Ep. 58

Keeping Employees Healthy at Work w/ Clint Van Marrewijk

In episode 58, we talked with Clint Van Marrewijk about the importance of preparation when it comes to health and safety.
Clint Van Marrewijk

Clint Van Marrewijk

Founder and CEO
SaferMe

The COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm, leaving businesses scrambling to make big decisions about workplace safety. But now that we’ve seen the effects of the virus, we can be prepared for health crises that the future has in store. Clint Van Marrewijk, Founder and CEO at SaferMe and guest on this episode of the HR Mavericks podcast, emphasized the importance of preparation. To make sure employees stay healthy (now and moving forward), you need more than a six month plan.

During our discussion, we talked about:

  • The “big three” methods used to fight sickness at work
  • How contact tracing technology helps HR know who needs to isolate
  • SaferMe’s method of contact tracing
  • Contact tracing and data privacy
  • Why employees expect their employers to take action
  • What businesses can do to prepare for diseases like COVID
  • Communicating honestly to build the trust of your people

Episode 58 Transcript

You’re listening to HR Mavericks, a weekly podcast, featuring leading small business HR professionals who share their experiences and insights to help you know how to turn your HR processes and employee experience into a strategic business advantage. Let’s get into the show. 

[00:00:00] Garrett Jestice: Welcome to the next episode of the HR Mavericks podcast. I’m Garrett Jestice and today I’m joined by Clint Van Marrewijk, who’s a founder and CEO at SaferMe in New Zealand. Clint, how are you doing today? 

[00:00:11] Clint Van Marrewijk: Hey, yeah, I’m good. Thanks. 

[00:00:13] Garrett Jestice: Great to have you here coming to us from the future. It’s tomorrow morning in New Zealand where you’re at, correct.

[00:00:19] Clint Van Marrewijk: That’s right. 9:00 AM. I’m having plenty of coffee right now. 

[00:00:22] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. Well, we are super excited to have you on the show today and, really just to understand, what you do, what your company does and how it applies to our small business HR audience and I think there’s a lot of applications, but before we jump into that though, tell us a little bit more just about your background and also about your company, SaferMe. 

[00:00:43] Clint Van Marrewijk: Oh, yeah. So SaferMe is, has been in the proximity safety game for seven years now. And because of that history, we got asked to supply the New Zealand government for business focused contact tracing. So, proximity, safety, as you can imagine is a real niche area of safety, but it suddenly became not so niche.

Roughly two, two odd years ago. So since that time we’ve been supplying everyone from, education through to, you know, mines, any food production, government clients, and because of our history in New Zealand and contact tracing there, we actually got, some clients and now more and more US based, clients.

And so we set up an Austin, Texas office and away we went. So I’m usually there, but actually in New Zealand right now, 

[00:01:26] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. Well, it’s super great to have you on the show and I’m sure that context is, actually how long you’ve been doing this, is actually really important, because I’m sure you get questions all the time.

Did you just start in the last two years with, you know, the pandemic that is, has gone across the entire world? I’m sure people didn’t really know, you know, maybe some, but it’s one of those lesser known industries contact tracing until it became, you know, front stage for everyone the last few years.

Right. 

[00:01:53] Clint Van Marrewijk: Yeah, that’s fair to say. I mean, at first for us, the demand obviously was New Zealand based. And then because of that, because of our position, really, I guess as a leader in the space, we ended up supplying contact tracing into a lot of businesses and we’ve really seen the development of the pandemic, right through from the early days when it was really food production then education.

And then it came into, office based workers, and industrial. So basically anyone that has a lot of team members or even sometimes relatively small groups that have to be in close proximity and have to be in the office, supply chains and critical infrastructure, things like that. it’s really just about automating the ability to stop having to shut yourself down.

So that’s what contact tracings all about, right? Like, so instead of saying, everyone go home, it’s about, okay, it’s just these four or five people that need to take some precautions and then we can just keep on working and keep making money together and operating our business. That’s what it’s all about.

