Office utilization and environmental sensors, long used to manage real estate assets, are gaining added significance as monitoring tools for managing a return-to-work during COVID-19.
Lockdown rules are finally being relaxed in countries including the UK and US, and we are set to see a gradual return to the workplace after an experiment in homeworking on a previously unimaginable scale.
Those responsible for managing office real estate and HR know they must be vigilant. While there are signs that the pandemic’s grip is finally loosening, the risk of the novel coronavirus continuing to spread remains all too real, which explains growing interest in office monitoring technology during COVID-19.
Office layout monitoring technology
Nevertheless, in countries where the lockdown eases, people will sooner or later start to come back into the office – and even though some employees will be cautious about the risk, many will want to resume working with colleagues in familiar surroundings. So, the onus on leaders will be to carefully manage this partial resumption of normal working life in order to keep people safe and healthy.
One of the great lessons from the teleworking experiment has been that technology can allow us to work in new ways. Far from being a second-rate alternative to traditional practices, working from home via the myriad of IT and comms tools available looks like it can actually be much more productive than many sceptics thought.
Leave that aside for a moment, as technology is about to come to the aid of managers whose priorities are now switching from facilitating homeworking to managing a safe return to office life.
Workplace monitoring for COVID-19
That tech comes in the form of desk sensors and other office monitoring systems.
Such systems are already employed by many major corporations to review how their real estate is being used and to manage flexible working. Now such systems are about to take on new significance as office monitoring technology during COVID-19. They are currently used to make expensive real estate decisions such as implementing agile working or moving premises. With the advent of new regulations in response to the virus, failing to monitor the workplace could mean businesses are breaking the law. Governments are likely to require some kind of compliance management to demonstrate that businesses are following health directives, so office monitoring technology during COVID-19 could be a solution to automate some or part of that process.
Currently, those responsible for managing office facilities and associated HR use desk sensor technology to see in real time and over time, how desks, meeting rooms and other areas are being used. A system designed by Abintra can display usage across a single or multiple office floorplans, enabling managers to interrogate the data for lucid reporting.
Return-to-work office monitoring
As businesses return to the new normal, such systems will enable managers to keep tabs on how the office is running in three crucially important ways.
Firstly, they can ensure social distancing by showing where people are sitting or congregating, even raising alarms if certain parameters are broken such as people occupying space within two metres of each other or in poorly-ventilated areas. Over time, data is collected that can be used to demonstrate compliance with safe working practices, which may become a legal as well as a moral requirement.
Sensors for monitoring cleaning
Secondly, desk and other room sensors that are typically used to monitor space utilization can have a secondary purpose, one with special significance in these times, which is to monitor and record cleaning rotas. Many offices have already undergone deep cleaning exercises, but it is likely that these will be repeated in advance of people returning to the workplace.
Monitoring systems can indicate areas that have been vacant, allowing cleaning teams to either give these a lighter touch or ignore them altogether in favour of a deeper sweep across the busiest areas.
Reshaping the workplace after COVID-19
The third advantage of using such systems is about reshaping the workplace. As well as helping managers meet the health and compliance challenges, monitoring systems can show if the workplace can accommodate the new agile working practices we expect to become increasingly common post-COVID-19. The scale of the worldwide lockdown has certainly boosted the rise of flexible working in a way none of us could have predicted.
Constantly monitoring and accurately reporting on how space is used provides the most reliable data for making decisions about new office layouts with different kinds of spaces. It can indicate whether more space is needed to accommodate the separation of workstations for health reasons or whether an organisation can downsize its real estate footprint with more people working from home, more often.
Environmental sensors for offices
Environmental sensors can also play a part in ensuring a healthy workplace. Abintra recently launched a combined utilization and environmental monitoring sensor, which can supply data on air quality and temperature among other factors. That data can be used to identify areas of poor air quality, for example, and if the system is plugged into a smart building, systems such as air conditioning can adapt automatically.
Compliance software for offices during COVID-19
When it comes to compliance and managing workspace, Abintra’s reporting portal offers filterable analytics by building, floor, business unit, department, team and date with reports on maximums, minimums and averages. It represents that data in easy-to-understand graphs, charts and tables that can be downloaded in PDF format.
The system also informs employees about the status of the building. When arriving in reception or by using an app, employees can see at a glance what resources are available across an entire building or even multiple locations. With nightly or after-session cleaning, it can give reassurance to staff by showing unused desks (those that have been cleaned since they were last occupied), which is especially important if people are desk-sharing.
Settings can be changed to display a variety of data, from the number of quiet rooms on the fourth floor, for example, to how many touchdown areas are on the sixth floor, which floor is quietest or areas that are closed for cleaning.
The rise of flexible and agile working was already a phenomenon before the virus disrupted the world of work, as was the concept of employee wellbeing. Playing a crucial part in that phenomenon are office utilization and environmental sensors that help corporations review and adapt to new ways of working.
With the advent of the virus and now the gradual relaxation of the lockdown, these systems are set to make an even greater contribution, one that not only impacts on productivity and cost control but also ensures the health and safety of every company’s most valuable asset, its people.