Technology, catering and design-centric companies are now rushing to sell employers fever scanners, box lunches and office floor-planning apps for social distancing. But it might be too soon to tell if they will work
And they have a captive market. To protect employees and reduce liability for virus outbreaks at work, companies are racing to comply with public health guidelines on issues like employee screening and social distancing. In the US, the market for contact-tracing technologies for employers could soon be worth $4 billion annually, according to estimates from International Data Corp., a market research firm. But the preventive tools and pandemic workplace rules are so new — as is the emerging science on the virus — that it is too soon to tell how well, or if, they work.
“These are all untested theories and methods right now,” said Laura Becker, a research manager focusing on employee experience at IDC. “What is going to be the most effective component of all of these workforce return strategies? We don’t know.”
When workers eventually return to the office, they may find that the lobby resembles an airport security checkpoint. At least that’s the vision that Kastle Systems, a 48-year-old Falls Church, Virginia, company that designs, installs and monitors security systems for several thousand commercial buildings, recently began marketing to its clients.
Businesses that use the company’s coronavirus management system, KastleSafeSpaces, may ask employees to download an app that will automatically open entrance doors for people eligible to come to the office. Workers who fill out a health screening questionnaire ahead of time may proceed to a lobby fast lane to have their temperatures checked. Those asked to stay home because they recently tested positive for coronavirus may go on a kind of no-fly list and find that doors will automatically stay closed for them.
“The idea is really to create this profile where you can identify who is known safe, who’s known not safe and then who needs to be screened when they get in,” said Mark D Ein, the chairman of Kastle. “It’s a little bit like airports where you have Clear pre-check or regular check, depending on people’s profile.”
Clear, the biometric identification company known for its air-traveller identification service, recently introduced a system called Health Pass for office buildings, restaurants, retailers, cruise ships and sports arenas. It will use facial recognition to confirm employees’ identities and vet worker-provided health information — such as symptom data and verified test results — so they can be cleared to enter workplaces. Caryn Seidman-Becker, Clear’s chief executive, said this kind of multi-layered approach to entry screening could help reduce risk for employers and create a safer working environment.
Since coronavirus particles can stick around for hours or days, vendors are rushing to re-purpose technologies to reduce the spread of the droplets. Kastle said it was modifying an app that can automatically open office doors to allow employees to call an elevator and indicate which floor they want to go to without touching any buttons.
Jennifer Burns, senior vice president of property management and operations at Monday Properties, a commercial real estate owner, operator and developer, said her company has limited elevator capacity to four people at a time, asked employees going to higher floors to go to the back while riding and installed markers showing where people should stand. As an interim measure, she said, Monday Properties has installed self-cleaning antimicrobial covers, made by a Virginia company called NanoTouch, on elevator buttons for additional protection.
Kastus, a company in Dublin, is also marketing its antimicrobial coatings to combat the spread of coronavirus. Steelcase, one of the largest manufacturers of office furniture, has long created and installed office desk systems designed to foster greater collaboration by pushing employees closer together and lowering partitions — the open office.
Now, companies are quickly trying to reverse that trend in a low-cost and flexible way. They want to remove chairs and desks and install screens or other dividers between remaining desks, said Allan Smith, a vice president for global marketing for Steelcase. Office lockers are hot sellers, said Lori Gee, a vice president of client workplace performance for the furniture design company Herman Miller, which works with many Fortune 100 companies. Employees will have their own lockers where they will stow much — if not all — of their personal belongings and collect their personal protective equipment kits.
Say goodbye to crowding around the coffee machine at mid-morning to talk about the latest Netflix show you binged. Social distancing requirements will be difficult to manage in any space where there is an opportunity for people to stand and mingle, said David Bailey, the chief executive officer of corporate services for French food services giant Sodexo.
Instead, Sodexo has developed an app called Twelve that allows corporate employee to pre-order and pay for their morning coffee and doughnuts. “You don’t have to go to the cafeteria to pick it up,” Bailey said. “Companies are spreading pickup locations to three or four locations in the building. And the app uses an algorithm that manages the time periods to make sure there is no crowding.”
The writers are journalists with NYT© 2020
The New York Times