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This week the Business Herald will share the stories of Kiwi businesses that have been forced to adapt in a post-covid 19 world. Like all New Zealanders, we are proud to shine a light on all the incredible work being done to help our country recover.

For Bruce Howe, like all of us, the Covid-19 outbreak has been a unique experience.

But it's not the former Nokia New Zealand GM's first crisis.

Howe was running the Finnish company's operation in East Africa from Nairobi, Kenya in 2012 when his local Westgate mall was attacked by terrorists who killed 71 people and wounded another 200.

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The Nokia boss used Whatsapp as a makeshift check-in system for family, friends and colleagues as the violent mayhem unfolded - but he was a harsh critic of his and his company's efforts.

"As the dust settled, we reviewed how we dealt with the situation. We were not proud of the lack of process, our inability to be in quick contact with our team and then the appropriate follow-up," he says. But he learnt from his mistakes.

Howe returned to NZ in 2018, trading his corporate career to take charge of a small local company - Putti Apps, the Takapuna smartphone app developer co-founded by Kiwi Landing Pad's John Hoult.

"I am now lucky enough to be working in a business that can respond quickly in times of crisis through development of digital tools and apps," Howe says.

And his company duly proved its chops when the Covid-19 outbreak hit.

Putti created a Team Safe "Covid-19 Support Hub" app for Fletcher Building in just three days - rather than the weeks or months it can take to put an app together. A separate version was created for the company's operations on each side of the Tasman.

More than 7000 of Fletcher Building's staff in New Zealand and Australia have signed up to the mobile app - which digitises health and safety and incident reporting, and has key site check-in elements that help the construction giant with contact tracing as it rapidly reorganised its systems so it could re-start operations under level 3, and prepare for level 2.

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Staff can now scan a QR code with their phone to check in or out of a site rather than fill in paperwork. That saves time, and creates an easily searchable digital record for quick tracing of movements, if required by any outbreak.

Fletcher is also using the app for push notifications or near real-time updates - a useful feature at a time when the rules we live and work under are constantly changing.

Howe says the Team Safe app for Fletchers could be assembled so rapidly, in a collaborative effort with the construction company, because it was created off the back of Putti Apps' Appranet (which in turn runs on Microsoft's Azure platform) which had been already been adopted by many in the construction and manufacturing sectors to digitise health and safety reporting. New features requested by a client can be rolled out within hours.

The Covid-19 Support Hub app that Putti created for Fletcher Building in just three days. It's now being used by some 7000 of the construction giant's staff across Australia and NZ. Photo / Supplied
The Covid-19 Support Hub app that Putti created for Fletcher Building in just three days. It's now being used by some 7000 of the construction giant's staff across Australia and NZ. Photo / Supplied

Fletcher Building chief people officer Claire Carroll says Team Safe has been a valuable tool to communicate through the unique challenges of the Covid-19 environment.

"We needed to evolve how we stay connected with our diverse workforce and almost everyone has a mobile phone these days, so innovating with mobile technology made perfect sense," Carroll says. "Working with Putti got us up and running very quickly – just three days.

"Through the app we've been able to keep our people informed with near real-time updates, bring together leave and payroll, and provide wellbeing advice.

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"Our people are dispersed throughout the country and different kinds of worksites and workplaces, but largely at home recently, so it's invaluable being able to connect through such an accessible and flexible tool."

Other organisations have been taking advantage of Putti's smarts, as the country waits for the Government to get its official tracing app out the door. Running your own app also provides more information and puts you more in control.

For example, Putt's Team Safe has also been providing crucial help to charitable trust Independent Living (ILS). It has a staff of 30, including people who make site visits to help clients with information and equipment to enable people to remain safe and independent in their homes. The app enables contact tracing with forms and location information that shows where staff have visited during the day.

CEO Karen Beard-Greer says at level 3, ILS has more than half of its staff still working at home.

"Team Safe ensures we are taking the best care of all the staff at home and at our physical sites," she says. "It also supplements our pandemic and health and safety plans perfectly providing peace of mind to board, staff and our customers."

Howe says Putti Apps is offering a 30-day free trial for Team Safe during Covid-19. The app can be white labelled for any company and up and running within two days.

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The Putti boss says workforce management was always going to become more digitised, but the pandemic has rapidly accelerated the process for many organisations.

And he thinks the phenomenon will persist once the outbreak has subsided - partly because being forced to work remotely has given people a new respect for many online and mobile tools.

"They've realised they're more capable than they gave them credit for," he says.

Three questions with Putti Apps director Bruce Howe

What has been your biggest challenge of the outbreak?

Balancing work from home stresses and family stuff all in a confined space.

Your biggest learning?

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Being a digital business, working from home means we are doing more work, more hours and the weekday and weekend are one and the same. We are available all the time, the laptop is within arm's reach and video conferencing works really well. So we are working really hard but not finding enough time to chill, exercise and connect with friends and family.

One year from now our business will ...

... be providing apps like TeamSafe supporting WFH as this will become normal practice. Businesses need to develop digital-driven employee engagement programmes to give teams an empowered voice, work-life balance, and personal wellbeing.

Got a good news story? Let us know. Email GoNZ@nzherald.co.nz
Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website