Want to Protect Residents and Engage Staff? There’s an App for That

January 21, 2022 Lynne Jackson

Mobile WFM apps help protect residents from germs while empowering employees

Every day we look to our smartphone to help manage our lives and keep us tuned into what’s important to us. We set alarms to wake us up and get directions to get where we need to go in the fastest possible time.

Our dependence evolved from using mobile technology to check calendars and emails to empowering us with the ability to work anytime, anywhere with smartphone apps like Zoom, Microsoft Office, and  Teams.   

Certainly, nurse scheduling and time tracking technologies have advanced in recent years and offer automated and intuitive capabilities to long-term care administrative staff. Many workforce management systems even allow administrators to access key metrics and capabilities from a mobile workforce management app.

Yet for many long-term care workers, the convenience of smartphone technology remains out of reach even though their smartphone is at their fingertips. Many skilled nursing facilities use traditional time tracking and workforce management technology to manage employees and agency staff and have yet to embrace the power of mobile workforce management apps.

COVID-19 and emerging technology

The pandemic caused organizations everywhere to re-evaluate the role technology plays in routine business. Leaders enabled millions of people to work from home and diligently pursued technology to ease their transition into remote work as well as increase productivity.

However, senior care workers did not have the luxury of working remotely and often found themselves in harm’s way as they cared for residents as Covid-19 spread rapidly throughout many skilled nursing facilities.

Likewise, the opportunities for senior care staff to use mobile workforce management technology to advance their work and personal lives remains few and far between. The lucky few can use a mobile workforce management app on their smartphones to access scheduling data and communicate with managers.

Fortunately, some workforce management providers are creating smartphone apps that enable employees to achieve work-life balance, increase their productivity, and help inhibit the spread of contagious viruses, like COVID-19.

Tapping into the power of smartphone-controlled technologies

Throughout the course of the workday, we touch a surprising number of things: thermostats, door handles, light switches, coffee makers to name a few. We inadvertently pick up and spread germs and leave them on surfaces that can continue spreading them.  

Think about what this means when skilled nursing employees, who care for our most vulnerable citizens, perform routine tasks, like turning on lights, pouring coffee, and opening doors. Research confirms germs can continue to live on non-porous surfaces long, such as steel and plastic, long after they arrive.

Consider timeclocks. Every hourly employee interacts with the timeclock multiple times a day, making it one of the highest-touch items in workplaces like supermarkets and healthcare facilities. Timeclocks are often the first and last object employees touch each day as they carry in germs and take germs, they picked up out into the world.

As a result, health-conscious employers are exploring ways to minimize the spread of infectious bacteria by reducing or even eliminating physical contact with common area surfaces. Many are using smartphone apps to offer the conveniences common to many homeowners, such as turning on and off lights, controlling appliances, and even opening doors.  

Many senior care facilities are also turning touchless timeclocks and mobile workforce management apps to help protect workers and residents. When paired with a mobile workforce management app on a smartphone, touchless timeclocks can dramatically reduce the spread of contagious bacteria by enabling staff to punch in and out of work using a QR code generated on a smartphone app.

This is only the beginning.  Authorities predict the rise of the “touchless office” in which a single smartphone app controls everything from blinds to coffee makers and more. When paired with Bluetooth beaconing, smartphone-controlled operations and mobile workforce management apps could also be configured to automatically respond to people’s movements, opening doors and turning on lights as they enter a room. 

Tackling understaffing with a smartphone and mobile workforce management app

Researchers cite inadequate staffing as one of the primary contributors to the rapid spread of Covid-19 in senior care facilities. Amid escalating healthcare demands, senior care managers had trouble determining who was working where and when. Unscheduled absences magnified this problem and sent workers scrambling to care for more people, which often meant encountering and spreading more germs.

While contract-tracing apps may have helped identify who was where, they couldn’t compensate for the real culprit: inefficient scheduling and attendance tracking tools.

Ineffective technology prevented operators from identifying scheduling gaps as soon as they occurred and accessing the real-time information, they need to fill them quickly. Because they lacked visibility into live staffing data, operators also had trouble spotting the number of hours each employee was working, which helps them see and alleviate prevent excessive overtime that can burnout workers.

Senior care administrators must be able to quickly identify who is working where and when. Transparency and integrated staffing can help present live staffing information for every unit in the enterprise in one dashboard. This way, administrators can immediately spot understaffing and drilldown for details.

Incorporating mobile workforce management and smartphone technology can help solve many administrator’s problems fast. The workforce management system identifies employee scheduling gaps and helps find workers available to fill each open shift without incurring overtime. Meanwhile the mobile workforce management app automatically notifies employees of the open shift and enables them to quickly respond.

Some mobile workforce management apps even allow employees to swap shifts with co-workers and find and request open shifts.

Promoting work-life balance with a mobile workforce management app

Understaffing also leads to more injuries and fatalities among senior care residents, according to recent studies. Nurses juggling heavier workloads and working longer hours are also more likely to suffer from burnout and eventually leave. As a result, employee turnover soared during the pandemic to 114% for licensed practical nurses, 129% for certified nursing assistants, and 140% for registered nurses, according to Health Affairs.

Healthcare facilities can’t afford to operate in the dark when it comes to staffing, especially during a healthcare crisis. Just as importantly, employees need better control over their lives. smartphone-enabled technologies also promote employee wellness and reduce health-related problems.

The American Institute of Stress found that, “the perception of having little control but lots of demands have been demonstrated to be associated with increased rates of heart attack, hypertension and other disorders.”  

Putting the power to control their schedules in the palm of employee hands, helps foster work-life-balance, reduce job-related stress, and promote staff wellbeing.

Smartphone workforce management applications can help employees balance work and life responsibilities by letting workers view up-to-date schedules and make quick changes by swapping shifts, submitting PTO, or picking up more shifts. See How to Use a Mobile Workforce Management App to Increase Productivity.

“Engaged employees make it a point to show up to work and do more work -- highly engaged business units realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity. Engaged workers also are more likely to stay with their employers. In high-turnover organizations, highly engaged business units achieve 24% less turnover,” according to Gallup.

Monitoring symptoms with a mobile workforce management app

A new category of smartphone applications has emerged to help employees take ownership of their health. The mobile workforce management apps force employees to pause and critically assess themselves for coronavirus risk factors before they can start working. Workers simply answer CDC-approved questions prior to each shift, then results are shared with HR in real time. Some smartphone apps also allow employers to add additional questions to monitor employee wellbeing and help identify workers who may be at risk of burnout and require additional support.

You can even incorporate health-screening questions into the everyday punch-in process by requiring workers answer screening questions on their mobile workforce management app or directly on the time clock before they punch into work. Once the criteria are satisfied, the smartphone app generates a time sensitive QR code that workers hold up to the time clock to complete the punch in process.

Keep in mind, that although smartphone app can facilitate lots of different communication threads, when it comes to health-related communications, you must follow HIPPA guidelines and ensure confidentiality.  

Smartphones and accompanying mobile workforce management apps are making it easier than ever to help workers stay healthy. It’s never too late to deploy solutions because you never what the future holds.

Additional Resources

The Top 2021 Tech Trends That Will Transform Senior Living Report

Staffing in a Crisis: How Senior Care Facilities are Addressing COVID-19

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