Spatial awareness technologies are must-have tools to gain the confidence of employees returning to work
by Dave McKenna, Editor CREB on September 22,2020
Back in 2012, an after-hours CCTV video went viral, purporting to capture “haunted office” activities. The eerie green night-scope captured creepy noises, chairs moving on their own, doors closing, and other goose bump inducing phenomenon. The video has 4.8 million views.
Covid-19 is like a poltergeist haunting offices around the world, and people are nervous. Employees are afraid to return to work places which might be the dwelling place of deadly infection. Unlike ghost stories and grainy video, this specter is real.
A recent Harris Poll of 1,100 employed adults in the U.S. revealed that 64% are uncomfortable returning to work due to fears related to Covid. Of those who responded, 59% worry that they will not be able to maintain a safe social distance. About 40% are nervous about sharing bathrooms.
Employees must be able to return to work safely before any real economic recovery is possible. Their concerns about workplace safety deserve serious and thoughtful responses. Yet the same Harris Poll found that only 33% of employees who are working from home due to Covid-19 say their employers have shared a plan and provided clear actions to return to work safely.
“A lot of companies don’t know what their liabilities are,” said Scott Harmon, Co-founder and CEO of Swivel, an office leasing and space management platform, of the implications of returning to work. Employer liability for employees who return to work and then die of Covid is unclear. Historically the bar has been set very high for such claims, but the current crisis could create new precedents.
A number of lawsuits are already under way against companies like Safeway and Walmart by employees’ families whose loved ones died after returning to work. Key factors in these suits involve whether the employers had implemented and enforced CDC and OSHA guidelines as they existed at the time of the infections and deaths.
Workplace automation tools may be indispensable weapons in the battle to communicate plans and remain current with the latest authoritative guidance. A platform like AgileOffice, developed by Swivel, enables employees to systematically receive and implement the most current guidance from federal, state, and local authorities.
“Every person deserves to feel safe in the workplace,” said Patricia Ericson, Chief Administrative Officer of Floodgate and an early adopter of the AgileOffice solution. The Swivel software allows managers to define teams and establish rules for that team which govern their time in the office and the space they may occupy. Each member of the team attests within the system that they are healthy and meet the guidance for safe entry into the workspace each day prior to arriving for their assigned time.
“Knowing that everyone is certifying that they are well is vital,” said Ericson. “AgileOffice provides us with a virtual handshake on all sides – with everyone affirming the rules, that they are in good health and that we all respect everyone’s wellbeing.”
Proactive communication, a solid plan, and investments in technology to ensure the highest degree of safety for workers is the key to a successful return to work. “Our customers are concerned with tenant retention. Many landlords are worried tenants just will not come back at all. Retaining leases has become a top priority,” said Harmon. “Swivel enables tenants to return and use their space safely.”
The space employees return to may radically change as well. The need for social distancing means the configuration of space, the density of work areas, and the formation of isolated collaboration areas are all in play. Achieving a degree of spatial awareness with the aid of occupancy automation and 3D visualization is a powerful tool in the reorganization of an occupier’s footprint.
“The trend was toward super-dense space. That’s gone. 100 sqft per person is over. A hybrid model is the new trend and it is happening now. What we are seeing is that occupants plan to be in the office two to three days a week. How do you manage that?” said Harmon. “Swivel AgileOffice gives managers the spatial awareness they need for a hybrid occupancy model. The software figures out how to optimize the use of the space every day. It’s like an operating system for your office space.”
Pandemic-ready space now requires the ability to systematically identify possible exposure to a virus when someone becomes ill. The digital record of individual health attestation, combined with their team’s approved time and space use, enable managers with tools like AgileOffice to perform fast and accurate contact tracing that can save lives.
“The work experience of the future is a much more dynamic use of space, and having a spatially-aware system like Swivel empowers the occupier to use that space in a way that could not possibly be managed without automation,” said Harmon.