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The 42nd Floor: A view into the space and technology of the workplace we will return to

May 27, 2020

By Angie Lee and Tod Moore

From an employee’s first touchpoint of the day to their last, their presence in the building is monitored to provide the safest experience for all

In the first part of this blog series, we examined what the initial post-pandemic return to the office might look like. It will be a staggered reentry, with many still working from home, and for those that do find themselves back in the office, things will look a different, with corridors rerouted to one-way traffic and social distancing still very much the norm. But these are just the most noticeable changes, with many more taking place behind the scenes to keep employees safe.

Much of the smart building technology that has coincidentally been aligned with developing new work spaces is now being translated into existing facilities and used in ways that we may have never thought of before. Let’s walk through what this all might look like with the deployment of an Indoor Positioning System (IPS). Think of it as a GPS but for use inside a building.

Imagine: 42 floors up the Chicago skyline

Mary is an accountant at a multinational firm, and she is part of the first wave of people in her company to go back to working in her office, which is located on the 42nd floor of a high rise in Chicago.

On Mary’s first day back at work, she uses her smartphone to gain access to her building’s lobby; proximity access has been enabled to allow only this first group of employees to enter the building. As Mary passes through security, her biometric data is collected, ensuring not only that she really is Mary, but that she doesn’t have a fever today. All clear.

Ultraviolet disinfecting robots can supplement the work existing cleaning crews are doing.

She then approaches the elevator bank where she uses her smartphone to call an elevator, which automatically takes her to the 42nd floor without the need for Mary to press any buttons. Once Mary arrives on her floor, her phone shows her the safest route to her office on the northeast quadrant of the building, considering how congested hallways and common areas are in that moment.

Now in her office, Mary faces a situation all too familiar for the world traveler. She needs to indicate she’s truly there to “activate” the space. Mary taps a button on her phone marking that she’s in her office for the day. The lights switch on and cool, clean air fills the room.

Around mid-afternoon, Mary walks down the hall to the mother’s room. When she leaves, an alert is sent to the operations team to have the room disinfected before the next person uses it. At the same time, Todd, one of Mary’s coworkers has wrapped up for the day, and a similar alert is sent to the operations team to have his reserved hot-desking space cleaned.

When it’s time for Mary to head out for the day, her office is flagged for a deep cleaning for the overnight crew. And it all begins again the next day.

So, what’s happening beyond the surface?

The example above highlights some of the more noticeable technology to workers returning to the office. But there are plenty of things happening that Mary and Todd might never notice.

  • “People-counting” technologies in the lobby and on individual floors allow companies to keep tabs on how many employees are in the building at any given point in time.
  • In an emergency, employees’ smartphones will provide them the safest evacuation routes, considering corridor congestion just as Mary’s phone guides her to her office in the morning or Todd to a conference room that he has reserved for the afternoon.
  • Infrared and facial recognition technology ensures employees are maintaining social distancing in common areas and at their desks.
  • With increased ventilation and circulation, air quality sensors measure risk of air filtration overload.
  • Light sensors measure the amount of daylight and automatically adjust lighting fixtures to provide optimum lighting conditions throughout the day.
  • The same people-counting technology deployed in lobbies can be used to automatically adjust room temperatures, lowering the temperature when rooms are more fully occupied.
  • Ultraviolet disinfecting robots can supplement the work existing cleaning crews are doing, providing a more robust and efficient disinfection process throughout the day. Intensive disinfection occurs after working hours so as not to expose people to harmful UVC radiation.
  • Automation devices and sensors in washrooms and kitchens minimize employee contact with high-traffic surfaces like faucets and door handles.
  • In the short term, touchless vending machines might take the place of refrigerators and coffee pots in common areas.

This pandemic has caused us all to stop, reflect, and plan for a new world. One that we did not anticipate and for which few had a game plan. But at the end of the day, it’s important to recognize that this specific experience we’re going through will end. In time, this will be in our rearview mirror, but we will now have an arrow in the quiver that wasn’t there before.

This is the second in a multipart blog series on how workplaces can respond and adapt to the new normal following COVID-19.

  • Angie Lee

    For 30 years, Angie has led teams to deliver workplace strategy and headquarter design.

    Contact Angie
  • Tod Moore

    With design experience from around the world, Tod brings wisdom, passion, and energy to his projects, clients, and team.

    Contact Tod
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