A matter of trust

How technology can help get buildings ready for a new normal after the pandemic.

In recent months, millions of people all over the world have been forced to stay at home in order to curb the spread of COVID-19. The economy is now slowly getting up and running again in many regions. However, the virus has changed our view of the world. Public places, buildings, and stores have become suspect. How safe can we feel at the office or while shopping anymore? Companies are facing the question of how to rebuild customer trust in their infrastructure, in their buildings. Technology can help.

The global outbreak of COVID-19 has shaken up many former certainties. All at once, nothing is safe anymore, at least outside our own four walls. COVID-19 lurks in the shop on the corner, in restaurants, at the workplace. We now must maintain social distancing wherever people congregate, and in places where people get close to each other, they’re required to wear protective masks.

 

Based on everything known to date, the coronavirus will not simply disappear. It will remain a threat at least until a vaccine becomes available. This means that many of the measures taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 are likely to remain necessary. 

When will it be fun to go shopping again?

Once stores are open again and employees can return to their jobs, some things will be different than before the crisis. Many people are wondering: When will it be fun to go shopping again? When will I no longer have to wear a mask just to get a haircut? And when will I feel comfortable and safe at work again? 

We’ve had to radically change our social behavior in just a few weeks. At the same time, the way that we view locations and how we interact with infrastructure has changed: Many people think twice before deciding whether it’s safe to press the elevator button or grasp a doorknob. In short, the coronavirus has also made us mistrustful of our physical surroundings. We’ve lost some of the trust that we used to feel almost instinctively for public places and buildings. How can we recover this trust?

Building trust in infrastructure

One thing is clear: Many people long to clean out their improvised home offices and share at least some of their workdays with colleagues again. Companies face a difficult task: They must make every effort to ensure that coworkers and customers not only feel safe (again) on company premises but also feel comfortable there. 

This requires concepts that make certain people can follow hygiene rules and maintain social distancing. It requires precautions aimed at preparing for infection, including the ability to conduct contact tracing of other people an infected person may have met. And it requires communication. 

 

Building technology can support these tasks. Below is a list of approaches that can be important in the “new normal” for protecting people and restoring their faith in buildings.

Identifying suspected cases early on 

To prevent infections, it’s important to identify suspected cases at an early stage. Technology can help here. Thermal imaging cameras can efficiently and effortlessly measure the body temperature of the people who enter a building. This measurement is contactless and can be taken at a distance of up to two meters. Personnel can handle the device safely. Advanced solutions input the measurement results directly into the company-specific video and access control systems.

Enabling social distancing

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, security guards have been stationed in front of many buildings; their duties include counting the number of people entering the building. In many cases, this task can just as easily be performed by the access control system. Many systems allow maximum values to be set for individual areas within the building. Once this maximum limit has been reached, no one can enter the area until another person has left. This ensures that the required minimum distance between people can always be maintained.

 

Alternatively, or in addition to this, sensor data can be used to manage occupancy figures. Employees can check in real time to see what areas are already occupied by colleagues via a workplace app.

 

Usage patterns can also be analyzed over the medium-term using sensor data. Employers can refurnish or repurpose areas on this basis in order to unburden high-traffic areas and make social distancing easier.

Establishing contactless interaction with the infrastructure

Because viruses can be transmitted through contaminated surfaces, appropriate hygiene measures are needed. Like contactless payments with a smartphone, technology can help make many other interactions contact-free. Employees could use a mobile device to call an elevator, operate blinds, control the lights, and set the room temperature.

Optimizing the cleaning of buildings

Cleaning buildings in the ‘new normal ‘plays a key role in preventing the spread of the virus. Smart buildings offer ways to make this more efficient and more effective. Based on anonymized sensor data supplied by the building, it’s possible to determine what shared areas must be cleaned and disinfected and how often.

Ensuring optimal air quality

Because COVID-19 is known to be transmittable through the air, it’s important for ventilation systems to be correctly set and to operate reliably. To protect service and maintenance personnel as effectively as possible, it’s advisable to monitor and operate HVAC systems remotely. Many existing HVAC systems offer this type of functionality. If the company lacks the necessary personnel to handle this task, it makes sense to outsource it to an external service provider: This provides 24-hour service with a minimum of on-site maintenance work.

Ensuring contact tracing

Even when the number of cases decreases in many countries, companies must be prepared for an employee being diagnosed with COVID-19. In this situation, the places where the person spent time prior to their diagnosis can be determined based on their badge history. This allows colleagues who might have been infected to be identified, notified, and isolated if necessary. The access control system can be used to temporarily block areas of the building that could be contaminated in order to prevent more infections.

Targeted communication 

Communication with employees plays a key role when it comes to restoring trust. With the flood of information surrounding COVID-19, it’s advisable to limit communication to a single channel. This channel should be selected so that all building users can be reached as quickly as possible. In many cases, therefore, it’s reasonable to incorporate employee smartphones into these types of communication concepts.

 

Workplace apps can be used for this purpose, at least in office buildings. Prior to the crisis, these apps served primarily to allow interaction between a building and its users and to make it easier to find one’s way around the building. However, they could now be employed to provide employees with the latest information.

 

This approach has several advantages over other communication channels. The communication can be tailored to the specific location and reach building users over their mobile phones, so that they always have all the rules close at hand. Push notifications can provide important updates, while adjustments to processes or new business hours for the cafeteria can be communicated in the same way. Workplace apps also offer ways to support other measures: for example, using them to reserve workstations ahead of time allows for better planning of building occupancy. And that in turn makes it easier to comply with social distancing rules.

More on the subject

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05/12/2020

Picture credits: Siemens AG

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