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Inside Innovation: Occupancy technology keeps head office safe without private intrusion

John Bleasby
Inside Innovation: Occupancy technology keeps head office safe without private intrusion

Contractors across the country have been dealing with a “new normal” as projects have been remobilized over the past few weeks.

The focus has been on improved sanitary conditions, safe distancing, wearing of masks, body temperature and symptom checks and the monitoring of worker movement, supplemented with technology to ensure onsite construction workers are safe from virus infection.

However, companies need to ensure that steps are being taken to protect the employees back at head office who are also returning to work.

Standing out among the blitz of medical advice concerning COVID-19 coming from federal and provincial health authorities has been the importance of safe distancing. At a minimum, management must find a way to keep everyone at least two metres apart. Short of giving each employee their own office, simple barriers would seem to be an easy solution.

However, if there is a lesson to be learned about how companies might operate their office functions in the future, it’s that working from home is, in many cases, a viable option. However, not every function within a construction, engineering or design firm can be adapted to work-at-home processes. Furthermore, while some are nervous about a return to work, not every employee wants to continue working from home for all sorts of personal and professional reasons. A combination of the two may be the answer.

Technology can help.  

For example, devices like video cameras can monitor employee movement and proximity within office spaces and help with cleaning and decontamination scheduling. Various mobile tracking devices and apps can observe worker location, even around the clock. Of course, these all give rise to the delicate issue of employee privacy.

In fact, effective occupancy and employee monitoring is already available that is neither intrusive nor uses cameras. For example, U.S.-based tech company Density offers an occupancy analytics platform called Safe that uses proprietary sensors and algorithms to accurately and anonymously count people in real time.

It does this without capturing any Personally Identifiable Information (PII), measuring only how people use physical space such as workspaces, cafeterias and meeting rooms. The program triggers SMS or visual warnings when pre-set density limits are exceeded.

Organizations coming out of the COVID pandemic wishing to combine work-at-home methodologies with staggered in-office time need to consider flexible-use workspaces. The term is called “hot-desking,” a system that allows multiple workers to use a single, non-designated work station on a first-come basis. It’s not a new idea, but one that has gained new prominence due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Reaction to hot-desking has been mixed and not without its critics, however.

Writing in Forbes magazine, Simon Constable says hot-desking damages morale and is simply a way for companies to tell employees they don’t matter enough to be given a permanent desk. He also believes it hinders in-office mentorship and runs contrary to the belief that impromptu meetings and idea-sharing are highly beneficial.

Nevertheless, in a post-COVID world, a modified hot-desking system may the answer for companies seeking to reduce overheads, maintain a safe office environment and take advantage of the benefits that many employees have discovered while working from home.

To be effective, there needs to be an efficient hot-desk booking program. Cleaning and decontamination protocols, correct physical distancing and scheduling must be co-ordinated. The answer is a software system like Smartway2. This scalable program begins with office and meeting room floor plans. Workspaces are then mapped out to ensure the required two-metre minimum distancing. Employees can book their desks in advance by date and time, taking into account, for example, any required equipment and connectivity features. Workspaces already booked by others or down for decontamination protocols are shown graphically in real time on the employee’s own device. 

The post-COVID health and safety protocols are likely to be in place for some time. Occupancy software platforms will give management the dual advantage of keeping employees safe while offering new tools to improve workplace usage efficiency.

John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont. based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to

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