Salesforce launches Work.com for schools
Starting today, the company will offer its workplace management software to schools. The product is meant to be used as a command and communication center for educational institutions. It includes a "wellness check" feature that enables schools to assess if students, teachers, and staff are able to return to campus by analyzing health survey results and other wellness "trends and insights." It also enables administrators to track cases and relationships of those who have been infected or exposed to COVID-19 by easily creating visual maps of associated contacts and locations. (The individual cases are entered manually, not via track-and-trace apps.)
Work.com has already been used by companies and governments looking to manage their pandemic data and response, like the state of Rhode Island. Here, too, contact tracing is done by humans, and Work.com functions as the system of record and communication.
Only a little more than half of K–12 schools and colleges in the United States have provided re-entry plans for the current school year. Some of those that have reopened in recent days have already had to deal with cases and shutdowns. Consider Georgia's North Paulding High School, which made headlines for its crowded hallways and unmasked students. That school has now been shut down, in order to be "thoroughly cleaned and disinfected" because several students and staffers tested positive for COVID-19. In other words, sadly, there will likely be plenty of demand for products that help schools find and track cases, like Work.com and countless other tech tools now being hawked to schools and businesses looking to reopen.
Schools that are either choosing to or being forced to opt for remote-only learning are dealing with their own issues, too. The pandemic has shone light on an existing digital divide, with some students struggling to get access to reliable Internet and devices, many of them Black and Latinx.
To that end, Salesforce has also announced a $20 million grant to school districts in San Francisco, Oakland, Indianapolis, Chicago, and New York City. The money is meant to support distance learning and to "bridge the equity gap" for students and educators. According to Ebony Beckwith, chief philanthropy officer at Salesforce, these cities were chosen based on needs and the company's presence in various regions; the tech player is also encouraging employees to volunteer in these school districts.
To be sure, $20 million flowing into a handful of cities and a software product that helps schools manage the chaos of information they must deal with is just one of many efforts underway by many companies. And there is no single, currently available solution that makes opening schools completely safe or opting for distance learning completely effective and equitable. But, like many other tools now out there, it's a start.