The rise of the low-touch office

3 weeks ago 10
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Digital tools are coming into play as employees start returning to offices to ensure safety and well-being.

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Image: GettyImages/Halfpoint

Companies are starting to mandate that employees return to the office and are implementing measures to help keep them safe by minimizing the need for contact with numerous office devices. The so-called low-touch office involves utilizing digital tools such as cloud technology and also distributing office equipment for maximized employee flexibility.

Seventy percent of businesses plan to have employees back in the office by the fall, according to a recent survey by staffing firm LaSalle Network. While many will implement a hybrid model, one technique being used in offices is a shift toward QR codes to enable a touchless experience, said Andrew Hewitt, a senior analyst at Forrester. QR codes can be used in a number of ways, he said.

SEE:  Should companies use vaccine verification systems?  (TechRepublic)

"The first and most obvious is the entry into the office component -- many organizations now are looking to have employees complete a health attestation form and sometimes a proof of vaccination [which is] increasingly common, actually,'' Hewitt said. That will then produce a QR code that the employee can scan to gain entry into the office, he said.

The second use case for this application is in booking desks, he said. "Many organizations are looking toward reservation-based hot desking solutions to enable employees to book a desk and hopefully, reduce some real estate footprint. Employees can scan a QR code to reserve a desk when they get to it. The same would also apply for a conference room."

This eliminates the need to press a button on a tablet -- or touch anything, Hewitt said. 

Of course, offices can't go completely touchless, especially if people are sharing monitors and other peripherals, he added. "We're also seeing increased integration between booking software and cleaning and facilities software to enable an instant alert for facilities staff to clean a desk when someone has departed."

That would also include monitors, keyboards and other touchpoints. "So, on the one hand, companies definitely are using touchless where applicable, but they're also better at integrating their space management software with cleaning management capabilities so that they can more quickly clean space and ensure the cleanliness of an environment,'' Hewitt said. 

Implementing a more balanced printer deployment

Even prior to COVID-19, there was a push toward a more distributed model for printers and the use of smaller devices, according to Bob Burnett, director of B2B solutions deployment and product planning at Brother International Corp.

The idea was to prevent people from being huddled around large printers and focus on what groups and individuals' needs are for more "balanced deployment,'' Burnett said.

A low-touch office means taking steps to make sure employees are safe and feel comfortable, he said. "By doing a balanced deployment [of printers] you're limiting the number of people touching a device and they're not crowded into a room somewhere,'' he said.

Printers can be set up to reduce contact and enhance workflow, he added. NFC batch reader technology is used to read ID cards, and a machine can be pre-programmed to print, scan or documents into a medical records system, for example, or email them, Burnett said. An employee simply holds their ID badge near the reader and does not have to touch the panel display.

That reduces the need for someone to have to touch paper. Brother's printers also have a security feature called secure print, which holds a print job in a device and only prints when someone scans their badge to authenticate who they are.

Another option is to use a mobile app to interact with a machine, he said.

As a general rule, companies should have policies in place to make sure office devices are cleaned on a regular basis, Barnett added. They should also review their infrastructure and see what technologies can be applied to help employees be more productive without having to get up and move around or interact with devices where people may be congregating.

Self-reporting health mobile app

Talon, a collaboration and automation platform provider, has a self-reporting mobile app that also lets employees update daily workstation safety checklists and upload images of remote working conditions for compliance with safety standards set forth by the companies.

"Rather than hiring temporary contractors to take temperatures, especially since this isn't the safest or quickest way to do so, facilities are using our self-reporting mobile platform to eliminate an extra touchpoint and allow their employees to come and go into the office on a daily basis without needing a worker at each entrance,'' said Talon CEO Rod Dir.

The app also has a check-in feature that uses GPS data to track day, time and locations when users reported check-ins to identify potential COVID-19 hotspots. It does this by cross-referencing employees with reported symptoms who may have been in contact with other employees, Dir said.

This gives HR departments real-time health status of employees through a reporting dashboard that can be integrated with entry-access systems to prevent people from coming into an office when they have reported certain health conditions, Dir said.

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