Back in March, seemingly overnight, we were tasked with figuring out how to work virtually, while remaining productive and efficient. Now, businesses must decide when and how to reopen their doors in a way that keeps everyone safe.
Many companies plan to support a remote workforce for the foreseeable future, but others, such as retailers, medical offices, and restaurants, need employees to return to operate fully.
Ironically, many businesses have implemented touch technologies in recent years, such as self-service kiosks, conference room booking screens outside the door, sign-in tablets, keypad entry, and biometric fingerprint scans, to name a few. Every one of these conveniences looks like a health risk in today’s Coronavirus environment.
So, the burning question is: how do you safely bring people back, and how does technology play a part in that?
Enter the concept of a touchless, contactless workplace. There are many technologies already available that are gesture-controlled, voice-controlled, and Bluetooth-enabled. We will undoubtedly see even more developed in the near future. Converting your space will require short- and long-term planning as well as smart investing. The new technologies must be intuitive to ensure quick adoption without a steep learning curve.
At a minimum, every business should plan to judiciously spread hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes throughout their office or store. Owners should also consider supplying masks and gloves if these will be required. While it may seem obvious how these items should be used, we recommend creating formal policies and educating employees about what behaviors are expected upon their return (e.g., frequent cleaning and social distancing).
Converting Touch Technology to Touchless
Here are some common high-touch points you should consider addressing.
Shared collaborative screens. Interactive building directories (a.k.a, wayfinding kiosks), digital whiteboards in the conference room, vending machines, and interactive lobby displays all require users to touch and swipe. Gesture-controlled and Bluetooth-enabled solutions are already on the market.
Shared workstations and peripherals. In some environments, employees must share space and tools (such as a computer). In addition to requiring employees to disinfect their areas at the end of a shift or before a break, consider supplying individuals with peripherals. For example, provide everyone with a wireless mouse and keyboard, a wireless headset that will pair with phones, and, if possible, purchase additional peripherals such as printers and scanners so that smaller groups of people are sharing. Purchasing extra non-tech supplies such as staplers and pens is also recommended to reduce the need to share.
Employee Time Clocks. Some companies use a time clock system that identifies employees by handprint or fingerprint. Consider a touchless solution that utilizes face recognition, an RFID proximity badge, or small keyfob for clocking in. The software automatically chooses “in,” “out,” or “lunch” punch types, ensuring no one touches the screen.
Guest check-in procedures. Leverage technology that allows you to email guests and patients before their visit, asking them to pre-register online. Still need them to sign-in? Implement a system that will enable users and employees to complete the process using their personal devices. If it’s necessary to use a company tablet or kiosk, be sure to sanitize it between each use. For those who are still reliant on paper, provide two cups of pens – one ‘clean’ and one ‘dirty.’
Conference room scheduling. Many buildings have conference room booking screens outside of each room, quickly allowing people to check availability and book a meeting time. Eliminate the need to touch these by using a solution that integrates with your calendar app (e.g., Outlook) or one that can be accessed online using a personal computer or mobile device.
Common areas. Shared kitchens, bathrooms, and mailrooms tend to be high traffic areas and can be breeding grounds for germs. Install touchless solutions, such as motion sensing light switches, gesture-controlled locks, touchless faucets, self-flushing toilets, automatic soap and hand sanitizer dispensers, and trash cans with foot pedals.
Entry points. Your goal is to limit people touching door handles and keypads as much as possible. To grant secure access, consider a card swipe system or the use of smart locks that can be unlocked via an employee’s personal device. For general access, install motion sensing or gesture-controlled doors.
Touchless thermometers. Many businesses are checking employees’ temperatures before work, as the first line of defense. Whose job will it be to perform these temperature checks? If you wall mount a thermometer for people to self-administer, how will they be held accountable? There are numerous touchless thermometers on the market, some of which are tied into an online reporting system that captures the person’s picture, time of entry, and temperature upon arrival, so there is a record.
Payment terminals. The U.S. lags behind many other countries when it comes to cashless payments, such as Apple Pay, Paypal, Square, Venmo, and others. Also, many U.S. merchants still require the additional step of signing a screen or paper receipt or punching in a pin; other countries do not. Consider your checkout procedures. Can your terminals be upgraded to accept contactless credit cards that allow users to wave the card near your payment terminal? Can you accept cashless, mobile payments, and subsequently email receipts?
Social distancing requirements will likely mean having to reconfigure offices and space out desks. Make sure all the necessary equipment remains securely connected to your network. You may be surprised to learn that the phone and data ports are not accessible. One solution is to use a wireless connection, but you need to be aware of certain dangers. Make sure your wireless network capabilities are as robust as its wired counterpart and remember that securing a wireless network is different than securing a hard-wired network.
Long-Term Considerations for the Touchless Office
Some of the more advanced, longer-term technologies to consider include speech recognition (voice control) and facial recognition. Speech recognition technologies are already a staple in nearly every home, with Alexa, Google, Cortana, and Siri doing everything from ordering in pizza to controlling our home environment. Think about how this can scale in your workplace.
Connectivity is critical when relying on so many new technologies. To enable a truly touchless office, you will need a fast, reliable, and secure internet connection. Speak with a qualified Managed Service Provider or IT professional to ensure that your entire network is scaled in a way that it can support your long-term objectives.
A Note About Network Security
Another big area of concern revolves around network security. Hackers know that home networks are rarely as secure as business networks. Thus, they have been focusing their attention on home users, hoping to gain easy entry into a company’s network through an unsecured wi-fi.
Here’s the problem. While working from home, employees have used personal devices, company-supplied computers, or may have saved documents to a flash drive. It’s also possible that family members used the company-supplied equipment. A single infected document can take down your entire network, and grind business to a halt.
So how will you ensure every device and peripheral used from home has not been compromised? We highly recommend speaking with your IT professional about scanning and maintaining every device before reconnecting them to the network or uploading any documents.
It’s time to rethink our office spaces. Planning for the new normal will take planning and smart investments. Walk through an average day and record every touchpoint. Begin with the moment you drive into the parking lot or garage to when you leave and lock up your space, and everything in between. Focus first on the areas that will provide the most benefit to the highest number of people. Involve your teams by asking them what tasks they are most concerned about and what’s most important to them. And finally, put together a technology plan that includes a post-COVID reopening plan, but also plans for the next few years.
Don’t hesitate to contact us if we can help in any way.