[00:02:50] Garrett Jestice: Definitely applicable. And so we wanna dive into this topic, and understand it a little bit more because I think it’s something that’s applicable to all businesses today, you know, especially in the world that we live in. So before we jump into that though, tell us a little bit more about what prompted you to start this business seven years ago.

Good question. I actually was in a, another business at the time. I was a mechanical engineer back in the day and I actually went into the finance industry, as you do when this, there was so much money in it, back in sort of what was that? Pre GFC. So I’m showing my age here. And I, I helped build a company up there and became a partner.

[00:03:24] Clint Van Marrewijk: And when that was going through the exiting process, I was really looking around for what businesses were closer to my core skillset, which was engineering, mechanical engineering. and I’d spent some time working in gold mines, food, manufacturing, plants, and things like that. And I really saw the crossover of data use that we were doing in the finance industry and the data use that should be in the safety industry.

And I was struck by how big the problem was with safety and then what technology could actually be applied and brought from other segments and taken into safety. So the problem in the safety industry is it tends to lag on technology uptake and we are all about, okay, where is the real innovation happening?

[00:04:03] Clint Van Marrewijk: Typically it’s marketing and sales, was where a lot of smart things are happening. And so we’ll go and really investigate and then bring that technology over. So that’s just where I saw an opportunity, started off a little experiment and then got some customers and, you know, Here we are. Keeps on. Rolling. 

[00:04:19] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. 

I love it. Yeah. I wanna pick your brain a little bit more on that. Just small business operations, which we’ll get to in the end and what,what you feel like is important there, but, you know, really, I wanna dive into this topic a little bit deeper again because of COVID and how so many people, especially, you know, HR departments are tasked with thinking about how do we limit risk in our operations, especially, and also protect our people and keep them healthy. So tell us a little bit more about some of the things that you have learned in the past few years about that evolution of best practices when it comes to, you know, COVID protection specifically. 

 Yeah, I mean, there’s the big three that everyone, has heard about, you know, vaccination, testing, and contact tracing.

And there’s actually obviously been developments in all of the most important levers you can pull. There are other obviously things you can do as an organization to prepare your team and protect your customers: distancing, scheduling of people, you know, making sure the right people aren’t crossing over, and a number of other things, but the big three are still what they are.

[00:05:22] Garrett Jestice: I mean, I think one of the biggest misconceptions, at least where we have a lot of exposure to the market is that people think contact tracing is not actually. Hmm. And that’s really, because a lot of government, applications have failed quite badly really. yeah. And that’s at the state and government level really across the world.

[00:05:37] Clint Van Marrewijk: And that’s it’s because older systems were used to try and solve the problem, phone trees, and that sort of technology. I suppose it’s a podcast and people can’t see me using ear quotes. to describe that. When you are trying to solve something like that at a scale we’re dealing with and the speed you need to answer with, you can’t use a phone tree. it’s just not gonna work. it’s an, it’s something you could use perhaps for smallpox ring fencing back in the day, which is why it kind of carried over,and Ebola and those sorts of outbreaks. But with something like this, you need to move faster and you need to have better data.

So that’s where automatic contact tracing comes in. There are actually a number of ways that people go about tackling automatic contact tracing, and then we’ve settled on a Bluetooth,non-rechargeable card based method so that you don’t have to charge anything. You just wear it looks like this.

Again, I’m showing something on a podcast, which is a bit silly. It’s a size of a credit card. It has a battery in at the last year. You carry it with you. It has no personal information on it. If you get sick, you push the button near the app and data shared with your HR team. Yeah. They can make smart decisions, isolate the right people, not the wrong people and everyone carries on. Like it’s really, so what would I say has been the kind of evolution? I think just adapting and starting to use technology that actually works, and there was a lot of. A lot of mistakes made early and now it’s about actually, what do we do for the next 5, 10, 15 years?

