It is one year on from the Covid-19 pandemic taking hold. Most countries in Europe have been through one, two or three waves and months of lockdowns that have seen workplaces closed and employees working from home, where possible.
Jaroslav Barton, Director Product Marketing, Global Regions, HID Global, reflects on the next step – returning to the workplace – in this article.
After all this time, a physical return to the workplace can be exciting for some people and a daunting prospect for others. Even with vaccines and a relaxation in some social distancing rules, organisations must look at how they can ensure employees and visitors feel safe. This means adapting to new requirements, implementing new procedures and using new technologies and tools so people can trust that the organisation is looking after them.
Policies may come down from CEO and HR teams, but it is going to be the building and facilities managers and security teams that will need to turn policy into practice.
Physical access is a prime area of interest. Crowded entrances, elevators and shared working spaces are a threat to safe social distancing. Likewise, some security processes, like credentialling, have always relied on face-to-face contact. Access control management can help route employees, in tandem with efforts to stagger work times. Physical access control systems (PACS) can also leverage location services to support contact tracing and reduce crowding, and these same systems can be used in support of thoughtful visitor management.
Touchless access control
Automatic door operators, revolving doors, and sliding doors can all help to reduce contact at high-volume entry and exit points. These can be coupled with contactless credentials and readers to ensure security while minimising surface contamination.
Another strategy involves the use of long-range capable readers that leverage Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connections to deliver read performance at a distance. With a read range of up to several metres, BLE can further distance employees who might otherwise crowd up around readers and doors.
Touchless credentials also support more hygienic protocols for logging in to networks, paying for vending, or activating printing.
Modernised systems can send credentials to any authorised device, anywhere, so employees and visitors can have their credentials delivered contact-free.
Visitors introduce a new variable. They must be credentialled upon entry, and you need to know where they are in the building for security reasons and should contact tracing become necessary.
Solid policies and advanced technologies can ensure safe movement of visitors. Visitor management solutions can be used either standalone or in conjunction with an organisation’s access control system. Visitors self-register in the lobby and hosts are notified when they arrive. Driver’s licence scanners, barcode scanners, cameras, and printers all help support those front desk processes.
Key to keeping people physically distanced is knowing where they are at any given time. Much how GPS is used in outdoor settings, location services leverage BLE beacons to ping off gateways that in turn can identify the location of individuals in a physical space. An individual’s identity can be based on an ID card which broadcasts continually, creating a virtual map of location relative to the fixed gateways.
Location services give management a means to be proactive rather than reactive in their efforts to promote physical distancing by knowing at any time how many people are in a particular space.
Connected beacons could also broadcast room occupancy, for example, letting people know which spaces are free and which are in use. What is more, these systems can automate contact tracing because they know if people have come into contact with someone that has tested positive for Covid.
Making the most of PACS technologies
For those charged with implementing and overseeing physical access control, these are extraordinarily challenging times. There may be fewer staff on site and those that are will potentially experience a higher workload. In order to operate safe spaces, there is a need to streamline operations, to make sure staff are asking for the right information and that people entering the building are aware of what the policies are.
While technology can play a significant role in supporting social distancing and other pandemicrelated needs, policies are at the core of any successful return-towork effort.
It is critical, for example, to have solid audit systems in place. PACS systems generate logs, reports, and archives – invaluable information, if put to good use. Building managers can leverage this key data to see who was in the facility and when, in order to build a fuller picture of the operational risks.
To make these measures effective, employers will need to implement certain general best practices around space utilisation and hygiene in particular.
Some policies are a must-have:
- Signage – Key to enforcing new policies and procedures, signage is a clear way to communicate evolving expectations.
- Hand Sanitisation – Hand sanitiser stations must be readily available to all employees and everyone should be encouraged to wash or sanitize their hands often.
- Physically-Distanced Areas – Reconfigure seating to allow for appropriate social distancing, add signage on the walls and indicators on the floor to direct traffic flow, discourage in-person meetings, and temporarily close commonarea amenities.
- Touchless Options – Wherever possible, eliminate processes that require touch, or limit them to a single individual. Work with service providers to identify and implement hands-free technologies and processes, especially at high-touch areas like doors and elevators.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – Health experts around the globe recommend that everyone wear a mask over their mouth and nose. At minimum, employers should make masks available to all employees.
- Increased Routine Cleaning – All frequently-touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected several times a day. That may include tables and doorknobs, light switches, desks, and phones. PACS technology such as keypads and biometric readers likewise should be subject to
- Frequent disinfection. Where possible, configure access control devices for contactless card or mobile use, rather than fingerprint or touch screen.
- Updated Visitor Policies – Implement visitor access policies that limit contact while on premise, include a health status questionnaire and/or temperature screen, and restrict unnecessary movement.
While the pandemic presents formidable challenges to building management and security, it also represents a unique opportunity.
In addressing the new needs around social distancing, contact tracing, and space utilisation, there is also the chance to examine access control in depth. A holistic view of PACS can help to create workplaces that are safe and secure, empowering building operators with the knowledge they need to minimise crowding, to trace the whereabouts of individuals, and to manage the use of space according to well-defined best practices.