Some industries need a full return to the office more than others, so a number of strategies are being formulated right now to introduce hybrid or extra-cautious full returns that meet CDC guidelines for suppressing the virus.
Those recommendations include gradual reentry, reconfiguring work spaces, and limiting the number of workers in a physical space at any one time by flexing in-office days among employees and offering staggered work hours.
There is no reason to think that all workplaces will return to the old “normal.” Employees that work from home may still be encouraged to do so for some portion of the work week, but continuing safety precautions will ensure that employers provide a healthier environment in which to work (particularly during regular flu season).
Those that set up employee communications will find that these displays can also be used to continue to send appropriate messaging to keep employees informed about many company issues, which has historically been proven to boost workplace moral.
We recently heard from some technology professionals about what options IT departments have to ensure a safer return to the office.
Technology solutions for returns-to-office
These are the areas that IT and building managers need to focus on, according to Lisa Schneider, EVP Sales & Marketing and Travis McMahand, CTO and Chief Engineer for Videotel Digital:
- Controlling or Limiting Traffic in High-Volume Environments – Technology that informs those charged with overseeing building entry or allows them to provide access remotely will be very helpful in maintaining appropriate distancing and a correct count of employees to be admitted during different times of day.
- Elevator safety – There is an opportunity in some cases to replace traditional entry and in-car elevator buttons with touch-less buttons that sense and trigger floor choices eliminating the need to touch shared surfaces.
- Employee compliance reminders – Displays can be set up in entry and high traffic areas in offices that upon employee approach, automatically trigger compliance video content reminding employees about social distancing, hand washing and other new behaviors (i.e., new lunchroom etiquette, staggered entry and exit, and any updated employee communication alerts).
Schneider says IT departments may wish to install stanchions in building lobbies or use floor markings to indicate where it is safe to stand.
Similarly, signage at elevators entrances should indicate how many people may safely occupy a car and floor markings inside each car suggest where each passenger may stand and use object other than their hands to press elevator floor buttons.
Touchless technology should also be used for front door entry — an infrared button where hands physically touching a door is reduced.
There will also be a need to continuously disinfect work spaces, provide central air filtration to ensure that physical spaces are safe from contamination and assure employees of measure being taken to keep them safe.
However, keeping employees safe will also necessitate continuously reminding staff and visitors of safety precautions including self checks at home before coming to the office, washing hands regularly, and maintaining social distancing (i.e., no hugging, handshakes, or any other close contact).
Tomer Mann, EVP at 22Miles, says one way to effectively monitor and manage disinfection and increased cleaning schedules is through the implementation of scheduling systems based on analytics gleaned from sensor technology and digital displays.
“For example, a cleaning crew could easily see which rooms in an office space have been used or occupied, because sensors on displays in that space automatically detect presence and record usage. And because IT and building management teams also have access to this information, via content management systems tied into the displays, they can easily reference the data to shift priority or schedules for teams responsible for cleaning.”
Re-use of systems a priority
If your company is just now implementing systems, it’s important to stress to your technology integration partner that they need to design systems useful now and in in the future.
For instance, the same sensors used to screen for high temperatures should also be able to count people moving in and out of buildings rooms. From there, that data could be gathered and stored, or even displayed on a dashboard for a building manager to ensure certain compliance is met.
Sensors can also be used in meeting rooms to track use over time, and QR codes could be added for touchless login to a room.
Pitching return to work solutions to your higher ups
According to Dana Corey, SVP and GM at Avocor, the solution for near term is to make spaces malleable.
“We are working with a handful of Fortune 100 clients right now who want the ability to move the meeting room anywhere to accommodate any size group at any given time. To help them with this, we are creating cart or mobile total solutions so they can be effective with the right digital tools as they navigate return to work and hybrid.”
With many management teams closely evaluating their real estate and office needs, tools that can help them make more informed decisions on how to utilize this space is important, Corey says.
“With many companies working remotely or in a hybrid capacity, decision-makers want to make sure they always have access to real-time data on how teams are working in-person. This in-person data can support future decision-making around space management and design, cost-savings for heating and cooling of building based on capacity, and future hardware and software purchases.”
Mann suggests IT departments pitch hot-desking, or pre-assigning desk or meeting spaces to employees, through the use of content management software, adding value to the investments.
Desks or meeting spaces that are six feet or more apart, and sanitized, receive an ‘available’ notation. Spaces that have been used do not provide proper social-distancing, and have not been sanitized, are noted as unavailable.
“Hot-desking leverages both sensor technology and digital signage to reserve spaces, rooms, and even seats at a granular level. This provides IT and building managers, as well as employees, with a way of real-time tracking of desk, room, and building space. It also provides them with a way to better understand which spaces are being used most frequently (or not at all), to help improve navigation and spatial layouts.”
For example, if an employee wants to come into the office to get some in-person work done, they can easily review the workspace options available to them – meeting spaces marked red, are closed off, and those marked green are available, sanitized, and ready to use.
Finally, it’s important to remember that while touchless solutions are good in theory, touch-based solutions dominate our daily lives, from phones and tablets to tabletop touch devices and large interactive touch displays.
“Instead of looking for the giant leap to completely touchless solutions, which will not come soon enough for the demand we have now to safely get back to work and offices, we are instead helping our customers understand how to safely clean touch surfaces and how to effectively use their touch devices without sharing any germs, such as getting multiple stylus for a room or one dedicated to each employee,” Corey says.
“The latter being a very cost effective way to ensure touch surfaces do not carry any germs or viruses.”