The current COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the way the majority of industries conduct their business. Governments reacted to the pandemic outbreak by implementing strict restrictions that include social distancing and complete lockdowns. Since the global situation is volatile and changes are inevitable, businesses gradually shifted to remote working models.

According to the FlexJobs survey, 51% of respondents reported they feel more productive while working at home. People slowly started to adjust to the new working environment, but more than 60% of employees expect to return to their offices in the first quarter of 2021.

The rapid development of vaccines and effective restrictions resulted in partial control of virus spreading, which presents the opportunity for employees to return to their offices. Leaders must create and implement a strategy for the safe returning of employees to the office.

Here are 5 effective ways technology can support a safe return of employees to the office.

Reduce occupancy with the help of effective scheduling and advanced apps

It is unrealistic to expect full office occupancy overnight, so it's crucial to gradually introduce employees with safety protocols. For instance, social distancing is a new reality of shared workplaces, and it may be tough to find an effective way to implement social distancing without losing resources.

Did you know that 69% of employees are concerned about job security, and 87% of companies changed the way they schedule working in shifts to avoid high space occupancy? Smart scheduling that allows employees to work in shifts reduces office occupancy while following social distancing policies. It requires strategic activity and task planning to understand optimal resource needs. On top of that, it reduces the number of people sharing the same area during the shift, reducing the chance of virus outbreak.

There is a growing trend in office apps that focus on providing a safe working environment by supporting basic administration tasks. Also, some apps focus on occupancy tracking, which shows which areas are packed with people in real time. That way, organizations can effectively plan area usage and cleaning activities.

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Focus on a Cost-Effective Cleaning Strategy

Did you know that the demand for cleaners grew by 75% in March 2020 compared to the previous year?

Since COVID-19 spreads through direct transmission, a sterile working environment is more important than ever. Cleaning workers must ensure all the areas are disinfected and clean, especially common areas such as meeting rooms or cafeterias. Effective scheduling and cleaning go hand in hand since there must be breaks between group meetings that allow enough time for sterilizing the whole area.

There are various smart technological solutions for cleaning strategy planning that ensure the highest safety and sterilization of the office area. The basic principle of IoT utilizes intelligent sensors that report specific states, such as area occupancy, which gives a clear picture of how many employees used the specific office in a particular period.

For instance, implementing these sensors in common areas allows organizations to access real-time data and plan effective cleaning activities. If a room is occupied 50% of the time, compared to another occupied only 10% of the time, then it's logical which one to prioritize.

The prioritization in cleaning allows better resource allocation, which ultimately reduces the costs of cleaning services―which grew astoundingly after the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Utilize technology for business meetings

No one can expect the immediate return to normal that was before the COVID-19 outbreak. Videoconferencing and collaboration platforms experienced a surge in users during the pandemic, mainly because of the shift to remote working. The question is: will these platforms stay relevant in a post-COVID world?

Since the businesses most likely will adopt a hybrid model, which allows greater flexibility in scheduling and occupancy, there is a good indication that these platforms will only get more advanced. Even if a single employee gets infected, it disrupts business operations drastically, and everyone wants to avoid that. Social distancing restrictions forbid large gatherings, and physical meetings pose a risk for employee and organization safety.

Using online communication and collaboration platforms reduces the risk of spreading the virus internally, while effectively sharing information among teams. Businesses can also save on office space and cleaning services since there will be a reduced need for conference rooms.

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Invest in smart offices

Smart offices equipped with sensors and gadgets that support employees and organizations are the future of the workspace. It is resource-heavy for organizing and keeping track of office occupancy all the time, especially when social distancing is required. Many companies brainstorm creative solutions to keep office workers following the latest safety guidelines and keeping them healthy.

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For instance, gadgets such as smart wearables are being developed, and they notify people once they breach social distancing policies. If two workers get too close in a shared space, the wearable will notify people to increase the distance.

On the other hand, temperature screening cameras became the new normal, since they are quite an effective way to measure someone's temperature and notify officials. High body temperature is one of the most common symptoms of the virus, and identifying and denying access to someone with a high body temperature in real time can stop further virus spreading.

Utilize the potential of artificial intelligence

COVID-19 has shaken the world by disrupting global economies, health systems and taking human lives. However, the pandemic speeds up developing technologies and finding practical ways to use technology to control the spread of the virus.

Artificial intelligence is getting more advanced, and multiple effective solutions support the control of virus spreading:

  • Supporting restrictions and policies—With the use of advanced cameras, AI can help businesses analyze and report crucial data such as body temperature, the distance between employees, and whether they are wearing face masks. Companies can analyze provided data and decide which office spaces are critical for breaching the restrictions and acting accordingly.
  • Analyzing employee well-being—Employees' mental health is crucial, not only for the individual but also for the whole organization. The constant fear of getting sick and various social restrictions can make a massive burden on everyone's mental health. AI can analyze internal communication using key terms, and indicate if there is a sign of anxiety, depression, or high-stress levels that could lead to burnout.
  • Contact tracing—Organizations should plan the possibility that some employees will get infected. AI solutions integrated into a smart office can help create a contact map to analyze who had contacts with the infected employees. It can help organizations identify employees who are at risk of getting infected and stop spreading the virus on time.

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Technology solutions will make returning to the office safer and easier

After getting used to remote working, returning to the office is stressful for both organizations and employees. Organizations should ensure the safest working environment for the employees to avoid a further virus outbreak. Technology plays a crucial role in the transition as it can effectively mitigate the risks of spreading the virus, while keeping the key processes operational.

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Derek Jones

VP of Enterprise Strategy, Americas, for Deputy

Derek spearheads key initiatives at Deputy, a global workforce management platform for employee scheduling, timesheets and communication. With a focus on workforce, Derek helps business owners and workforce leaders simplify employment law compliance, keep labor cost in line and build award-winning workplaces. Derek has over 16 years' experience in delivering data-driven sales and marketing strategies to SaaS companies like MarketSource and Griswold Home Care.

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