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Technology That Supports a Safe Return to the Office in the Era of COVID-19

TEECOMlabs

As we look toward an eventual return to working in physical offices, many have speculated about what a post-COVID-19 workplace will look like. Will we have a greater proportion of workers engaging remotely? Will we reduce the density of our open offices? Will we remove seats from conference rooms to ensure everyone can sit a safe distance apart? Answers to all of these questions will come in the next few months, but one area where we think there’s more discussion to be had is around the technology systems that could help support a safe return to the workplace from quarantine.

One technology system that’s gaining traction in many organizations is a real-time occupancy measurement system that allows for the precise counting of the number of people within a space. Products like Density, Vergesense, and PointGrab make it easy for organizations of any size to begin capturing and analyzing this data. This data has yet to be fully leveraged and, in most cases, the basic use case only informs future real estate planning decisions. The data is particularly useful for discussions around right-sizing a portfolio and building an optimal mix of small, medium, and large conference rooms.

But when stay-at-home orders are lifted, we won’t immediately find ourselves in a post-COVID-19 world, and we’ll need to use occupancy data to inform real-time decision making. In the same way many grocery retailers have begun limiting the number of shoppers in their stores, workplace density will likely be reduced and facility managers can use their occupancy measurement systems to automatically notify employees when a given space has reached its safe capacity. Digital signage, messaging systems, and digital workplace experience apps can all be used to inform occupants in any kind of facility about which spaces are available, which ones are nearing a safe capacity limit, and which ones are no longer accessible.

These systems can then redirect individuals looking for workspace—whether a shared conference room, casual seating area, or individual desk space—to less occupied locations within a facility. Combined with an access control integration, a fully automated system could simply deny access to additional staff until the number of occupants has gone below a set threshold.

Another important technology system to consider are the personal devices every employee carries with them. Smartphones are at the center of our personal and professional lives, but the newly-announced collaboration from Apple and Google suggests that workplaces will soon be able to use those devices to determine if an employee has been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. A fixed iOS or Android tablet, installed in public spaces, can be used as a passive monitoring device to detect passing smartphones.

If the notification chain described in the contact tracing specification is triggered, the organization will know that someone who passed through their facility was exposed to the disease. If an organization is already using tablets as room schedulers and audiovisual control surfaces, they may be able to obtain even better data about when and where a high-risk individual passed through their facility.

For the moment, these use cases are hypothetical, but the technology systems are real and available today. Every organization should be planning for an eventual return to the workplace and should leverage every tool possible to maximize the safety and minimize the stress for employees returning to the office at a juncture when COVID-19 no longer requires us to shelter in place but still remains a concern. 

TEECOMlabs
TEECOMlabs, TEECOM R&D Group

At TEECOMlabs, it’s our mission to provide clarity around how emerging technology affects the built environment and the people who use it. We test products by putting them into real-world simulations, we push the limits of systems compatibility, we prototype our own hardware and software, and we provide consulting and thought leadership.