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Town of Newmarket launches COVID-19 self-screening app

This article looks at how the Town of Newmarket, Ontario is efficiently managing staff who work both remotely and in Town facilities while eliminating unnecessary contact using Esri’s Business Continuity solution.

Our corporate office in Toronto closed to visitors and staff in March. As the province of Ontario released the guidelines for reopening through the summer, Esri Canada’s executive team evolved our protocols for entering the office—only when necessary—that follow the guidelines provided by the appropriate authorities. Recently, I had to retrieve a piece of equipment from the office and was relieved by the protocols in place: procedural communication for my manager and an online space booking app to notify colleagues of my location.

It didn’t take me more than a minute to do. In this climate, simplicity matters! I knew that I was helping to inform our management and distributed teams. Downstream, the data I created can be used by others to understand team status, apprise facilities sanitization, plan for distancing, etc.

Our organization is not alone in using technology to protect the health and safety of team members. When Lynn Georgeff and Annaliese Vollick from the Town of Newmarket showed me their self-screening app, the approach is similar: an easy-to-use online survey-based tool.

Back in early June, Annaliese, the Town’s GIS Coordinator, and her team, learned about Esri’s Business Continuity solution for managing staff and facilities during the pandemic. The idea rooted when Lynn Georgeff, HR Director, approached the team for a solution to help inform the Town’s workforce capacity and distancing. “It brought a sense of calm and assurance, that employee safety is and remains a top priority for us.” Lynn continues, “The self-screening tool lets staff report their status, but it also communicates when clear action needs to be taken. It lets supervisors react and manage their teams and shows staff that we are actioning for the safety of the workforce and the community at large.”

When designing the solution, Annaliese and Nick Koopman, GIS Analyst, worked to extend the Town’s investment in ArcGIS. They knew that establishing the right workflows for the Town’s 500+ staff is key to achieving widespread adoption. “The Town of Newmarket is made up of four commissions, including Fire Services, with an extensive collaborative working relationship with the Newmarket Public Library. We needed flexibility in a tool to respond to the needs of each group so we can generate meaningful, actionable data,” said Annaliese.

When we discussed some of the considerations the Town had when designing the app, a few key ones are worth highlighting:

  1. Build in your buy-in

    • Do the groundwork. Interview stakeholders and the end users to understand how they work and identify unique requirements. For example, Central York Fire Services provides protection to the Town of Aurora and the Town of Newmarket; diverse staff scheduling, e.g. 24-hour shifts, was a consideration that needed to be implemented in the production. “We knew that we needed something that everyone can use. If it doesn’t work for them, we would have had an incomplete product,” said Annaliese. “Understanding how they work made this useful and got everyone in at the ground level.”
    • Inform your interested parties. “Our front-line partners were kept informed along the way up to deployment. There were no surprises. We created champions for the solution,” said Lynn.
  2. Make it simple to use

    • Simple is smart. The GIS team strove to make the app intuitive to use by providing prompts that are relevant to that person. The Town’s screening app asks for close-ended answers that can be given by tapping or clicking. Lynn offers: “The utility of the tool is that it informs the status of our operations across all work types—departments that must physically handle documents, like marriage licenses, or be out in the field delivering critical services such as those related to water and waste water, or in the parks exposed to the public.”
  3. Communicate and educate

    • Human Resources, Corporate Communications, and IT were among the first few groups to test the app. Piloting a new tool for bugs is nothing new, but for the team, piloting also allowed for message testing to make sure the goals are aligned. “This allowed us to be completely purpose-driven while respecting everyone’s right to privacy. It brought us back to the Town’s core values of respect and integrity,” Lynn said. “We made sure we were communicating from that place.” And by taking feedback seriously, the team produced a solution that is helping to monitor Newmarket staff’s health and safety, while providing its management teams with situational awareness across the Town.

      Note: Sample data only. Figure does not reflect actual Town of Newmarket data.

Newmarket’s self-screening app was launched in its town hall by Jag Sharma, Chief Administrative Officer, with a presentation from HR that included a question period. Staff started using it on June 26.

"This tool allows us to efficiently manage staff who simultaneously work from home and in our facilities without adding unnecessary contact and process. It’s a daily reminder of the importance to stay home if you experience any symptoms and unites us all in our common goal of keeping our workforce healthy during the pandemic. And, should a case arise, we have the peace of mind knowing we’ve taken steps in advance to ease contact tracing."

– Jag Sharma, Chief Administrative Officer, Town of Newmarket

Congratulations to Newmarket on the launch!

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

The Town of Newmarket is situated in the middle of York Region, approximately 50 kilometres north from the City of Toronto. Its growing economy is largely based on business services, health and social services, retail and manufacturing. With access to major highways and transportation links, the Town is easily accessible within a one-hour drive to the six million people in the Greater Toronto Area.

About the Author

Desmond Khor works with multi-industry stakeholders to connect stories with opportunities. As a Marketing Manager at Esri Canada, Desmond is helping to build a stronger, more connected community around technology and the business capabilities of location intelligence.

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