As workplaces gradually being to reopen, businesses now need to consider the best approach to managing how their employees return to work.
Drawing on our own experiences coupled with the conversations held since the beginning of lockdown with architects, specifiers and integrators, Integrated Design Limited (IDL) held an online ‘roundtable’ discussion to consider the key challenges and considerations faced by workplaces as a result of the pandemic and how these could begin to be addressed.
Key consideration: Will people want to return to the office?
Judging by the feedback we’ve had, there are definitely polarised opinions about the need to return to working from an office. For some, the lack of commute, dress code freedom and easy access to the fridge have all been bonuses. For others however, the limited socialisation options presented by working from home, close proximity to family and easy access to the fridge (!) have been downsides. It’s been clear that for many however, remote working practices have been more productive than feared, and so it seems likely that there is a midpoint to be struck between permanently office based and home working.
Key consideration: Minimise the chances of the virus entering the building
Considerations about safely returning to offices start before the employee even enters the building. Phil Allen, our Regional Sales Manager, pointed out, “Employees should be empowered to determine whether they can travel to and from work safely. Those who are vulnerable or who have been advised to self-isolate, need to feel supported in the decisions about whether they would be better placed to work from home.”
For those returning to office environments, entering the building itself could be controlled by a combination of access control – potentially including the ability to screen for temperature – and turnstiles, ensuring that only valid people are entering the building and giving control over how they are then managed.
Minimising queues created in lobby areas as a result of a limited lift capacity is another consideration. As Shane Naish, Operations Director observed, “Queuing theory is often thought about when specifying turnstiles but, actually, the bottleneck will be at the elevators. Our turnstiles are capable of processing up to 60 people per minute, but the lifts won’t be able to keep up with this flow if limited numbers are permitted inside each elevator car.”
Tony Smith, Major Accounts and Marketing Manager agreed, adding, “Elevator despatch control integrations will become much more relevant as a way of directing people to the most appropriate lift.”
Key consideration: Meet social distancing guidelines through ‘de-densifying’
The group was in agreement that reducing office occupancy, to ensure social distancing guidelines can be adhered to, was the most immediate way of giving employees the confidence to go back to work safely.
This could be achieved through a combination of staggered working times, the flexibility to work from home if necessary and increasing the physical space between employees. Tony shared insight gathered from speaking to IDL’s customers over the past few months, saying: “Some businesses are planning on keeping to a maximum of 40% occupancy for the foreseeable future.”
For both economic and safety reasons, it might be the case that over time businesses decide to move away from the larger city-based head offices, and more towards regional hubs. Either way, as Tony points out, “There is a responsibility to maintain the security and well-being of your teams, whatever the size of the office; in fact it may become more relevant, because business owners can’t see people sitting in their office, they might want to reach out and know that people are there.”
Tracking and enforcing a limit on the number of people in a building at any one time, potentially using population counting for defined areas, allows facilities managers and security managers to monitor and control the population density. These can be set according to size of room to ensure the relative maximum capacity is enforced.
One hands-free option that has seen an increase in interest is Door Detective, says Alan Hardy, EMEA Sales Manager. “An entrance control option for internal doors, Door Detective can manage occupancy limits and integrates with the access control system, limiting the amount of people authorised to enter an area at any one time by sounding an alarm when the maximum is breached.”
Key consideration: Reduced touchpoints & increased sanitisation
The need to reduce physical touchpoints within the workspace has been intensified by the pandemic. John Austin, London Sales Manager, commented, “Even ‘push to exit’ buttons have gone, replaced by touchless controls. We’ve also seen footplates being installed to open the doors, to further reduce touchpoints.”
“A lot of access control systems are already technically touchless because you’re presenting a card at the reader rather than touching anything, so that doesn’t necessarily change. Increasingly though, this is moving to mobile phone access or biometric systems, particularly facial recognition, which again limit contact with non-personal items”, said Tony.
The group discussed whether the type of materials used within buildings could have an impact on reducing the possibility of transmitting the virus, for instance through the increased use of stainless steel or microbial surfaces.
John commented, “I suspect what we will see is an increased use of glass and stainless steel on the entrance and access control units as it’s easy to clean these surfaces – fingerprints are more obvious – which used to be considered a bad thing! Now you can clearly demonstrate that they’ve been cleaned”.
“We have been providing customers with the information they need to keep their entrance control units safe,” comments Phil, “We have effective cleaning instructions, which protect the surface from damage as well as ensure cleanliness, and which have been distributed to customers.”
Key consideration: Different solutions depending on environment
There will be different challenges depending on the type of office environment. Co-working spaces, previously regarded as the future of office working, could potentially have greater changes to put in place than single company offices. Aspects such as restricting the volume of people gathering in communal areas such as canteens and accommodating staggered or shift-based working hours to avoid overcrowding will need to be considered.
Commenting on this, Tony said: “Multi-tenanted buildings may, in fact, be the future. Space requirements will be reduced if less staff can be onsite at any given time, so companies might start moving away from large, expensive office buildings if they can occupy smaller regional hubs. This also cuts down on the need for staff to commute into major conurbations, with the risks associated here also being reduced.”
Entrance control in leisure centres and libraries, many of which rely on a tripod turnstile that needs to be touched to turn, will need to be evaluated to determine how best to avoid the alternative of deactivating the turnstile and allowing free flow. To help manage attendance numbers, existing company software can be integrated with turnstiles, in addition to giving members the opportunity to pre-book sessions online via the use of an app.
Keeping employees safe and healthy
Although workers may be understandably nervous about returning to work, the office will undoubtedly continue to be a big part of corporate life, with the benefits to both businesses and individuals still as relevant as before the pandemic.
With challenges affecting all types of workplace, and adaptations to policies and protocols taking place, a tailored solution to entrance and access control system should be considered to keep employees safe.
If you’d like to discuss your entrance control requirements, get in touch with our team on +44 (0)20 8890 5550 or email email@example.com.