of hours of hard work by lots of people,” shared senior manager Chris Reavis. “We started the journey in mid to later March — it was a necessity. It was something that was a real issue and we wanted to make sure we handled appropriately. Day One was two key points. We knew it had to be extremely flexible — all teams work in different work environments and schedules. And the risk — the flexibility of the framework to account for various factors, and incorporate non-biased data in the decision-making process. There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there…[It’s a] way to get consistent and reliable data.”

DHG’s chief data officer Amit Arya and his team were tasked with creating the tool, built on Microsoft Power BI.

“If you Google COVID-19 data, you get 5 billion results in under five seconds — a lot of information to sift through,” Arya explained. “What we wanted to do, our guiding principle, was to take large and complex data sets and make it concise and simple. We wanted to ensure teams are informed by credible sources of data, by sourcing data, bringing credibility to data. That’s the job of a data scientist, to extract informational value in data, extract data from public sources, blend it with private sources to enrich the data.”

The platform uses data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, along with data on demographics, population density, FTEs, and other key performance indicators to calculate contagion rates per capita. The data is customized to the needs and risk tolerances of the client, but DHG’s dashboard shows daily cases and daily deaths at varying lookback periods, whether seven days or 30, which can also be viewed on a map. DHG’s own dashboard is set up to focus on its 32 office locations, while taking into consideration state and local phases and mandates, such as mask requirements.

“It’s a unique tool, and we have to thank the re-entry team, because all geographies are not created equal,” said Arya. “There are specific needs to measure the contagion risk, and it’s different for different geographies.” The layout and type of office buildings are also a factor in measuring risk, he added.

DHG is offering the analytics platform as a standalone product for clients that already have a re-entry strategy or framework in place. For those that don’t, Reavis’ team is prepared to work with organizations to develop plans specific to their needs.

While DHG only just launched these services, Reavis reports client interest from a range of industries, including financial institutions, schools, retail and manufacturing facilities.

Clients utilizing the framework will have access to the members of the firm’s office re-entry task force, which was created in the wake of the pandemic and includes more than 30 team members from different service lines, industry groups and locations, along with an executive-sponsored advisory committee to establish an internal strategy for not only returning to offices, but to get DHG’s large client-facing workforce back on the road. Members of this team will function as advisors to clients of DHG’s re-entry framework.

The team was so crucial to DHG’s early efforts, the firm knew it wanted to offer the services to clients, and recent fluctuations in COVID-19 cases have only underscored their value.

“Roughly three weeks ago everything was on a downward curve,” said John Roberts, DHG’s managing partner of services. “Our firm thought the plan might not be as hard as we thought. From three weeks ago to today, as we see curves spike and retract, some places are better, some worse, the need for the tool became self-evident. The process of the struggle to create our own re-entry framework — something our corporate leaders, nonprofit leaders do every day — we spent thousands of hours on the framework, and over the course of two to three weeks, built it out.”

As for DHG itself, the firm is in the opening phases of its re-entry processes. It is in Phase 1 of its four-phase office re-entry, which has staff working from home except for an essential, skeleton crew in office; and in ‘Phase A’ for client re-entry (labeled on a different scale, A-D, to avoid confusion between the two plans). Phase A, according to Roberts, is “managed by exception, when things cannot happen remotely. [DHG] keeps a list of where people have gone, tracks contacts they've had, and ensures proper PPE and that there is no known exposure where they are traveling to.”

Subsequent phases in both approaches will likely have different time frames, but generally each new phase introduces more people back into the office or client site, with various safety measures in place. And, Roberts stressed, “what’s right for DHG is not right for customers.” Additionally, what works for one office or service line does not always translate to the next.

“There is a different phase for the office team that is able to socially distance, than the manufacturing team, in different phases, that’s unable to do that — the HVAC system won’t allow for proper ventilation,” Roberts said. “There can be different phases for the same legal entity. In our playbook, from Phase 1, which is a closed and skeleton shop, to Phase 4, is reopen in the new normal. We don’t know if it’s a permanent normal, or all the way back to business as usual. Many clients want to go back to business as usual, or go back to the new normal preserving flexible work. We help clients figure out what that is — [whether] a limited approach, with a lot of testing, social distancing, PPE and a considerable amount of cleaning.”

While Roberts praised DHG’s overall adaptability, he, along with Reavis and Arya, speaking over a Zoom call from their respective home offices, expressed the need to one day get back to a degree of normalcy.

“We really adapted to a work-from-home environment,” he shared. “But I can’t wait to get back. I miss being part of so many things face to face. But we have a responsibility to the communities we serve to be cautious about that.”

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Coronavirus Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP