Regardless of location or demographics, we have all had to change our lives in some way in response to the pandemic. And that’s a good thing because experts believe that Covid-19 is here to stay. With social distancing, remote work, and various other adjustments in between, we should be able to deal with this threat while the search for a vaccine draws to a close.
That would be a great thing, except that economies can’t continue to function indefinitely in lockdown. Not all jobs can be performed remotely. Sooner or later, those businesses that have temporarily closed due to the risk of transmission will have to try to reopen even before a vaccine is available. How can we make this transition period safer?
Adding another layer
Humans can change their behavior. We can follow the recommended protocols and wear face masks, bring disinfectant and tissues, and observe physical distancing when we go out.
But relying on human compliance always involves a degree of chance. Accidents might happen; a face mask can be improperly worn or damaged. If someone collapses in the street, is everyone supposed to ignore them? Someone will have to rush to their aid and break the distancing rule. Small incidents like that amplify the level of risk.
In an industrial facility, you can employ human operators, but there are certain things you don’t leave to chance. Temperature controls are there to ensure that conditions are always within the desired parameters. Automation replaces manual labor for repetitive, precision-driven tasks, minimizing errors and waste products.
Thus, technology can step in and complement improvements to our behavior. Workplaces can make use of tech-enabled solutions to add a further layer of safety measures to their operations. Get it right, and you could be back in business. In a world where other infectious diseases will continue to be a threat, this could spell the difference between permanent closure and continued survival for many companies.
Remote work isn’t enough
For many people, technology has already played a vital role in enabling work to continue while reducing the risk of Covid-19 transmission. Advances such as cloud computing and collaborative platforms were in a fledgling state as little as a decade ago. Today, they are the staples of teams working remotely.
And yet for many people, remote work is turning out to be a somewhat unsatisfying solution. Nearly two-thirds of employees indicate that they would like to be part of a hybrid workforce in the future. They wish to retain the flexibility of remote work while enjoying the benefits of regular social interaction.
For a company to make that possible, and thereby attract more top talent, remote work can’t be the end-all solution. It’s only the beginning. Other options in technology can be explored to accommodate these hybrid working arrangements.
Exploring further options
The first area of opportunity lies in monitoring and analyzing human behavior in the office. Covid-19 and many other diseases can spread through contact with infected surfaces. Using sensors, video monitors, and other tracking devices, it’s possible to gather data on which areas are experiencing high traffic and human contact. People can then be prompted to disinfect and reminded to observe physical distancing in these areas.
The use of biometrics in technology is nothing new. But as workplaces become more aware of the frequency of contact and the dangers associated with it, contactless biometrics will come into play more often. Instead of fingerprint scanners, facial recognition technology can be used to regulate access and verify employee attendance. This will allow people to report for work without having to touch anything other than their personal effects and what’s been assigned to their workstations.
Tech can step up in other ways to make the office space safer. Robot vacuums are available that can automatically navigate floors; newer models can sanitize surfaces as well. Indoor air quality can be improved as well with better tech. Many buildings use mechanical ventilation to lower costs, which only brings in 20% outdoor air; the rest is recirculated, increasing the risk of cross-contamination when many occupants are present. Upgrading to systems using displacement ventilation and HEPA filters will minimize the contaminants in the indoor air.
Finally, every company seeking to resume operations in the new normal will have to address the problem of potential employee sickness. Anyone experiencing symptoms could spread contamination; asymptomatic employees might also be carriers. And tech will feature prominently in any solution that companies will adopt in this regard.
Handling such situations will be subject to each company’s discretion as well as any emerging new safety guidelines. But giving employees access to remote health consultation services and apps to monitor their status will be another way in which tech can enable the modern hybrid workforce.