How technology can support back-to-work programmes

24th of July 2020 Article by Raj Krishnamurthy
How technology can support back-to-work programmes

The world is slowly easing out of lockdown. As millions of people prepare to head back to work, employers should plan for their safe return. But this won't be easy. Safe reoccupation strategies will require a combination of leadership, managing change, communication and technology. Raj Krishnamurthy, ceo of Freespace, tells us more.

Governments have said that businesses reopening their doors must do everything they can to minimise the virus transmission risk in the workplace. Guidance includes new rotas, procedures and policies that allow employees to maintain social distancing and ramping up infection control efforts. Employers are advised to review floorplans and introduce one-way flow systems wherever possible.

Although hot desking is discouraged, sanitisation stations should be installed in areas where the sharing of equipment or space is unavoidable. Cleaning must be more frequent, especially on high-contact surfaces such as desks, keyboards and door handles.

However, an effective back-to-work programme will also consider how to communicate these changes to staff. Though most people have got used to the new rules - staying an appropriate distance from one another, washing hands regularly and covering their mouths when sneezing or coughing - certain work habits may be harder to break. Additionally, much of the workforce will feel anxious about returning to the office, especially as news of spikes and second waves continues, and will need be reassured that their health is the number one priority.

Turning to technology

Technology can help on all fronts. Employers will keep workplaces hygienic and allay people's fears if they communicate the right information, at the right time and to the right level of detail-and the most effective way to do this is by providing employees with mobile apps and installing digital signage throughout the workplace.

While there will always a place for static posters, digital platforms allow for the instant and dynamic delivery of messages at the exact point they need to be consumed. Research by Intel has also found that digital signage captures 400 per cent more views than static signage.

Digital signage will encourage employees to adopt and maintain the desired behaviours, including good hygiene and social distancing. But this isn't limited to flashing messages reminding employees to wash their hands and avoid touching their face, though that is effective. Displaying live data on socially distanced spaces to use, cleaned space availability and cleaning regime in place will help to guide staff and reduce cross-contamination.

Facilities teams can also use the technology to both deliver methodical cleaning practices and reassure occupants by highlighting the preventative infection control measures that they are undertaking.

Using occupancy data

Organisations have an opportunity to shape their cleaning activities around real-time space usage and occupancy. Though the return to work has begun, it is unlikely that any buildings will be fully occupied before 2021.

In the meantime, organisations are figuring out how they can minimise cross-contamination and transmissions risks while continuing business operations. Two emergent options are the ‘split group' and ‘split desk' strategies. The former separates employees into different weekly groups with the hope of minimising disruption if an outbreak one group. The latter alternates desk usage between days, leaving more time for cleaners to react to demand.

Whatever the strategy, there will be greater pressure on cleaning teams to be frequent, quick and dynamic.

The risk of transmission is greater in high-contact areas such as desks and other workstations especially in offices where people are accustomed to flexible environments. One solution is to equip cleaning teams with handheld devices that receive occupancy data from sensors installed by these areas. Push notifications alert the cleaner whenever a space or workstation has been vacated and requires cleaning before the next person arrives.

When integrated with micro-location technology, cleaners can also scan the desk or meeting room with a tag like a QR code, which immediately designates it as clean and brings it into the availability pool. Digital signage situated around the workplace will then advertise it as available to other users.

The same digital screens can be programmed to display information advising staff to occupy or avoid specific floors depending on the occupancy data. The signage can also help occupants to follow the correct routes through the building, including one-way corridors and staircases, and adhere to the social distancing rules.

Post-outbreak, workplaces require an increased level of cleaning alongside new practices designed to keep people both safe and stress-free. The world is reopening after four strange and challenging months, but the danger is still there. Any organisation that reopens its workplace will be responsible for the health of its employees.

Much of that responsibility will land on the facilities and cleaning teams, as they work to keep environments safe and hygienic. Technology that helps them communicate their goals and nurtures the necessary change will be key.

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