On-demand support via smartphone app booms during coronavirus pandemic

| April 6, 2020

An Australian tech start-up providing 24/7 on-demand physical and psychological support to companies and institutions says mental health is emerging as the major issue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sonder is the first of its kind in the world and provides scalable, cost-effective on-demand support to businesses, universities and governments by linking staff and students to highly-skilled emergency personnel via a smartphone app.

Sonder’s support network can connect 90 per cent of Australia’s population to someone who can provide on-the-ground assistance within 20 minutes.

Founded less than four years ago by two former Special Forces officers and a corporate lawyer and defence force reservist, Sonder is experiencing a significant rise in business since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.

Co-founder Christopher Marr DSM said Sonder’s initial focus was on international students.

Australian universities looking to support foreign students experiencing mental health, medical or personal safety concerns but unfamiliar with where or how to seek help, signed up about 120,000 students by 2018.

“We can get one of our team members by somebody’s side in major centres in less than 20 minutes. We do it every day,” Mr Marr said.

Among its first clients were Monash University and major insurer Allianz, while the Commonwealth Bank of Australia saw the potential for monitoring the safety of its 1500-strong mobile lenders.

But as the coronavirus pandemic forces many businesses to abruptly change how they operate a new market is emerging: assisting companies large and small meet their duty of care to employees who are suddenly working remotely.

“Mental health support is emerging as the major issue during coronavirus – many employees and international students are anxious, misinformed and isolated,” Mr Marr said.

“Families are facing unprecedented situations including closures of schools, day care centres, workplaces, residential care facilities, which is throwing up practical and psychological issues employers are having to manage without a framework in place,” Mr Marr said.

Applications such as Sonder can help companies mitigate the legal liability to protect employees’ physical and mental health whether they’re in the office, off-site or working from home.

About 12 per cent of workers compensation incidents are mental health, but account for 37 per cent of costs. Mr Marr said since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, Sonder has provided advice on the latest health and medical information and facilitated health care for serious medical cases.

“We check in on people who are self-isolating, particularly their psychological wellbeing, we check in on people working from home. We help people work out what to do if they have symptoms, believe they have been exposed or know someone who has been exposed.

Sometimes just talking to someone is all they need.”