The Covid-safe workplace – how employers can use AV technology to deliver a safe office working environment for their staff

We want to bring you industry insights for the sectors that we work in and here is one from a guest and Bubble friend, Paul Bray, freelance journalist and regular contributor to AV Magazine.

The enforced switch to homeworking over the last year has been so successful that many workers may never want to see the inside of an office again. This sounds like great news for their employers, a perfect opportunity to divest themselves of a lot of expensive real estate.

In fact, it would be a disaster. Have you ever heard of the great product or marketing campaign that was dreamed up by a bunch of people sitting alone in their spare bedrooms? Or the person who said, “So-and-so was such a great mentor to me – although I never actually met them…”? Neither have I.

There are plenty of tasks that people can do on their own, but the things that really move the business forward tend to happen when they get together. Which is why, come the end of lockdown, most employers will need to coax their staff back into the office, at least for part of the time.

That will mean creating a safe, hygienic working environment, and – just as importantly – demonstrating to staff that it is safe and hygienic. Covid may never completely go away, and even if it does, many people may never again feel happy being packed into meeting rooms or open-plan offices to pre-pandemic densities.

Properly prepared

The process can start before people even leave home. Staff can pre-book a desk or meeting room, safe in the knowledge that the booking system will find them a workspace that’s socially distanced from the next person, or ensure the meeting room has safe capacity for the proposed number of attendees. Pre-booking can also be used to control the total number of people in the building, and even to encourage them to stagger their arrival and departure times to avoid overcrowding in hallways and lifts.

Similar technology will be available to visiting guests. Their host will invite them to pre-register online, so instead of having to sign the visitors’ book they will check in and out via their phones, perhaps by scanning a QR code.

In the loop

Prominent digital signage will remind everyone entering the building about the need for hygiene and social distancing, indicate the location of hand sanitisers, and inform them about any building-specific rules – ‘keep left’ policies, one-way systems etc. There may even be an infrared temperature scanner to ensure no one is admitted if they’re running a fever.

Further signage around the building will help with wayfinding, and snappy, location-specific content will ensure the message never goes stale, and reassure people that the area they’re entering has been recently cleaned, isn’t overcrowded, etc. This information will also be made available via people’s personal devices such as tablets and phones.

Safer spaces

Once arrived, staff will be able to double check the status of the room they’ve booked – is it really empty, has it been cleaned since the last use? – via a smart panel outside, so there’s no need to open the door in case the previous users are still there.

The system won’t just rely on the booking diary for this information. Cameras or motion sensors in the room will know whether it’s occupied, as well as counting people in and out to ensure numbers are kept within safe limits. Similar people-tracking technology, including motion sensors and heat mapping, can check that no area of the building is becoming overcrowded, while CO2 meters will keep tabs on the air quality and need for ventilation.

When staff have finished with a room or desk, the system will automatically alert the cleaners so that it can be sanitised before the next pre-booked users arrive.

Don’t touch!

The ubiquity of touch screens and touch panels has obvious implications for hygiene. Regular cleaning can reduce the risks and providing everyone with their own pen or stylus obviates the need for finger touch (it may give more accurate control, too). Touch interfaces on smart panels can even be disabled and replaced with wireless control via the user’s personal device.

There are plenty of alternatives to touch, too. Cameras or motion sensors can detect when someone approaches a screen and automatically display the content, replicating it on the user’s own device so they can touch that instead of the main screen. Personal devices can be used to control equipment in the room via wireless interfaces, from lights and door handles to conferencing and presentation systems. Content can also be shared from personal devices directly into the conferencing system.

Voice control is becoming more accurate and more popular, thanks partly to the success of consumer technologies such as Alexa. Gesture-based interaction is another option, although currently more common in settings such as museums and visitor attractions than the corporate meeting room.

A seamless experience

The final way in which technology can encourage staff to return to the office is to make it worth the effort. If they feel the equipment available in the meeting room is inferior to what they have at home, or if it’s so clunky and difficult to use that it makes the meeting unproductive, they might as well stay at home.

So firms need technology that’s quick and intuitive to learn, performs with total reliability and consistency, and enhances both the conduct of the meeting itself, and the ability to record and share what happens there. If this is combined with seamless interconnection with people’s home office systems, so that workflows follow them wherever they go, then they’ll be able to choose the most appropriate environment for every part of their working life – and the business will be the ultimate beneficiary.

With performance-rich technologies and services from companies like Utelogy, Lightware Visual Engineering and Quick Channel in place, your teams can be reassured that their working needs are delivered smoothly for a seamless experience back to the work place.

If you are interested in learning more about how to maximise your PR, marketing and social media strategy to target and engage with your target audience, and how Bubble Agency can assist in transforming your business with our knowledge and network, please email: hello@bubbleagency.com

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