As stay-at-home orders and business closures extend, a lot of us are starting to think about what happens after the various lockdowns end. A rapid return to the prior normal is impossible, at least until we have a vaccine. Employers and building managers need to start thinking now about what they can do to control infection and reduce spread.
Smart building technology may provide part of the answer. Real time location services can track the movement of people and objects, monitor entry and exit and improve both bio control and convenience.
A key aspect of controlling the pandemic as we move forward is contact tracing. When an individual tests positive for COVID-19, contact tracers have to track down everyone who was in close, extended proximity to them for the previous two weeks and arrange for those people to be quarantined or tested.
For employers, who can place a higher level of control on people, contact tracing within the workplace is vital. Using Bluetooth-based access badges, when an employee informs you they have tested positive for COVID-19, you can easily trace their contacts and send those people home. You can establish where in the building they were and arrange for deep cleaning of not just their office but other places (such as conference and break rooms) where they spent extended time. This prevents spread of the virus through your workforce. An AI-based algorithm can calculate individual exposure risk so you and they can make reasonable decisions. The algorithms can be updated as we learn more about the virus and specific risk factors.
Enforcing Social Distancing
If you have ongoing rules to enforce social distancing, real time tracking of employees can be used to warn violators. For example, if you have asked people not to linger in the kitchen but rather to heat up their lunch and immediately return to their desk to eat it, real time tracking can notify you if anyone is breaking the rules. You should consider closing break rooms and kitchens altogether, but this may not be practical depending on your location and what options employees have e.g. for storing and heating up their lunch.
The same goes for closed conference rooms and other areas where people may tend to gather.
Bluetooth access badges can also be re-coded to deny access to certain areas of the building, separating your workforce into groups of people who routinely interact and compartmentalizing infection risks.
The last thing you need right now is lines to get through a security checkpoint. Smart buildings allow for employees to walk right through checkpoints. You can even have visitors click on a link or download an app to their smartphone to allow for seamless access. This means that there are fewer lines at entrances and at elevators, and people are not going to be milling around in close proximity.
COVID-19 can survive on hard surfaces such as doorknobs for hours. This means that door handles, pin pads, and any other “high touch” surfaces may be a risk. We do not know how infectious the virus remains in these circumstances, but there may well be risk from touching a handle right after an infected person.
Contactless access and automatic doors reduce these risks. If somebody can simply walk through an access point and have the door open for them as it recognizes their badge, then there is no need for them to touch anything, reducing or even eliminating this particular risk. Smartphone-based contactless access also has the advantage of not having to give out visitor badges, reducing the contact between visitors and security or the receptionist. Everything can be handled with no need for face-to-face contact, including any payment needed to obtain access to the building.
At first glance, asset tracking does not appear to have much to do with infection control, but remember that the virus can survive on surfaces. Asset tracking allows you to track down and sanitize equipment that was borrowed or used by a person now known to be sick.
Asset tracking can also be used to enforce temporary rules about borrowing equipment or using other people’s phones and computers. In general, workers should not be sharing equipment and hot desking should be monitored for the duration.
Restrooms are an obvious concern for infection control, and traditional room-to-room checks don’t take actual usage into account, resulting in a restroom running out of soap. Restroom sensors can detect actual usage and real time tracking of inventory will ensure there is always soap (and toilet paper) available. While one probably doesn’t want to go as far as to monitor how long employees spend washing their hands, making sure they have what they need to do so goes a long way.
Touchless restroom facilities including soap dispensers make a huge difference; consider retrofitting to install these if you don’t already have them. Many people prefer them (as long as they work), and they will also help reduce absenteeism in future flu seasons.
Minimizing Visitor Time
Real time tracking can also minimize the amount of time a visitor spends in the building, and their contact with people not directly involved with the purpose for their visit. The system can send directions to their phone, allowing them to take the shortest route to their destination. This kind of technology is already being used by hospitals to help keep visitors out of dangerous areas, but can be used in offices to send a visitor to the office of the person they are there to meet with.
This also has the effect of improving the visitor experience, as nobody wants to get lost in an unfamiliar building. Office buildings in particular can end up looking very much like a labyrinth of similar corridors and rooms. Meanwhile, security can track the visitor and ensure they don’t go too far off course.
If that person ends up being infected, contact tracing can be done, but the primary point is to get visitors in and out as quickly as possible. Staff will also not have to be in contact with visitors in order to give them directions.
Tracking Cleaning and Sanitization
Asset tracking and personnel tracking can be used to ensure that cleaning happens as needed. In general, normal cleaning protocols should be followed, with deep cleaning of areas used extensively by a person who tested positive or showed symptoms. (E.g., if you have to send somebody home because of symptoms that might be COVID-related, you should deep clean their office using appropriate cleaning chemicals).
Real time tracking systems can allow cleaning staff to tag that they have cleaned the area, ensure that supplies are where they need to be, and track whether equipment has been sanitized as needed. Similar tactics are used in healthcare settings to ensure that equipment such as IVs is properly sanitized between patients. For equipment that must be shared the same tracking can be used to make absolutely sure that it is cleaned between users.
If you have pin pads, doors that must be opened, etc, frequent cleaning is required and should also be tracked.
Monitoring Employee Symptoms
One suggestion that has been made for controlling the spread of COVID-19 is to take people’s temperature at the start of the work day. This is only a partial solution, as people can be contagious before having symptoms and some people have no symptoms at all. However, thermal imaging systems may be used to flag people with high body temperature. This can then be verified and the employee sent home right away if needed.
While extensive behavior monitoring tends to be negative to morale, cameras can also detect whether employees are, for example, wearing masks for their commute, and flag them for a reminder. (It is particularly important for people who commute on public transport to wear face coverings). Smart building systems can also monitor for loud coughs and other disruptive symptoms, but it’s important to balance this with your employees’ privacy.
Real time tracking systems can be helpful as we move out of the “quarantine” phase and into a temporary mitigation phase, likely to last until we have a vaccine or extremely reliable treatments for COVID-19. Bluetooth-based systems are often superior because of their low cost, but systems can also use your existing Wi-Fi network, helpful for scaling up. Now, before offices and other buildings reopen, is the time to plan for how you are going to protect your employees going forward.
If you are looking into adding Bluetooth-based or other real time tracking systems to your building as part of your protocols for dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, contact Kontakt.io today.