How Do We Use Technology to get People Back Into Offices?

by | Apr 24, 2020 | How to, News, Opinion | 0 comments

Eventually, the COVID -19 pandemic will ease and normal practices in our life, including work will return, albeit somewhat different from the status quo of just a few months prior.

But how do we get people back into the offices and provide the confidence that they will be safe?

Or should the question be “do we get people back into offices?”

No doubt many of us can recount challenges faced in the workplace based on our own experience or that of others. One of our business partners retells a relevant and related story from experience.

This was a time after September 11 and the New York terrorist attack that claimed 2,977 lives and injured 6,000 more. At the time of writing, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 15,740 New York Residents.

The story is of a young associate, a high performer, who had recently relocated from an overseas office. Over time, office attendance declined, but engagement outside the office remained high.

However, with the passage of time, and a further decline in observable participation there was concern for the individual’s wellbeing, and HR were engaged to examine more closely what might be amiss.

In a high floor of a typical New York office high rise a parachute was found under the team member’s desk…

Everybody is impacted differently by the trauma of events, even if they were not directly impacted or present when those events took place.

The psychological impact of these events with COVID-19 is likely to have a mixed impact on the population and companies as they (try to) get their workforce back into the office.


Technology can play a role.

Other than the isolation measures enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, health departments have been working to find the source of community spreads. 

One method for doing this is contact tracing. 

Who and how many people have been in proximity to this person, how much time did you spend, how close were you?

The other method employed to reduce the spread is social distancing, with a prescribed distance of 1.5 metres – that if you’re like me, you notice many people choose to ignore or they are mathematically and spatially… challenged

Your 1.5 metres is clearly different to my 1.5 metres

Workplace Wellness - After COVID-19 - Advanced Workplace Sensors

One technology solution that can provide granular real-time data, create alarms and alerts and deliver historical data across an entire enterprise are Advanced Workplace Sensors from senseagent.

Installed into the lighting infrastructure embedded in luminaires and the ceiling, creating a high-density sensor constellation, creating a digital ceiling.

Advanced Workplace sensors are a new category of commercial building intelligence which replaces wired lighting control systems with wireless-mesh and adds additional functionality across 5 core competencies – climate, security, safety, utilisation & lighting

These Advanced Workplace Sensors collect and stream Indoor Air Quality data, control lighting, and measure a range of metrics in 5-second increments, wirelessly, and transmit the data to secure cloud analytics and machine learning platform.

They are also capable of real time tracking via bluetooth beacons embedded in security access cards as an example.

With this real-time tracking and accuracy of location comes the ability to provide data on a range of critical elements for pandemics like COVID-19 like proximity and contact tracing.

There are a number of critical use cases that can provide building occupants peace of mind.


  • SOCIAL DISTANCING COMPLIANCE – Understanding how many people are in a meeting room, compared to how many people should be in a meeting room to meet current social distancing measures
  • PROXIMITY for Social Distancing Adherence – How close people are to each other when working and moving about their workspace, enabling a rapid response to provide alternate paths to navigate the workspace if a proximity bottleneck appears for example.
  • CONTACT TRACING – Imagine this conversation “Ok everybody Jack has confirmed he has contracted COVID-19, we know where he’s been, who is been in contact with and who was in close proximity. Those people are already being tested right now, and those spaces have been quarantined…”


Workplace Wellness - After COVID-19 - Advanced Workplace Sensors

Quarantining these known infected spaces could be as simple as disabling the operation of lighting, through to locking access doors and adjusting HVAC delivery if the temperature is a known inhibitor of proliferation. 

The same system that provides the monitoring and data also provides this control, the Advanced Workplace Sensor solution.

In the past, less capable solutions have not been able to track individuals, and rather have collated smaller data sets to create trend data over time. With a higher granularity of data borne from a denser sensor constellation – depth and width –  more accurate trends over shorter periods are possible.

The Social Distancing and Proximity use cases and the associated alarms and alerts are achieved simply with anonymised data. Contact tracing, however,  means these data points need to be assigned some personal data to be truly useful.


How Do You Opt Out of an Intelligent Building Today?

This type of tracking has some privacy concerns from some corners, as already highlighted with the Australian Government’s mobile app to track people and consequently new legislation due out in May that seems to be initiated to limit the AFP’s access to that data.

But how do you opt-out of a smart building?


What happens if some people choose to opt-in and some people choose to opt-out?

What if you need to book-into the building to get access and you are provided a EULA ( end user license agreement) style tick box – which states that you will be tracked whilst on-site?

If you don’t agree you can’t book.

Is people’s well-being – physically and mentally – worth this sacrifice?

One suggestion has been that people own their data and can request for that data to be deleted.

Is that practical?

There is likely no law or legislation that covers these applications specifically, to the best of my knowledge, and is something that requires transparency from employers in an effort to keep employees safe.


If REMOTE is the future are offices needed?

‘REMOTE – office not required’ by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (of 37signals, basecamp and Ruby on Rails fame)  was published in 2013 just as Marissa Mayer formerly of Yahoo dismantled their work from home policy sending shockwaves through that company.

7 Years on and the majority of the world has been forced to work remotely.

The question “how do we get people back to work?” needs to be balanced with the question do we get (all the people) back to work?

The shift in how companies lease office space has already been changed forever with flexible workspaces identified as one of the 3 Commercial Office Trends to watch for the next decade

According to CBRE prior to this pandemic “More than half of corporate occupiers across Australia and New Zealand plan to reduce their footprint of traditional leased office space in the next two years, as their portfolios shift towards flexible workspace solutions”

And In the next two years, however, 58 percent of Australian corporate renters plan to reduce their traditional leased office footprint space, and 55 percent are looking to increase co-working space use.

Not everyone will be able to work from home, and not everyone will want to work from home, at least not all the time. 

However, being able to provide employees peace of mind to return to the office, that measures are in place to provide a level of assurance can be achieved.

Installation of Advanced Workplace Sensors, whether the office is a new build, retro-fit or supplementary to an office without major works,  is one technology that forms part on an answer to the question.


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