With more than a year into the COVID-19 lockdown, companies are now used to work-from-home practices. Virtual meetings are now the new normal, with many speculating that even when the lockdown restrictions end, employees might not return to the office.
Although most employees are now used to doing business from home, they might not be so quick to embrace it as the new normal. In fact, a recent survey we conducted in the UK shows that the desire to return to the office has increased for one-third of the population. Working from home is comforting, but returning to the office means a better work-life balance, more in-person collaboration, and a boosted team morale.
As enthusiastic as employees might be to get back to the old normal, the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic are still looming. According to our research, more than 50% of workers are afraid to return to the office due to concerns about cleanliness and COVID-related security. Employees have now become hyper-aware of areas that they usually did not pay much attention to -- bathroom stalls and shared kitchens have now become dangerous territories.
Pioneering real estate and facilities management companies are turning to sensor technology to help mitigate some of those COVID-related risks. This technology is accessible to workplaces of all sizes. The sooner managers realize the potential of sensors in the workplace, the sooner they can implement them to ensure a safe return to work for their concerned employees.
Having a smart workplace means almost all aspects of the office’s operations, maintenance, ambient conditions, and occupancy are optimized. This, in turn, increases workplace sustainability, productivity, and employee health & well-being, as well as optimizes the office’s resources. In a London workspace, for example, sensors helped reduce electricity consumption by 32% in 5 months.
In the context of COVID-19, sensor technology is being implemented to ensure social distancing and optimize and validate cleaning schedules. The solution for a safer workplace relies on proximity, temperature, and touch sensors.
Proximity sensors are placed on doors and trigger whenever a door opens. By placing a proximity sensor in bathroom stalls, for example, the cleaning staff can get insights on how often employees use the restroom. Staff can therefore clean whenever there is a need, based on actual bathroom occupancy instead of a manual cleaning routine.
Proximity sensor on bathroom door tracks bathroom occupancy
Temperature sensors are stuck underneath chairs and desks. Whenever an employee sits down, the temperature sensors will pick up a change in temperature. This data can be the basis of space occupancy heatmaps, a visualization of workplace occupancy. Knowing how many employees are occupying the office space or meeting rooms at any given time can not only help you determine their working style but will also help empower data-based decisions regarding a socially distanced office layout.
Temperature sensors stuck underneath desks give a full overview of office occupancy
Touch sensors placed in restrooms and around the office can help you gather feedback from employees and validate cleaning. For example, you can create a feedback panel in bathrooms that allows employees to provide feedback on restroom cleanliness with the touch of a button. This easily validates your cleaning processes and helps the efforts of the cleaning staff. The buttons can be customized as feedback panels to the needs of your office and your people.
A workplace retrofitted with sensors is data-driven and actionable towards mitigating COVID-19 risks concerning the return to the office. But no matter the benefits, sensor technology should in no way make employees feel uncomfortable. Employee privacy should not be sacrificed to ensure safety.
Only half of the people we surveyed were familiar with workplace sensor technology that monitors the environment and desk occupancy. After being introduced to the technology’s potential benefits, 65.6% of those surveyed said that they would be comfortable with the tech being introduced to their workplace. These results are also consistent with data published from our partner Infogrid.
And on the issue of privacy concern? An overwhelming majority (74.8%) of respondents would have no concerns about the application of sensors in the workplace to help them feel safer.
That expectation also falls in line with how our technology is designed: data will show cleaning staff that the bathroom has been used 10 times, but will give no indication of who used it. That’s the same for meeting room use and any ambient condition data that sensors gather.
A large concern for employees and the companies they work for is also the privacy and security of the data itself. Sensor solutions implemented in the workplace must address some of the weak points of IoT security. We have designed our own security protocol, SecureDataShot, to alleviate data security fears. SecureDataShow is an end-to-end sensor architecture that ensures all data flowing is encrypted, from the sensor to the cloud.
At the same time, employees need to feel comfortable and in control of the technology that their office implements. 60% of the survey respondents would want their employer to keep them in the loop about the adoption of sensor technology and give them an opportunity to provide feedback. Thanks to touch buttons and other mechanisms that work for your workplace, you can give them the tools they need to feel safe and comfortable with technology.
Soon, we will all return to the office. With the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic still at bay, more than half of employees are still reluctant to abandon their home offices. It is now up to employers to provide the tools, technologies, and data to reassure employees’ health & well-being and make them feel safe and comfortable in the workplace.
Sensor technology is now widely accessible for workplaces of all sizes to make sure environmental conditions, occupancy, and cleaning are optimized to cater to their people. By allowing employees to have a say in how and where technology is implemented, employers can have the best of both worlds: safety and peace of mind.
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