[00:06:57] Clint Van Marrewijk: Yeah. And being prepared. Not about necessarily being reactive. 

[00:07:02] Garrett Jestice: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s the key too is I think for a lot of businesses, you know, it’s been something that’s been back of mind, but it’s really come forefront in the last few years as something that needs to be, you know, addressed proactively.

So , it sounds like your solution is really just as simple as, you know, someone wearing a key card and a lanyard around their neck or on their belt. Right. and so you can imagine how simple that would be for employees and then being able to track that data. You know, and so that you have a rollout plan, then if someone is infected or sick. Right. 

[00:07:36] Clint Van Marrewijk: Yeah. And then that you don’t even need the data doesn’t even come in, unless someone is sick. That’s the other thing. Yeah. So it’s really, it’s what tends to happen is employees in a business want to keep other employees safe. They don’t wanna make people sick, but sometimes you realize you’re sick halfway through the day or the rapid test that you took, didn’t pick it up and then it picks it up the next day, which everyone said happened to them by now, I’m sure. . And in that day, who is it that needs to isolate so that your business can carry on. So that’s what it’s about. And you only pushed a button as an employee if you need to. Yeah. It’s your as effectively. You know that data’s not shared at all until you push that button.

[00:08:15] Garrett Jestice: Yeah. And that’s actually leads into kind of my next question is, you know, I’m curious how, you know, what are the expectations that employees have, especially when it comes to data privacy and how do you handle that? Cause I’m I assume that a lot of people who don’t know a lot about the space, right, are hesitant because they don’t want, they’re concerned about their own data privacy, but you kind of mentioned something interesting there that data’s not even shared until the employee presses a button there. Right. 

[00:08:44] Clint Van Marrewijk: That’s right. yeah. Yeah. I mean, there’s a number of things around expectations, I think.

And there is some mismatch in expectations sometimes between employees and management there. So a couple of topics, I suppose. One is employees do actually expect to be kept safe and that’s often not just because of themselves. They’re often thinking about, a loved one or someone who might be more at risk than themselves, is usually a generator of their own concern.

So that’s one thing they do expect their business to do something. and most businesses try to do something. When it comes to privacy, there is a somewhat mismatch between management and employees. Management typically are more concerned than the employees are. Maybe it’s because there is a small percentage of people that are naturally, make a lot of noise essentially about anything to do with this topic.

[00:09:25] Clint Van Marrewijk: Yeah. And that sets off like a cascading worry at the management level, ignoring the 90% of people who actually just wanna do their job and not get sick. Now, when it comes to the technology itself, the mismatch is actually that you can make these things fully anonymous, like completely and so on, on this card, for example, we use the same technology as a bank, but it’s called rolling encrypted IDs, which basically means on the, on this card, that I’m wearing and for the listeners, I’m wearing a contact tracing card.

Now on it. It’s just rolling encrypted numbers that, automatically are deleted after 21 days. There’s no names. There’s literally nothing on there that is useful to anybody until it’s put together on your HR team site, . Now, if you were doing an ineffective phone tree interview, they’re still gonna be asking you those same questions. All you’re doing is providing accurate data instantly on the HR team side. SaferMe, our business has none of that information. Yeah. So that’s, or can be configured to have none of that information. Some businesses actually want to have it on the SaferMe side, it really depends. So yeah, there, there’s a few, there’s a few mismatches there. And I, again, I think it’s because during the early days of the pandemic, people were trying to respond so quickly that they were using technology that wasn’t built for purpose often, and it wasn’t really suitable so you might, they might have been using kind of wristbands that were adapted.

Or they might have been using dongle based systems that need kind of large scan and scan out portals, which you don’t need with something like, SaferMe, so because you of the mismatch of technology and it wasn’t built for privacy from the beginning, there were mistakes made. Right. and so there’s some truth in those concerns, but also I think, you know, let’s get on with what we have to do over the next 20 years.

