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Covid special: Touch-free systems continuing to increase in popularity

05 April 2021

With the Coronavirus pandemic continuing to influence workplace design and set up, contactless technology has seen increased use in many facilities.

Continuing our series of special features to assist readers in dealing with the ongoing effects of the Covid-19 virus, the latest PFM special focus looks at the emergence of the contactless workspace.

Although this technology has been in existence for a number of years, the pandemic has seen a significant number of facilities beginning to use it either for the first time or in an increasing number of areas.

It has proved particularly attractive to FMs seeking to allow workers and visitors to enter their facilities without having to touch surfaces, door handles or other features.

Avoiding contact with surfaces can be used to reassure all those returning to the place of work that it is safe to do so, with the potential for transfer of the virus significantly reduced, particularly when effective cleaning regimes are combined with the use of contactless technology.

Members of the PFM Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) have stated in each of their meetings over the course of the last 12 months the importance of reassuring all colleagues of the safety of their facilities.

Communicating the fact that new technology has been introduced to assist with keeping everyone safe has been a key element of the strategies used by FMs in facilities around the UK.

Previous discussions with the EAB panel have shown growing levels of interest in technology in general in recent years, which can be seen to have further expanded to meet the requirements of premises and facilities during the pandemic.

In addition to the health and safety benefits of contactless technology, the ability to use the resulting data to continue to raise levels of efficiency in buildings of all types and sizes has proved to be another factor in its increasing levels of use.

As with all PFM features, we invite industry experts to provide their opinions on each subject and first to provide a response to this month’s request is Infogrid founder and chief executive officer William Cowell de Gruchy.

His company is additionally continuing to celebrate its winning entry to the PFM Awards 2020 Partners in Technology Application – Enhanced FM Delivery with partner JLL, which was announced last month:

“As we tentatively return to workplaces, there will be much higher expectations from employees (who have proven they can work well from home) around their health, wellbeing and comfort in the workplace. These are now must-haves, not vitamins,” he continues.

“Contactless technology can, and will, help a lot here. Broadly this falls into two categories; interactive contactless technology (from hand-wave sanitiser dispensers through to QR code booking) and passive technology.

"It is in the latter category that the greatest advances have been made in the past year – something we have been intimately involved in.

“To make a space safe and healthy, you need to know how it’s being used, when, and what impact that had – on everything from air quality to cleaning rotations,” says Mr Cowell de Gruchy.

“By using passive, contactless technology, companies can gather this data without the need of employee engagement (which whilst enthusiastic, can be erratic at best). This means they can start to build a full profile of what’s happening in their spaces, and adapt them to be better as a result.

“For example, understanding how many people come to the office each day and which seats are used (critically not tracking people, just space usage), cleaning can be optimised – avoiding the wasteful cleaning of unused space whilst making used space safer.

"Air quality can be adjusted to lower virus risk and entire areas can even be powered down on slow days to save energy.

“It starts with passively understanding through technology, but tangible benefits for employees soon follow,” says Mr Cowell de Gruchy.

Additional thoughts on the emergence of the contactless workspace are provided by 2N access control product manager Gareth Robinson, who says: “We see a trend in Europe towards building owners treating building cyber-resilience and physical security as one task.

“In addition, OMDIA data suggest that four out of ten office workers wants fast and convenient building access via smartphones and that IP-enabled controller sales worldwide will increase by 12% annually over the next four years,” he continues.

William Cowell de Gruchy

These trends point to rising demand for “intelligent” contactless access to buildings and changing building access priorities are now being addressed through breakthroughs such as next-generation, Bluetooth-based mobile access technologies for office and building access control units and card readers that are reaching the market this year.

Further development of advanced technologies make it possible, for example, to provide different multi-factor authentication options for workspaces from one access control unit, and with it, faster and simpler repurposing and fitting-out of office spaces.

“These innovations open up three potential benefits for building owners and employers in the years ahead.

"First, multi-factor authentication with next-generation Bluetooth means developers can connect access control with security and camera systems – enhancing security and allowing administrators to control buildings from one location,” Mr Robinson continues.

It also means that building owners and employers can easily repurpose buildings to accommodate shared offices and the hybrid working models emerging post-pandemic.

“Second, new Bluetooth systems mean faster and more secure building entry for office user from mobile devices, in and out of working hours.

"Third, these advances mean that building owners can integrate new Bluetooth technologies and phase out legacy entry systems without substantial capital outlay,” Mr Robinson concludes.

With advancements in technological developments continuing to make contactless technology more user-friendly and easy to implement, it seems that the rise in its use will continue for the foreseeable future.

There are, of course, many elements to consider when preparing for the changing conditions that are continuing to emerge as the UK learns valuable lessons in dealing with the pandemic.

For this reason PFM has published monthly special features in each of its issues since April 2020 and plans to continue these are in place, until such time as the pandemic is not seen as a major factor for the running of FM workspaces.

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