Is Your Office Technology Ready for the New Normal?
All eyes are on the states and cities that are beginning to lift their lockdown and stay-at-home orders across the country amidst the coronavirus pandemic. While we are still evaluating how effective social distancing and reopening tactics are by state and across various industries. it’s vital to implement new technology that enhances safety in the workplace before returning to business as usual. OSHA, the CDC, as well as the US government, are encouraging companies to create coronavirus workplace safety guidelines based on their recommendations to prevent the continued spread of COVID-19, and reduce its impact on employees. Beyond the increased hand-washing and face mask-wearing, this checklist will help organizations identify where they can upgrade their security protocols to ensure a safer work environment before reopening post-lockdown.
The Workplace After COVID-19: Preparing for the New Normal
The “new normal” is a phrase you’ve probably been hearing a lot lately, but is your workplace truly ready for it? In addition to the usual office security audit, like protocols for cybersecurity, surveillance tools, and regular maintenance, there are additional safety measures businesses can take to reduce the spread of coronavirus in the workplace. Preparing a COVID-19 office safety checklist will help you determine what important updates you may need to make in your building to ensure the health of your staff.
1. Reducing Common Touch Points
With all the information we have on the novel coronavirus, the most prevalent method of reducing transmission is to not come in contact with the virus in the first place. Office buildings are prime places for diseases like this to spread, since there are many different people coming and going throughout the day, and most have to pass through common entry points like lobbies, security checkpoints, and elevators. As we start to go back to work after coronavirus, there are additional safety protocol measures your business can take to provide a safer work environment for your employees from the moment they enter the premises.
Consider how your employees access their offices: Do you have parking structures with buttons that everyone presses? Communal elevators in your lobby? PIN pads to access storage and high-security spaces? How about office doors with handles each person has to touch? In a post-coronavirus world, all of these seemingly mundane building features suddenly become a potential harborer of dangerous germs. Here are a few ways to use innovative technology to reduce these common touch points:
• Update your door access control methods to a hands-free option. Newer security systems that use Bluetooth technology and motion-detection features offer contactless unlocking, eliminating extra touchpoints at high-traffic access areas like lobbies, elevators and entryways.
• Install automatic doors. These completely contactless options eliminate the concern of touching a door handle, and are convenient for busy locations like lobbies. If you just have one or two doors that you need to address, you can install automatic door opener hardware made for a single door. If you use a cloud-based access control system, it’s possible to integrate with the door opener hardware to add remote management to your list of extra security measures.
• Switching to mobile credentials and cloud-based security systems allows you to manage building security and users remotely—a smart post COVID-19 precaution, as it reduces the need for keycards and physical badges. Not only are keycards, fobs and RFID badges prone to misuse and misplacement, they require the user to touch them in order to enter a building, not to mention guest passes are often a shared credential. With Openpath mobile credentials, the user just needs their smartphone to enter (which they’re less likely to lend to coworkers, or forget at home); and with Bluetooth-enabled readers, you can employ motion-activated features to unlock doors. Security and convenience are not mutually exclusive with a cloud-based system; 24/7 remote management is perfect for accommodating work-from-home schedules, but still allowing employees, deliveries, and maintenance to access the building when nobody is there.
• If your building uses two-factor authentication to keep access restricted, such as fingerprint scanners and PIN pads, you may want to take a second look before reopening for business. These touch points are hard to keep clean between users, and could put employees at greater risk for contracting the coronavirus. However, through innovative technology updates, you can still employ two-factor authentication methods, without the extra touch point. Consider a mobile system like Openpath, that requires a smartphone to unlock a door. You can activate multi-factor authentication using the phone’s existing biometric readers (FaceID or fingerprint scan), or require the user to type in their phone’s passcode, in order to trigger the unlocking mechanism. In this usage case, your building is still adhering to strict access control, but the user has only had to touch their personal device in order to unlock the door, reducing risk across the board.
• To further reduce the things we touch most in the office, invest in more automated and voice-activated technology. Being able to manage daily operations from a personal device can eliminate common touch points throughout the workspace. In the example of cloud-based security systems, each admin can manage the platform from their own device, rather than one centralized workstation, like a reception desk or localized server. Voice-activated AI has the ability to schedule meetings, send emails, fill out forms, and even make a cup of coffee — and you don’t have to touch a thing.