Yeah. And solve the problem.

[00:11:09] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, fascinating. I want to come back to, you know, you mentioned at the very beginning, you know, that experience of supplying the New Zealand government with contract tracing. But before we do that, you kind of mentioned something right at the very end there with what you just said with, you know, what’s gonna be happening.

So I’m curious what you think, is next, when it comes to being prepared in the future for businesses. 

[00:11:31] Clint Van Marrewijk: Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s about being able to respond in two to four days, not two to four months. And what tends to happen during a pandemic setting or even a significant COVID wave, or, you know, winter is coming is that everyone wants the same thing at the same time.

And you don’t wanna be in that position because then you’re at the back of the line. Yeah. And so a lot of businesses are starting to move to a readiness or pandemic read readiness mindset. So that’s about planning. Okay. What’s our 15 or 20 year or five year plan, not what’s our six month plan. And that means you are really trying to tackle the big three and others.

So, being prepared for what you can do in response to pandemic and something like, SaferMe, we offer a, pandemic toolkit, which basically means you’re ready to go in two to four days. You don’t have to be at the back of the line. And inside a business what that practically means is you’re approved to be purchased.

You’re already hooked up to their internal systems. You’ve already trained the person every now and again, like a fire drill. This is how you do it. This is what it looks like. And as soon as they push a button away, they go, yeah. Instead of cause with a business rollout, what even internal people forget is how long it takes the procurement cycle to work on top of the supply constraints. And if you’re waiting six months to respond, you don’t have a business that’s running. Yeah. So that’s reality. So it’s, it is something that has to be battled and over the next, well solved, and it can be solved. So, yeah. 

[00:13:03] Garrett Jestice: And it seems like if I’m understanding it, right, one of the changes that you see coming is businesses are taking a more proactive approach to this rather than a reactive, is that correct? 

[00:13:14] Clint Van Marrewijk: That’s a trend. Yes. Yeah. And even at the government, US government level, that’s starting to filter through as a trend, so yeah. Yeah. Makes total sense. I expect that to continue.

[00:13:23] Garrett Jestice: Yeah. So I wanna come back to this example again, to just kind of tie some of this up. So tell us what it was like supplying the New Zealand government with contact tracing. How did that come about? What were some of the results of doing that? 

[00:13:35] Clint Van Marrewijk: Yeah, I mean, we, as I say, we were involved in proximity safety for a long time.

We already were an international business in this small niche. And just because of that background, we’re asked to supply, the new Zealand government for business use. I’ve actually never seen a government move so fast. It’s, you know, before or since, and I was actually, I was quite impressed, at the time and still am, with how quickly and actually effectively they did move.

Supply was interesting because we were obviously gearing up to supply, you know, thousands and thousands of companies. Hundreds of thousands of people below that as employees and it’s all about having the technology ready to go. So at the first we developed a tracing app and it was several iterations of that.

[00:14:15] Clint Van Marrewijk: The whole team was obviously working nights and burning the midnight oil to make it happen. And then, moved to actually supplying a hardware app combo after that, so now we have both so yeah, it’s been a hell of a ride really. Technology wise. and now it’s about actually just awareness and making people and business owners aware that, okay, there is something that can be done.

Yeah. And it works. And what are we gonna. How are we gonna be prepared for the future? 

[00:14:37] Garrett Jestice: Yeah. Excellent. Yeah, that makes total sense. So I wanna bring this back, because again, you know, you know, like, you know, most of our audience on this podcast are small business owners or those solo HR people in small businesses.

 So what would your recommendations be for those listening that audience when it comes to keeping employees healthy at work. What are the things that you would recommend that they take away from our short conversation today and go and think about or do in their own businesses to help be more proactive instead of reactive, like we talked about. 

