How intelligent workspaces can enable a safe return to office work

How intelligent workspaces can enable a safe return to office work

How soon will we return to the office?  Will it be my choice of when to go back to the office?  And will it be safe?

These are questions that have racked the minds of business owners and employees alike for the past few months.  Some essential jobs never could be done remotely and organizations had to implement safety measures to keep those workers safe (think first-line responders, hospitals, grocery stores, gas stations, and food processing plants).  Some functions of businesses are just starting to test work back at the office with certain job functions. 

And of course, many businesses have changed their tune all together and don’t plan to have their employees come back to the office until the fall of 2020 (like Amazon and CapitalOne), some not until next year (like Google and Facebook), and others like Square and Twitter plan to have remote working employees indefinitely. 

When the pandemic started, many organizations were able to successfully adopt a full remote work culture quickly using technology.  Recently, at a Cisco Webex community event, AON spoke how they are purposely building a new next normal around remote work.  Munu Gandhi, VP of Core Infrastructure Services at Aon, stated that their CEO, Greg Case was very purposeful when he said, “Some will say we’ve earned a ‘new normal,’ but look around our firm.  We’ve chosen a ‘new better.’  Better ways to work together, better ways to serve our clients, and a better path forward for all our colleagues.”  Munu showed this slide during that session to ensure Day 1 productivity.  They went from only 10% of their workforce working remote to 98% working remotely.  They were able to keep their business running seamless through their usage of Webex.

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Now the talk is how do organizations enable a hybrid working environment… allowing employees to work from home (or frankly wherever they have an internet connection) while also allowing employees to work at the office.  It appears most intend to have plans for a hybrid approach of both full and part-time remote employees, more now than they did before.  Recently, CEOs and top executives participated in a Bay Area Council survey that found that almost a fifth of companies are planning to transition to full remote-work policies and 89% are planning at least partial remote-work policies.  And a WorldatWork survey found 67 percent of organizations expect to resume — or have already resumed — operations at their offices by the end of summer. 

But the bigger question organizations are grappling with, more than just when to bring employees back, is how to bring employees back to the office safely.  What policies need to be instituted?  What precautions need to be taken?  What social distancing measurements, open office guidelines, office cleaning methods, desk sharing programs needs to be rethought to protect those that come into the office?

In a recent Barron’s article, both Unilever and Credit Suisse executives weighed in on this topic.   

“The safety and well-being of our employees is our No. 1 priority, so there is a huge amount of work going on to determine precisely how and when it is safe and appropriate for us to ease restrictions in our workplaces around the world,” says Fabian Garcia, president of Unilever North America.  “When we do begin the process of bringing employees back to our corporate offices, we will do so very gradually and in full consideration of local and federal government regulations, internal and external health indicators, and individual circumstances.”

Nomita Singh, chief operating officer for the U.S. entities of Credit Suisse (CS), says that those kinds of concerns need to be taken into account. “Our people are our priority and we won’t do anything our employees are uncomfortable with. If our people are unhappy, then we don’t have much of a company.”

Creating a safe office environment must be the foremost concern.  A CNN Workplace Transformed article talking about this future of work at the office quoted Dr. Sanjay Gupta saying, “you want to think about every surface you touch. You’ve gotta be thinking about this constantly.” They also stated how “hand sanitizer should be everywhere, but be sure to carry some of your own as well. Use it liberally. Clean any surface you plan to use or touch with disinfecting wipes.”

As part of these safety methods, some are looking into taking temperatures and ensuring mask wearing be enforced.  According to SHRM, some companies have already built temporary tents outside the office to track the temperature of incoming employees.  Others wonder if companies have the right to ask about health history and track temperatures and can even mandate that masks be worn. 

Workers at an office tower in Midtown Manhattan had their temperatures taken before they entered the building on Monday.

Workers at an office tower in Midtown Manhattan had their temperatures taken before they entered the building on Monday. Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

Still, other companies are taking more precautions by using smart tech and AI to enable better safety measures.  A recent Teecom article stated:

“…when stay-at-home orders are lifted, we won’t immediately find ourselves in a post-COVID-19 world, and we’ll need to use occupancy data to inform real-time decision making. In the same way many grocery retailers have begun limiting the number of shoppers in their stores, workplace density will likely be reduced and facility managers can use their occupancy measurement systems to automatically notify employees when a given space has reached its safe capacity. Digital signage, messaging systems, and digital workplace experience apps can all be used to inform occupants in any kind of facility about which spaces are available, which ones are nearing a safe capacity limit, and which ones are no longer accessible.”

For example, Ford Motor Company was highlighted in a 60 Minutes interview on how they keep people at least 6 feet away from each other.  They have their employees wear a Samsung smartwatch device that will buzz and notify you if someone else gets within that bubble space.

And what about those meeting rooms with high-quality video devices?  Can those be utilized?  Of course!  In fact, it is here in these spaces, from small privacy rooms, to huddle spaces, to larger meeting rooms, to boardrooms, where technology can help provide a safe collaboration environment. Here are some use cases for making any space an intelligent workspace to promote safety:

  1. Touchless meeting start experience in office spaces:  With AI voice enabled technology and proximity pairing, you can seamless pair your mobile or laptop device with the in-room technology WITHOUT EVER HAVING TO TOUCH IT!  A dramatic reduction to the spread of germs.  No touching cables or buttons on a screen.  Just start your meeting or call with your voice.
  2. Room capacity limitations on room screens:  Just announced in June, Webex built an AI-powered application to detect meeting room participants to better enforce room capacity limits due to social distancing requirements, without requiring any additional equipment or licenses.  In the past, Webex Room devices would use a sensor to only count people that were looking directly at the camera, but now those sensors will also detect people regardless of which way they are facing.  Not only will the in-room screen show the current capacity limits, it can notify you when too many people have entered the room.
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  1. Digital signage with health guidelines: Each employer will undoubtedly want to reminder employee of specific guidelines as they move within the office throughout the day.  In addition to room screens notifying of space capacity, those screens connected to the video device display company-wide communication to promote new health guidelines.   Messages can be shown like, “don’t forget to wear your mask,” or “wipe your sitting area before you leave.”  These reminders can go a long way to ensure safety.

Image source via AppSpace

  1. Cleaning check for all spaces:  Not only can the in-room system show reminders of cleaning the room, but how nice would it be to know how many people have used the room since last cleaning?  Or to notify the cleaning service that a room has been used frequently that day and needs extra cleaning?  The room system could count the amount of calls it has been in, and after a certain amount of calls or meetings, it can inform a cleaning service for room disinfection.
  2. Ability to track space usage and compliance:  Imagine how valuable it would be for IT, corporate real estate, and HR teams to understand room usage, and compliance.  These sensors in the room video conferencing or phone systems will inform these groups with real-time insight into of this type of information.  How many rooms had too many participants, how often have they been cleaned, how many started with voice assistants, and more.  This information can help IT get an inside looks of how every space is being used and how they can implement new guidelines for better safety.
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These five use cases are just the beginning of how intelligent workspace can help provide a safe working environment.   

So what are your thoughts?  What concerns do you want addressed before you are willing to work in the office environment again?  Would these use cases highlighted above help easy any of your safety concerns?


  1. Edmond says:

    I wanted and loved to have an idea of how importance of having a multiple knowledge of future of work and having intelligent work space for a better and safe work place… Thank you for the shared video.. And I’m expecting for more knowledgeable and inspirational video…

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