While COVID-19 case rates continue to decline, its rapid spread among frontline workers in the mining industry is still a possibility — especially as inaccurate data continues to be an issue.

*This article was originally published in Mining Magazine.

As we’ve seen, the coronavirus has the power to shut down operations for days, if not weeks, at a stretch. Like many other companies, mining organizations must have access to up-to-date COVID-19 data. Otherwise, making informed decisions, acting in a timely fashion, and offering critical communication should there be another spike in cases becomes impossible.

If a human resources department finds itself working off of data that’s even a few days old, it could result in a workplace outbreak. Should it affect 20 or more employees, a closure could be imminent and the costs high on many fronts, leading to the loss of employee productivity, business profits, and human life. Without access to timely and accurate data, a mining operation cannot respond accordingly.

Hiring specialists at mining companies have a tall task of staying ahead of the virus and its potentially adverse impacts. Embracing digital principles can make capturing those insights and putting them into action a more seamless process.

Technology and Operational Efficiency

If the last two years have taught everyone in every industry anything, it’s that people come first. Whether a CEO or a frontline worker, organizations are now paying much more attention to the needs of the people who keep business up and running. One of these needs is technology. While equipping employees with technology to protect them from infection is vital, it’s also an investment in employee engagement.

High employee engagement can translate into operational efficiency on a purely business level. A recent Gallup study revealed that companies with highly engaged employees enjoy a 17% bump in productivity and a 23% boost in profitability. Give employees the right tools to do their jobs, and companies get the most out of their most valuable resource: people.

Providing digital solutions to manage health and safety also reduces the risk of incidents and hazards. For example, if a mining operation offers an employee communication app to its frontline workers, a hazard can be reported in real-time and acted upon immediately. The company could then use that information to act quickly to reduce the incident’s magnitude and duration and limit its cost implications.

Department-specific apps offer even more significant benefits to the operational efficiency of frontline workers. One study found that 60% of employees saw an increase in their employee productivity. However, 59% felt that their employers were too slow in providing such technology solutions. If a mining operation offered an app to all workers, it would likely be ahead of the curve.

Besides, moving from antiquated, paper-based health and safety systems to technology solutions can improve operational efficiency and employee productivity. HR and administrative team members are no longer left rifling through pages of information, trying to track down a recent report — it’s literally available at their fingertips.

Technology and Human Resources

While this should go without saying, the correct digital solutions eliminate the need for manual processes. Eliminating this helps streamline internal company workflows, making HR more efficient and effective. Furthermore, metadata access via analytics provides HR with oversight and, therefore, the information to correct existing procedures or implement new ones that can increase the health and safety of employees, support the company’s internal communication strategy, and improve the working conditions companywide.

Take something like paper-based COVID-19 testing, for example. While diagnostically fast, it requires the person to be present. If someone in the screening group contracts the coronavirus, it can spread the infection. The data collected via paper screenings must be manually compiled and turned into digital data. Information gets lost and can take an enormous amount of time to be captured before being transmitted to HR teams.

On the other hand, digital transformation enables organizations to screen employees remotely via their mobile devices without them having to be physically present themselves. Naturally, the extra precautions keep the entire mine safe from potential infection, leading to a more streamlined and efficient process. The data is available almost instantaneously, enabling an operation to take proactive action and make necessary decisions.

Beyond that, technology empowers HR teams to seek new ways to boost productivity and engagement. Providing a mobile-first platform to all employees, for instance, can serve as an employee engagement solution for HR. Anyone within the department can communicate with the entire workforce, not just those with access to corporate emails. That’s a great deal of operational efficiency that an organization is gaining.

Should a mining operation invest in a platform dedicated to the employee experience, it offers another two-way communication means. Not just in critical communication but via surveys or chats. Feedback of any kind from frontline workers can aid HR departments in improving outcomes. One survey found that 89% of HR leaders felt that ongoing peer feedback and check-ins were essential to successful results. That same feedback can also be used to create a more inclusive environment and even inform further decisions around technology investments.

Technology and Employee Experience

In the mining industry, frontline workers often work in harsh, inhospitable terrain, far from home for extended periods. The nature of the work itself can present health and safety issues without the added risk of COVID-19 infection due to improper safety protocols. By providing teams with the right digital tools to manage health and safety better, a mining organization demonstrates its respect and regard for the contributions of its frontline workers.

Even a minimal investment in technology can improve the employee experience and empower frontline workers. By introducing digitized health and safety measures, employers are putting the health and safety of employees first. Digitization can go a long way to fostering employee engagement and a sense of “belonging” to an organization. Showing how much people matter is valuable for employees.

No matter the industry, creating a positive employee experience and safe working environment can put an organization in the unique position of seeing significant operational, financial, and reputational gains. These gains can make that company more attractive to other businesses and current and future frontline workers. Digital transformation and the proper selection of digital tools can support almost any organization’s employee retention and acquisition efforts, including those in the mining industry.

Incorporating Digitization Into Your Workflow

There are several ways that HR executives can incorporate digitization into their workflows. Implementing a digital employee experience solution goes a long way towards achieving this.

By digitizing paper-based processes, such as COVID-19 screenings previously, HR leaders are catering to deskless employees. When these digital solutions are available to frontline workers via their mobile phones, frontline employees don’t have to stand in long queues. Should an employee be infected with COVID-19, the digital screenings mean that they are not exposed to fellow workers, limiting the spread of the virus and reducing the possibility of downtime. As a result, they’ll remain safe, and their work lives and overall employee experience will improve. Digitizing processes also cuts costs and improves efficiency instead of antiquated paper-based systems. Here are a few ways to integrate digitization:

1. Integration with existing systems

Connecting an organization’s existing systems to a new digital platform not only makes use of existing software infrastructure but also centralizes information and enables the digitization of existing processes. For example, in the case of COVID-19 screenings for one of Wyzetalk’s mining clients, we integrated with the electronic turn styles that denied access to work for employees who produced a positive screening — ensuring compliance and keeping all employees safe.

2. Vaccination solution

Another area where digitization has helped fight against COVID-19 is the Wyzetalk vaccination solution. By digitizing the vaccination process, companies in the mining and retail sectors have been able to educate and share information, but employees have also been able to schedule vaccination appointments. In addition, frontline workers can provide their vaccination information using the digital employee experience solution, giving HR an overview of those vaccinated. Messages are also sent out via the platform alerting employees when their next vaccination is due.

3. Contingency plan

And finally, HR professionals in the mining industry need to have a plan should red flags be raised — a carefully thought out and well-communicated plan in the case of a COVID-19 emergency or outbreak. The use of a single digital platform that all employees can access is one way to ensure the success of this plan. As we have discussed, frontline employees do not have access to company email, so being able to communicate with them in real-time is essential, if not life-saving. One way to achieve this is to reach them on a platform that can be accessed via a mobile phone, regardless of whether it’s a smart or feature phone.

Technology for All

During uncertain times, it’s not always possible to control the outcome. However, a mining operation can control its response, and technology gives us one of the most effective methods. The right technology provides access to real-time data — data necessary to inform the response.

The right technology also eliminates manual processes, allowing those in the office time for more strategic endeavors and improving the employee experience overall. If an operation were to invest in technology for its entire workforce, a critical communication channel is always open, setting the stage for a collective response. The ability to bounce back from challenges is no longer in question. It’s a reality.