Lee Jasper, head of products and solutions at Johnson Controls looks at how the workplace is changing

After months in lockdown, offices, shops, pubs and restaurants are finally beginning to reopen their doors. In the return to normality, public safety will understandably be much more of a focus than it was pre-Covid. When shoppers returned to the high street back in June, retailers had the challenge of being the first to set up their workplaces in accordance with social distancing. As office spaces, universities, restaurants and event venues reopen their doors, building managers must drive confidence by demonstrating how they can keep workers and other occupants safe.

The role of the building itself will be pivotal in protecting staff and visitors in the post-pandemic world. In particular, smart buildings will enable the rise of contactless facilities by integrating new systems designed to facilitate social distancing – conventional facilities must also act to do the same. Putting a stop to any potential spread of the virus will involve taking steps to limit physical contact with building infrastructure, and it’s here that technology will act as an extra means of protection.

Contactless buildings could become the standard for the modern workplace as we emerge from lockdown. But how can they be achieved?

Keeping physical contact to a minimum

Beginning with its defining characteristic, workplaces and buildings are becoming ‘contactless’ in a bid to improve hygiene as we transition out of lockdown. Designed to ensure visitors have no need for physical contact during their time at a facility, the aim of contactless buildings is to protect staff, visitors and operations – this can be achieved through the removal of physical tokens like access control cards to eliminate contact with doors, scanners and buttons.

There are countless factors for building managers to consider. This includes simple solutions which we take for granted, such as automatic doors, as well as innovative takes on traditional methods – such as viricidal and gel-dispensing door handles. It also includes emerging technologies: here, facial recognition and biometrics come into play as a means of access control. Rather than relying on access cards, lanyards and buttons, users can gain access simply by waving their hand over touchless sensors. Through the application of biometrics, businesses can improve security and bring peace of mind to users by removing the need for contact with physical building infrastructure.

The increasing role of smart facilities in recent years means that many buildings are now ready-made to integrate with these new technologies. Coupled with the fact that many of these solutions are compatible with existing access control systems, this means there is no need to make considerable investments. Instead, the majority of cases will involve a simple retrofit, allowing businesses to ensure a frictionless access experience for building occupants and visitors.

Identifying potential risks

Contactless buildings will play an integral role in limiting the spread of COVID-19 within office spaces, leisure spaces, and countless other facilities. However, it’s worth noting that their success is reliant on the building being free from the virus in the first place.

Building managers are therefore met with the considerable task of trying to keep facilities free of individuals who display potential symptoms. Here, body thermal detection technology can give security teams a first-line filter to identify those entering premises who may have an elevated body temperature. These systems act as a dual-technology, out-of-the-box extension of a standard CCTV camera. In practice, they are used to measure the temperature of a person and alert an operator if anyone with an elevated temperature enters a building.

Body thermal detection cameras are a useful tool to control the potential spread of the virus. However, it’s important to emphasise that they are not a silver bullet and cannot diagnose any medical conditions or illnesses. Rather, the technology helps to identify the people most likely to infect those around them – one small step in the many it will take to protect the public. While the cameras are capable of measuring up to 40 individuals at once, right now the need is largely for organisations who have dramatically reduced the flow of people to facilitate social distancing. However, we may see larger venues starting to use them in more crowded settings once social distancing measures are eased further.

Limiting the flow of people

Where queueing systems can be implemented at entrances to control the crowds, there are other, more efficient methods by which this can be achieved. To this end, organisations can turn to capacity control systems to manage the number of people on-site and reduce or limit contact between people. Similar to thermal detection cameras, the systems integrate with existing CCTV systems and use video analytics to count the number of people going in and out of a building – when a maximum occupancy level is reached, alerts can be sent and actioned for workers to respond appropriately.

Capacity control systems help organisations ensure social distancing measures are adhered to. This is crucial for those companies which have to prove they are keeping within occupancy tolerance to remain open. What’s more, the systems employ a data-driven approach, meaning there is little room for error. This removes the reliance on workers and security guards to count building entrants in or out and think on their feet. Here, technology will ease the pressure on workers enormously.

Ensuring a smooth return

The pandemic is sure to transform the way we work, and contactless facilities will help to ensure that the transition from lockdown is as smooth and safe as it can be.

Ensuring as smooth a return to normal as possible will involve building managers using these solutions in conjunction with one another to help improve public hygiene. Ultimately, contactless buildings will be integral to helping companies maintain continuity while demonstrating how they can keep their workforce and visitors safe.