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Returning to the Workplace: Smart Building Technologies

Returning to the Workplace: Smart Building Technologies

Meeting the Challenges of COVID-19

With the advent of the pandemic, many businesses sent their workers home to work. As people begin to return to the office this year, many questions are being asked: Will things just pick up where they left off? Or will workers want to see some changes? What about social distancing? What kind of employee protection is a business responsible for? The future of the workplace is hard to see at this point. The subject is complicated and fraught with pitfalls. However, smart building technologies can help businesses to take on three fundamental challenges:

  1. Implementing new standards of sanitation
  2. Implementing further workspace utilization to accommodate social distancing
  3. Ensuring worker comfort and “peace of mind” during this stressful time

Smart Building Technologies to Reduce COVID-19 Transmission

Probably the most common risk of infection is touching infected surfaces. This article will discuss six of the most popular smart building technologies that help workers avoid touching surfaces as they go about their workday. 

1. Facial Recognition Systems


Many business owners use facial recognition systems as security access credentials at turnstiles. This system is contactless and even helps reduce administrative duties as well. Changes in algorithms can even be made to these systems so they can recognize people wearing masks. There are also “opt-in” programs that allow those who feel comfortable with facial recognition to use it, while others can “opt” to use other contactless credentials, such as smartphone apps.

2. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Technology

Smartphone apps, using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, are used as workplace security credentials rather than RFID cards. BLEs ensures no contact, and there is no RFID card to misplace. 

BLE technology is also used to monitor social distancing. Per the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE):

An android application has been developed for the Social Distancing Alert System (SDAS). The system is based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) proximity detection technology, which uses the Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) and Transmission Power  (TxPower) of user’s android handsets for the estimation of real-time social distancing status and to alert them. It notifies users through real-time popup notifications on the screen of the handsets and by vibration and notification sound when another app user gets closer to a range of 2 meters with four levels of granularity. This application also provides other compelling features like past social distancing status tracking of the past 30 days, power-saving, and OR scanning to ignore specific people without an internet connection. 

3. Wave to Unlock/Open Technology

Wave to Unlock (also called Wave to Open) technology uses sensors to open manual doors. This technology delivers both hygiene and energy conservation to the workplace. This advanced contactless technology is being deployed in various areas, such as commercial real estate, factories, gyms, places of worship, retail, and schools.

John Kim, Senior Director of Products at Openpath, a leading provider of keyless door control systems, says:

The “Wave to Unlock” feature is becoming a key concept for workplace compliance initiatives to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We’re hearing from building owners, tenants, city planners, architects, and security consultants that this touchless entry solution is calming some employee concerns about returning to the workplace. Creating frictionless solutions is at the core of our business, and while our current product offered similar technology, we understood the need to adapt and evolve firmware with the current state of concern.

4. Tenant Experience Platforms (TEPs)

In general terms, tenant experience platforms (TEPs) give workers and their employers the ability to control the amenities within their work building. TEPs include COVID-19 protections like:

  • Contactless experiences using smartphone apps
  • Direct control of each person’s environment (e.g., lighting and temperature)
  • Management of “high touch” areas, such as elevators and coffee machines.
  • Real-time data regarding space occupancy levels that enable workers to seek out less congested areas to work in 

5. Demand-Based Cleaning Systems

Office cleanliness is of vital concern to employees, especially in the light of COVID-19. In  December 2020, Openworks conducted a  nationwide survey (3) regarding employee expectations for workplace sanitation. Here are a few key takeaways:

  • 90% of those surveyed wanted frequent disinfection and cleaning of all high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs and light switches.
  • 90% wanted the cleaners to  use EPA-approved antimicrobial disinfecting products.
  • 76% wanted cleaners to be certified in disinfecting through the cleaning company’s training program.
  • 71% wanted cleaners to be certified in disinfecting through a governing authority.
  • 70% wanted immediate test results showing bacteria has been eliminated.
  • 68% wanted cleaners to use a sprayer or mister to apply disinfectant to all surfaces.

With a demand-based cleaning system, cleaning staff can be advised in real-time as to when bathrooms need cleaning, doorknobs need to be sanitized, etc., via texting or email. These systems often include:

  • People-counting devices in high-touch spaces (e.g., lobbies, bathrooms, entrances, etc.)
  • Air quality sensors that monitor odors in the bathrooms 
  • User cleanliness perception feedback
  • Historical data collection to help cleaners predict an effective cleaning schedule.

6. Motion-Controlled Bathroom Touch Points

Motion-controlled soap dispensers, sink faucets, and toilet flush valves are already prominent in many commercial bathrooms. However, COVID-19 will require all businesses to get on board with this technology. 

Smart Building Technologies That Helps to Manage Social Distancing

There are a couple of interesting smart building technologies that help manage social distancing.

1. Elevator Destination Control (Destination Dispatch)

According to Elevatorpedia:

Destination dispatch is an optimization technique used for multi-elevator installations, which groups passengers for the same destinations into the same elevators, thereby reducing waiting and travel times when compared to a traditional system where all passengers wishing to ascen or descend enter the same elevator and then request their destination.

Not only does this system group passengers by destination, they also limit the number of passengers to prevent overcrowding.

2. Smart Lighting and IoT Sensors

The IoT sensors in a smart LED lighting system can help make a work environment safer by providing heat maps and motion trail patterns, thus identifying:

  • Areas of the office that are too densely populated
  • Common traffic patterns within the office
  • Areas that become bottlenecked
  • The time any of the above conditions occur during the workday

With the help of this type of data, office traffic can be rerouted, workstations can be reconfigured to allow for more space between workers, and heavily used pathways can be made one-way to help reduce employee contact. In addition, the data collected by these sensors can identify where workers have been throughout the day, enabling cleaners to focus on heavily traveled areas.

LEDs Magazine states:

Despite best planning efforts, any employee may test positive for SARS-CoV-2. Once again, the IoT sensory system can do new things, such as workplace contact tracing. While providing anonymity and privacy options, employees wear badges and the IoT-based RTLS system locates where within the workplace a positive individual has been, what other badges they have interacted with, and for how long. This can circumvent the need to quarantine an entire building of people while ensuring potentially contagious employees stay home. This information also helps focus deep sanitation efforts

The solutions discussed in this article are just some of the smart building technologies on the market that have been developed or adapted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is paramount that responsible employers meet the challenges presented by COVID-19. The world’s future depends on conquering these troubles aggressively.

Last Words

Versa Technology delivers last mile networking solutions globally. With two decades of experience, Versatek has developed an expansive product portfolio to support a variety of networking applications in a diverse range of networking environments. 


To read more about smart LED lighting, check out these blogs:

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The Adoption of PoE Lighting is Accelerating Intelligent Building Growth

The Link Between Power Over Ethernet Lighting and Workplace Productivity