The pre-2020 concept of working at the office has been turned on its head. COVID-19 is forcing businesses to rethink workplace design and consider remote working as part of the long-term solution. According to a recent study, only 40 percent of employees in Singapore feel safe returning to the office, whilst 75% of employees want social distancing to be observed for at least the next six months.
How can employers ensure employee safety and confidence, given the ongoing uncertainty around COVID-19? At the same time, how can they build workplace resiliency into their organisations for the challenges – known and unknown – ahead?
Helping employees feel safe and stay safe
Top concerns of employees returning to their places of work include the fear of a resurgence in COVID-19 infections. Another area of concern is compliance with safety measures, both their own and that of their co-workers.
Ensuring compliance with government-mandated safety measures provide an effective baseline for keeping employees safe when they return to the office. What more can employers do to make employees stay safe and feel safe?
Here is a checklist of four tech-enabled strategies to ensure added workplace safety and assurance as businesses look to transit employees back to their desks:
1. Ensure social distancing with an optimal floorplan: Bring social distancing into your office layout by identifying the optimal workstation and thoroughfare spatial arrangement. Video-based applications can help detect violations of safe distancing requirements and immediately send out alerts to safety management officers. Further video analytics can improve office planning by providing occupancy statistics at desks and conference rooms based on social distancing requirements.
For B2C businesses such as retailers, ensuring social distancing will be even more crucial and challenging. Video technologies can help with customer numbers in shops and proximity detection. Facial recognition apps can integrate with an open video management system, and updated with mask detection capabilities that can greatly aid with contact tracing.
2. Provide non-intrusive temperature detection: The ability to identify potential virus carriers early is key to breaking the chain. The challenge is doing this in a way that ensures people are most comfortable. Non-contact infrared thermometers or thermal imaging cameras that can screen or monitor an individual for potentially elevated skin temperatures, a primary symptom of COVID-19, are a solution. This helps businesses to obtain critical information with minimal disruption. Today, technologies are being developed to monitor body temperature more accurately, beyond just skin temperature.
3. Reduce virus transmissions through access control: Studies have shown that COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours. This creates a considerable risk in communal spaces such as office buildings, shopping malls and the like where individuals must share amenities. The solution? Minimising common contact points such as door handles and security gates will help reduce the risk.
Thanks to video-based access control, authorised personnel can enter a designated area without the need for physical contact. Furthermore, you can regulate the number of people on-site with a “one in, one out” policy, where waiting employees/customers are automatically notified when they can enter the designated area.
4. Enable person tracking: Contact tracing has been a big part of Singapore’s containment strategy. Video data, combined with access control, can help the authorities trace a COVID-19 patient’s contacts so that containment can be more granular, avowing complete shutdowns or quarantines of offices. Today, identification technologies are effectively providing a log or report for contact tracing purposes – offering management a historic assessment that identifies the potential contact points of a single person or risk.
These four strategies will not just provide a solid level of security, it also gives employees the confidence that they are going back to a safe work environment.
Investing in ‘smart’ infrastructure for workplace resiliency
These strategies come with their own set of challenges. Some business owners may baulk at incurring the additional cost at a time when cash flow is under pressure. The truth is these strategic investments in technologies have long-reaching advantages, even in a post-COVID-19 scenario. It ensures that businesses have a smart and flexible workplace infrastructure that can adapt to changing demands and challenges posed in the new normal.
This elevates the workplace to the status of a giant online device, with interconnected solutions working together to make life easier, more efficient, and safer for employees. When combined with the right open platform video management system, infrastructural systems such as video cameras and access control points can be retrofitted with new smart technologies or solutions that can be customised to meet your organisation’s needs.
Further benefits include enhanced workplace management and conservation of resources. For example, AI-enabled video technology can detect maximum occupancy in a meeting room and turn up air-conditioning in a heavily populated space to maximise user comfort. Similarly, they can lower or switch off air-conditioning to conserve energy.
In a retail setting, these benefits go even further, providing businesses with data on consumer behaviour as well as automated assistance to customers through interactive screens and more.
As economies slowly reopen, we acknowledge that things will never go back to the way they were before. The technologies introduced today to deal with a COVID-19 work environment will prove to be invaluable assets for workplace resiliency, whatever the future may hold.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Benjamin Low is the Vice President of Sales for Asia Pacific at Milestone Systems. He has more than 20 years of experience in cyber security, IT networking and software. Prior to joining Milestone in 2015, Benjamin was Managing Director for Asia Pacific for Guidance Software, a world leading company in digital investigative solutions. In this role, he scaled up the organization by driving their business through a combination of channel partners and security vendors resulting in record sales.
Benjamin has also worked with Computer Associates, Entrust, Cisco and McAfee, running their operations in Asia Pacific. He holds a Master of Science in Business Administration from the University of Adelaide in Australia, and has attended the Graduate Program in International Management from Stanford University Graduate School of Business in the US.