It is clear by now that 2020 will be considered the year of the pandemic. And while we’ve all been preoccupied by the outbreak in our personal lives, at our workplaces and in our media, it is important to dedicate some time to taking a step back and reviewing how our understanding of the pandemic, and our responses, have shifted over time.
At the beginning of the year, everyone was hopeful and optimistic, and even when scientists were warning about a truly long-term catastrophe, many of us were convinced the disruption would only be short-term: maybe a month or two.
But here we are, several months into the heat of it, and by now, it seems that most people have accepted that this will possibly be a challenge well into next year.
That has meant that our understanding of what good responses are has changed too. What was once a strict lockdown has been replaced with a need for a more tempered type of risk mitigation. Small gatherings of up to six people are now okay in most parts of the country, travelling is okay as long as you stick to the destinations included in the travel corridors or self-isolate for two weeks on return.
We’ve also seen changes in how we address the risk at our workplaces during the course of the outbreak. Many businesses cannot commit to remote work for as long as would be ideal, whether it is because their work is too hands-on or their middle managers are unable to handle a remote workforce. For employers, whether they are estate agencies, software companies, financial services, or factories, providing a virus-safe workplace has quickly become a critically high priority. These companies have had to accept that there is no single easy solution to workplace safety and that some employees will feel unable to return to the office given the risks inherent with social settings.
The responses have been varied, relying on multiple levels of safety and virus prevention strategies operating in sync with one another including temperature checks, health screenings, touchless access, transparent screens, and contact tracing.
One of the big challenges building owners are facing is that the more expensive a safety system is, and the more cooperation it takes between landlord and tenant, the harder it becomes to justify temporary solutions that won’t outlast the pandemic. The clear screens might be great for keeping airborne particles down, but once the outbreak is over, they will probably all be removed.
One solution that has both present validity and long-term value is adapting to a touchless or ‘hands-free’ office, which allows you to take a proactive stance and reduce the risk of contamination between employees.
Touchless access control
Touchless access control systems that allow employees, clients, guests and delivery people to access a property without touching locks, elevator buttons or even door handles are the kind of thing that tenants specifically asked for even before the outbreak began. Not only are they part of a complete transmission reduction strategy, they are also more convenient and secure than the legacy technology of cards, badges, and fobs.
Moreover, touchless access systems have a lot of benefits to add, other than virus-safety. They can do a lot more than just reducing friction when entering or exiting a property. They can also give certain managers the power to add or revoke building access for employees or visitors remotely, track who entered or exited the building and help control the number of people in a given space at any time to facilitate social distancing.
The threat of contamination is at its greatest in communal areas. This is especially true of bathrooms. While creating fully contactless toilets might be a step too far at present, touchless bathroom fixtures have become an increasingly common feature at the workplace. Motion-sensor touchless taps, as well as soap and towel dispensers, provide employees with a safe way to clean their hands. The latter maybe particularly important, as some studies suggest paper or cloth towels are more effective at removing bacteria than basic air dryers.
Hands-free sanitation stations
Even with advances in hands-free technology, there are times when touching surfaces is inevitable in the course of an average working day. The final step in upgrading to a contactless workspace is to install hands-free sanitiser stations in high-traffic areas and at common touch points throughout the office so they’re readily accessible.
These types of functionalities have both a short- and a long-term value. Touchless access control, for example, can help enforce social distancing during the pandemic, but in a virus-free world, it can help save people searching for an open conference room. It’s not enough to offer a workplace solution that just cuts down on the risk anymore. Now, more than six months into the outbreak, we need systems that both reduce risk and also benefit our day-to-day workplace lives outside of the context of a pandemic. We might have had unrealistic expectations when the outbreak first started, but it’s not too late to make changes that could save lives in the future.