4 Ways Tech Can Help Workers Return to the Office Safely
As more employees return to the office, organizations are looking at the ways technology can help them make the transition a safe and positive experience.
From social distancing and sanitizing stations to mask and vaccination mandates, here are four ways companies can use technology to ensure the health and safety of their returning employees.
Health and Safety Checks
Over the past two years, the idea of wearing a mask, washing hands for 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer and standing six feet away from other people in public spaces has come to be a normal thing. Health and safety have been the top concern of both individuals and businesses.
With nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the population — 211 million people — vaccinated in the United States, many businesses have instituted vaccination policies requiring employees be vaccinated before they return to the office, while others have issued ultimatums for employees to either get vaccinated or find a new job. Concerts, festivals and other entertainment venues often have their own vaccination policies, requiring visitors to either show proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test results.
Justin Angle, associate professor of marketing at the University of Montana, said customers and employees want to feel safe whether they’re in a brick-and-mortar store or getting a delivery at home — and organizations have stepped up.
“A brand is a promise, and that hasn’t changed. What has changed is how that promise is kept," he said. "Quality now extends to new layers of safety that didn’t exist before. Is the store safe? Is the restaurant clean? Is the staff vaccinated? What is the brand doing to consider my safety? What is it doing to keep its own people safe?"
To address these questions, organizations are turning to technology. Paul Kramer, director of compliance at WorkForce Software, said cloud technology plays a huge role in helping organizations manage compliance and ensure the health and safety of their employees. More specifically, it can assist with pre-shift health screenings, where an alert is sent to an employee's mobile phone, informing the individual that it’s time to take a pre-shift health screen.
"The employee interacts with a chatbot that asks a set of questions and based on the employee’s answers, informs the employee in real-time if they are cleared for work or if they should follow CDC or company policy for self-quarantine,” he said.
Air Quality Testing and Purification
Since COVID-19 is airborne, air purification can play a large role in maintaining a safe and healthy workplace. Steve Levine, president and CEO of AtmosAir Solutions, said as companies plan for employees to return to the office many are investing in an indoor air quality technology, such as bipolar ionization, or BPI, to help build trust and confidence in returning to the shared workplace.
“BPI tubes, installed in existing or new HVAC systems, are highly effective [at] stopping the spread of coronavirus,” Levine said. “They also suppress airborne and surface micro-organisms and pathogens, including viruses, bacteria and mold, and volatile organic compounds.”
While in the past, businesses simply hired a janitorial team to maintain a certain level of cleanliness, the concerns that have been raised by COVID have changed the standards of cleanliness companies must maintain.
“Indoor air quality has become a health and wellness priority as commercial office owners and businesses prepare to reopen and employees return to the workplace,” said Levine.
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In addition to air particles, COVID-19 can spread through contact with contaminated surfaces. Rather than requiring employees to touch doorknobs and then disinfect themselves, businesses can implement the use of contactless entry mechanisms, many of which use QR codes. The employees scan the QR code with their phones and a door opens to enter the building or office. Contactless entry can also be used in elevators and other areas to limit or eliminate the need to touch surfaces that could be contaminated.
As employees return to the office, many look forward to catching up with coworkers over a cup of coffee. Companies seeking ways to make this social gathering safer can seek coffee makers that no longer require the user to touch a button or handle to receive their coffee. Lavazza, the Italian espresso machine manufacturer, released a model that operates via a mobile app so employees can get their coffee without touching buttons. Nestlé has machines that operate by waving a hand over the menu, and Bunn allows users to scan a QR code to order coffee from their phone.
There are other aspects of the workplace that can be adapted to touchless technology. Touchless printing, copying and authentication mechanisms are already being sold by Xerox, PaperCut, Umango and Gabi. Additionally, touchless bathroom facilities are becoming the norm rather than the exception.
Some companies are focusing on eliminating paper from the workplace, removing yet another avenue for infection. Stephan Herron, president and CEO at Scriptel Corporation, said as industries continue to follow social distancing guidelines, they seek contactless solutions wherever possible.
“Paper is contagious and an easy way of transmitting pathogens. Eliminating the need for manual, paper processes when able is more crucial than ever during these trying times,” said Herron. “Unlike paper, an electronic signature device can be sanitized after each use to help mitigate the spread of germs. E-signatures combine operational efficiency, safety and convenience.”
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Hybrid Workplace Solutions
Aside from the technological tools mentioned above, some organizations employ hybrid workplace solutions designed around a boundary-less workplace strategy. Created with a post-pandemic workplace in mind, companies such as WeWork, EdenWorkplace, Envoy and Robin all provide tools including:
- Desk Booking: Designed to simplify desk reservations, this software includes the ability to assign permanent and hybrid desks in a way that meets social distancing guidelines.
- Room Scheduling: Enables employees and teams to book conference rooms, and check in and out of meetings.
- Visitor Management: Enables visitors to check in, sign NDAs and print badges on entry.
- Ticketing: Simplifies service requests, ticket filing and organizing.
- COVID Tracking and Safety: Enables companies to monitor the health of employees and guests, more easily follow social distancing guidelines and implement touchless tools.
As employees come back to the office, organizations that put health and safety first are increasingly turning to technology to ensure the workplace is a safe environment.
Many are implementing contactless entry systems, touchless solutions for printing, copying, writing and even coffee machines. Others are installing air quality testing and purification systems, while some are choosing to use hybrid workplace platforms that include desk booking, room scheduling and tracking software.