[00:15:13] Clint Van Marrewijk: Yeah. I mean, interesting open ended question there. I actually think a lot of it is how you communicate. Like a lot of things in life. It’s how you communicate to your people. And, especially around, preparing for a virus and around COVID, especially I think honesty and being upfront about your approach is quite important.

 There have been some mistakes made, at the government level really around not necessarily being willing to say, Hey, look, we don’t know yet, but we are doing the best we can. We’ll tell you as soon as we do. And their, the inability to just tell the truth like that has eroded a little trust. Yeah.

[00:15:49] Clint Van Marrewijk: And actually businesses can do a better job. and have honest conversations around, okay, this is our plan for, if it gets worse, this is what we’re going to do. At the moment we don’t think it’s as bad as what it could be, but this, so that means we’re, we know we’re not having part the same sort of restrictions.

So having sort of honest conversations ahead of time and being willing to say, look, we are preparing for that, but we don’t know if it’s gonna happen. So, I think there’s, for small businesses, especially, you know, having a direct and honest conversation with employees and your people is number one.

[00:16:20] Garrett Jestice: I love it. Excellent. Excellent recommendation. So Clint, this has been an awesome conversation and I really appreciate you taking the time to share just a little bit more about your business and what you’re doing and how it applies to our audience here. You know, as we get ready to wrap up here, one question that I really like to ask all of our guests on the show is what’s one thing that you think our listeners should do this week to improve their HR people functions. And as you’re thinking about that, I’ll preface it just by saying too, it doesn’t necessarily have to relate to our topic. I know you are a small business owner, right. And so there’s a lot of, lot of applications that might come from that. What do you do to that, you’d recommend our listeners do this week to just create a stronger, better, workforce and take care of their people. 

[00:17:07] Clint Van Marrewijk: Yeah. it’s a really opening, I wonder if you stump anyone with that one? Um, I, I think, I think, I think the thing that I’ve found really useful.

Especially when we were small, even smaller than today is to actually schedule a regular catch up with pretty much everyone in the company. So when I say regular, quarterly or six monthly,and me as the CEO, I don’t necessarily get to talk to someone about, you know, what’s, how are they what’s going on at home?

You know, figure out if they’re under any particular stress, but then also ask kind of in their direct questions around. Okay, do you think you’re being well managed? Are there other things you would like to do in the company and having a feel for what’s really going on? It can be that when you are, when you’ve got, you know, 20 or 30 people and you’re coming and you’re building your business, you forget to do that.

[00:17:54] Clint Van Marrewijk: And then I think your team turnover goes up. Mm-hmm because of that. And just I’ve found, just trying for me, trying to hold onto that regular cadence of a catch up actually keeps the team together. Yeah. Far less likely to lose people and you can actually intercept losses earlier because, someone will actually have a direct relationship with you and just come to you first and say, Hey look, I’ve had this big offer and, you know, what can we do about it? So, I mean, that’s, my take is just having schedule it, so what could you do today to make a difference? I would schedule a recurring, you know, either six monthly or quarterly meeting with anyone in a business, less than probably 30 people.

Yeah, somewhere in that number. 

[00:18:33] Garrett Jestice: I love it. I think that’s a great suggestion. It’s something that gets lost in the day to day, you know, busyness of work 

[00:18:39] Clint Van Marrewijk: of when you’re grinding and selling and doing everything else. Yeah. 

[00:18:42] Garrett Jestice: But man, it really, when it comes down to it, business is really about trust and relationships.

Right? Mm-hmm The people that you work with, and so when you can, strengthen that man, it goes so far so .Awesome. Well, Clint, if there are listeners that want to get in contact with you either to learn more about, you know, your company SaferMe, or to ask you questions on this topic, what’s the best way for them to do that.

Just go to our website, safer.me. There’ll be a big button there that says book a meeting and, book one and we’ll see you there. 

[00:19:09] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. Well, Clint, thank you again so much for taking the time to be with us today. Hope you have a great rest of the day. 

Yeah. Been a pleasure.

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