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The smart technology enabling businesses to re-open their doors

Tue 4 Aug 2020 | Steve Vatidis

Cloud saved businesses during Covid-19, now smart buildings can save them after

In March, businesses across the UK were forced to rapidly change ‘Business As Usual’ and adopt a country-wide lockdown. Overnight, teams quickly adopted cloud solutions, from video conferencing to collaboration tools, in an attempt to maintain consistent communication and encourage productivity. While cloud computing saved the day during lockdown, it now has an even bigger part to play as businesses begin to return to the workplace.

Boris Johnson recently announced employers will be given “more discretion” to decide whether or not employees can and should return to work. These regular updates to Government advice allow businesses to begin to ease back into ‘new normal’ patterns of working. Yet, it is not all plain sailing – there are still many precautions and guidelines to follow. Organisations not only need to adhere to the current social distancing rules, they also need to be in a position to quickly respond to new developments.

Business leaders need clear and effective ‘return to work’ plans. Siloed policies between Excel spreadsheets, online Google documents and Zoom video calls are ineffective ways to ensure workplace safety. Rather than guessing whether offices comply with social distancing, rapid contact tracing and rigorous cleaning schedules, employers need smart and innovative technology to ensure they are ready to open doors and keep them open.

The smart ‘new normal’

In this new reality, organisations now need to go way beyond ‘business as usual’ office maintenance. It’s not enough to draw up floor plans, plot employee attendance and suggest modifications to behaviours which fit within the guidelines set out by the Government and its scientific advisors. Being safe at work now requires systems of record.

Employee safety must come first. For large organisations operating on multiple floors, with hundreds of desks and many meeting rooms they face a real challenge to ensure social distanced working. Contrast this with one of their previous biggest concerns — making the most of the space available. This is no task for an employee armed with just an iPad, a tape measure and that much-vaunted ‘common sense’.

Regular office buildings now have to become smarter. Smart technology companies like Smartway2 have developed quick and effective software to allow employers to easily navigate where each desk needs to go, how many additional desks are needed and which direction one way corridors need to be navigated and signposted. Smart technology scans entire floors, including meeting rooms, corridors and bathrooms in an instant to gain a snapshot of the current level of risk. Not only does this save businesses time, it will give both employers and employees confidence that they’re safe to return to work.

As social distancing rules are relaxed over time, what is now one-metre may move down to zero point five. However in a second wave, it could also move back up to two metres. To respond and stay open, businesses need to react quickly to any sudden Government revisions or announcements. Smart technology can help here too, instantly changing digital floorplans and digital signage from one distance to another without needing extensive work by facilities personnel.

A connected workforce

It is not only the office buildings themselves that need to be connected and helped when it comes to returning to the workplace. Employees planning to return to work need to know where they can go and which desks they can use, before they commute into work.

For maximum reassurance and to meet their duty of care, employers need to know who has been in the office on a particular day and if the cleaning schedule is completed as specified. While this is a trivial task for an individual office with a small group of employees, it rapidly becomes non-trivial across hundreds or thousands of employees and perhaps many sites.

Cloud-based technology, which works on smartphones and tablets, can connect the whole workforce, meaning both employers and employees can know when they can be in the office and where they can go when they’re there. This will provide nervous returners with guidance and give them the confidence that the workplace is a safe place to be.

To ensure office safety, business leaders may decide to implement working rotas so only a limited number of employees come to the office on one day. Deploying desk booking systems ensures social distancing. They can automatically factor in 48-hour windows in between desk usage to allow for cleaning and to reduce cross-contamination.

Online working rotas and desk plans also give employers instant access to clear and detailed ‘track and trace’ information on employees. If the unfortunate event of a positive Covid-19 test result arises, the necessary personal information would be available to alert management and team members, allowing a quick response to reduce further infection.

Automate the change

Returning to the workplace is no easy task. While both employers and employees will try their best to follow guidelines, it is human nature to resist change. Cloud technology is the key to creating a safe ‘new normal’ as it adapts much quicker and with much less resistance than humans. It can automatically adhere to changes, making them much easier to implement.

The technology-led workplace we are returning to is not limited to inside the office space, employees may be driving into work so office car parks will also need to ensure social distancing. Moving forward offices may also wish to open in building canteens, gyms and coffee shops, all of which will need to ensure safety on the day and contact tracing afterwards. This may be one positive to come from all the disruption Covid-19 has caused.

It is important that British businesses open their doors again safely and cloud-based technology can lead the change. Smart technology can turn regular office buildings into smart buildings to house smart workers more safely than ever before.

Experts featured:

Steve Vatidis

Executive Chairman


Coronavirus infrastructure smart buildings
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