The rules for people presence in the age of contact tracing


5 minutes read time

June 02, 2020

It’s always been valuable to know who is physically at your workplace or organization at any given time. But since the outbreak of COVID-19, the ground has shifted. 

People presence is no longer just a tool to ensure safety, security, and compliance. It’s a matter of public health. For the first time in memory, we’re being asked to record and remember where we’ve been and who we’ve been in contact with, whether we’re heading for a coffee, getting a haircut or visiting a client or business partner. And we’re doing it to save lives.  

The pandemic has also placed surveillance and privacy concerns firmly under the spotlight. In the US for example, research consistently shows up to half of all adults will not download a government contact tracing app to their smartphone.  

This means organizations now have a heightened responsibility not only to manage people presence more competently but to do so with greater intelligence, openness and accountability than ever. There has to be a clear and obvious benefit in using a people presence system for both the site visitor and the site manager. Otherwise, some people will simply find ways to avoid using the system. 

WhosOnLocation has delivered people presence software for more than eight years. We believe there are four principles which should guide all organizations using this technology in the COVID age: 

Make it seamless

If eight years experience in the people presence business has taught us anything it’s the less human effort your system requires, the less chance of human error. The best systems are seamless. Cloud systems like WhosOnLocation run in the background on smartphones, so once an app has been downloaded by employees and contractors, entry and exit from locations is recorded automatically through geolocation. For pre-registered visitors, the confirmation pass sent to their phone prior to the meeting allows them to scan into the visit without touching a kiosk.  This means staff, visitors, clients, and suppliers can come and go as needed without the risk that people forget to sign in or deliberately choose not to.  This is important because the pandemic has demonstrated that relying on paper lists, human memory or untested smartphone apps can and has led to gaps and errors in critical information.  

Go granular

Currently, the COVID-19 contact tracing regime is struggling to even maintain logs of who has been at different locations. This is not going to be sufficient as we move forward into a prolonged period where contact tracing will be a part of life. The more granular the detail you can gather and distribute through your system the better it will work for you. A good system should be able to tell you if a visitor is permitted on-site in the first place. It should be able to tell you if they pose a risk to your people. It should be able to tell you if they’re aware of non-COVID hazards, or if they’ve agreed to your visitor policies. 

Without these added elements, there’s limited meaningful benefit to you in any system and it’s just going to be another compliance cost. Good people presence needs to give you granular control, including the ability to grant or deny people access to locations based on predetermined criteria. This can include, for example, individuals who have been exposed, directly or indirectly to COVID-19, or restrict specific areas of your organization to people you know and trust. 

Hide nothing

COVID contact tracing is starting to bring concerns about data privacy to the surface in much wider groups of the public than ever before. Data privacy has been a growing agenda for some years now, particularly as the amount of personal data being traded by tech giants like Google and Facebook has come to the attention of the public. 

That means any new people presence system must make data-use transparency a core value. When you ask people to give up personal data, you need to be open and honest about why you’re doing it, how you’re handling it, how long it will be held, and whether it will be shared with any third parties. The more accountable you are to people who will be using your system, the likelier they are to see it as a necessary and positive part of business, rather than a box-ticking exercise.  

We pride ourselves on our information security management practises reflected in our ISO-27001 certification and adherence to the guidelines outlined in the General Data Protection Regulations. This is essential to delivering a robust solution that manages visitors, employees, and contactor presence data in a single and secure platform. 

Make it work for you

A well-managed people presence system should be an asset to your business. It should be something that reassures people about being on your site, not something that makes being there a hassle. It should be a tool that provides you with useful data you can use to help streamline your operations. Your people presence system should be able to provide information for the Ministry of Health if required, but it should also provide you with rich data about the movement of people on and off your sites that enable you to make strategic, data-driven decisions that mitigate risk and improve the efficiency of your overall operation.

Ultimately, the reason we manage the presence of people is to make a positive difference. Whether for reasons of health, safety, security or compliance, it must be able to inform real-world business decisions. A robust solution that manages visitor, contractor, and employee presence data in a single platform is the best way to make this a reality.