• Automating your office tasks is key to successful reopening after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. From ordering office supplies, to scheduling conferences, to your lighting and HVAC systems, automations will save you time and money, and reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission in your office. Software integrations with AI are better than ever, with platforms that can seamlessly automate everyday processes, even when you aren’t there. Ensure your platform is secure via encrypted technology on the cloud to keep security risks low, as well as offer greater flexibility for administrators.
2. Designing for Social Distancing
Putting more distance between people has proven to be key to keeping the transmission of COVID-19 under control. With social distancing becoming the new normal, and a recommendation from the US government in their guidelines for reopening businesses, we can expect the layout of our offices to change as well. Larger spaces, fewer people, and the advent of the “six-feet office” are all starting to make their way into post-COVID-19 offices around the world. You can implement similar techniques in your office with the following workplace social distancing policies.
• Reconfigure your worksites to add more distance between employees. To adhere to social distancing guidelines, space desks at least six feet apart, and discourage shared equipment or workstations. To reinforce the new policies, you can use physical barriers and floor decals to help guide employees or customers on where to walk to maintain the recommended distance. Putting up clear barriers at reception and between open desks can also help minimize the spread of germs in the office, without alienating your employees.
• Create flexible worksites that accommodate remote employees, as well as in-office staff. Allow for fewer people in the office by reducing on-site meetings, and discourage outside visitors unless absolutely necessary. As studies have shown that collaboration is key to success, make sure your meeting spaces and workstations are set up with the best technology for smarter remote collaboration, including better cameras, interactive web-based meeting tools, and internet that can keep up.
• Shift your working schedules. As you begin to reopen, stagger work schedules to minimize the number of employees in a space at one time. You can implement daily staggered shifts, or have a percentage of your staff work remotely for one week, then come into the office the next week. If access and security are a concern for changing shifts, switching to cloud-based software can help you easily manage schedules on the fly, and unlock the office remotely if you need to. If possible, continue to offer remote or digital services, and change to curbside pickup and delivery options to minimize physical contact.
• Traditional security systems may not be well-equipped for a post-coronavirus office environment. Now more than ever, you should be aware of who is coming and going from your facility, be able to track that data in real-time, and react swiftly in case of an emergency. With remote work and staggered shifts likely to continue, if your security system doesn’t allow you to easily control access to your facility remotely and offer better security for your employees, it may be time for an update.
3. Take Sanitation Seriously
The best way to mitigate risk in your office is to remove threats to safety and security. As we start to go back to work after coronavirus, cleanliness and maintenance efforts should be evaluated carefully, and likely increased. Identify where and how coronavirus could be transmitted at your workplace. Consider all the high-traffic areas of your facility: door handles, lobbies, bathrooms, break rooms, and shared offices. Then make a plan to mitigate risk in those areas, both prior to reopening the office and as a new normal routine.
• Prior to returning to the office, consider installing high-efficiency air filters and better ventilation systems. While this may seem like a big project, research has shown that insufficient airflow can lead to a higher concentration of viral material in interior spaces like offices. A better HVAC system can help reduce that viral load, and make your office just a little safer, and will likely save you money in the long run.
• Meet with your maintenance team (remotely or from a distance!) to discuss how you will increase the frequency of routine deep cleanings. Sanitizing the workplace should be a top concern as you look to reopen your business, with a focus on high-touch surfaces, such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails, and doorknobs. Make sure proper cleaning and sanitizing practices are put in place between shifts and schedule changes, too.
Key Takeaways for Reopening Your Business Safely
While it may seem daunting to adjust your workplace policies in order to reopen your business during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s vital to approach the return to work with an abundance of caution for the health and safety of your employees. To ensure both your facilities and staff are prepared for a post-coronavirus work environment, new workplace safety guidelines should be established to mitigate risk and reduce the transmission of germs between employees. While personal hygiene plays a key role in preventing the virus from spreading, there are innovative technology advancements and techniques businesses can utilize, including updating to hands-free door access methods, reconfiguring offices to allow for social distancing in the workplace, and increasing disinfection and sanitization frequency in high-touch areas.