“Many of us spend most of our life awake in offices and are generally horrible,” says Maciej Markowski, CEO of spaceOS, a Warsaw-based start-up.
Before the coronavirus offices were “a mix of noise, distraction and an endless search for a free meeting room,” he says.
Markowski’s company produces an app and another technology that connects tenants with their workplaces.
Think that if property owners want to keep their tenants happy, they have to look at different types of data.
“The craziest thing is: corporate real estate is really focused on data, you have extraordinary information on employment, electricity and water usage,” says Markowski.
However, this “doesn’t give you a single clue as to what to do to keep a tenant, I have no idea what these people are doing in the building, what they love and dislike, any tool to keep them,” he says.
With millions of people working from home after the coronavirus pandemic, office owners will have to work harder to try them.
Many staff members will see big changes on their return.
“I popped out last week for a few hours and saw some Star Trek-style sensors waving their hand to go out, rather than pressing a button,” says Elizabeth Hoefsmit, managing director of McGinley Aviation, based in Hampshire, which uses office services in a business park.
They could be infrared temperature controls in the lobby, contactless elevators or new apps to spread workers and keep shared surfaces clean, but there is no doubt that the post-coronavirus office is undergoing a drastic technological renewal.
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It could all start as soon as you wake up in the morning. You can control your construction app, says David Garten, vice president of RXR Realty who owns and manages 93 properties in the New York area.
The company’s new app creates a building health index every day, starting from information such as air quality, the number of occupants and how social distance is observed.
If your building has a low score that day, you may decide to work from home or go to a smaller satellite office.
The app will also tell you the ideal time to arrive, to reduce congestion and people traveling by public transport during peak times. “So the ideal time to walk through our lobby is 10am,” says Garten.
So as you enter, you could go through an infrared fever screening system, says James Lawrence of Gensler, a large San Francisco-based design and architecture firm.
FLIR Systems, an Oregon company that produces these thermal cameras for the crowd, has seen its demand increase by 700%.
If a concierge judges you at high risk from infrared screening, he may double-check your temperature with a portable device. Hence, you may need to hold the video conference meeting from a quarantine room or bring a car to your home or hospital.
If you can go through the hall, then maybe you will manage the elevator with the buttons on your app. Once upstairs, it will tell you when your workstation was last cleaned, says Garten.
When you arrive at lunchtime, you’ll be ordering food via an app, says John Robson, Workspace Asset Director, who has 69 offices around the world focused primarily on small businesses.
“Every transaction is now cashless and your food will practically grab and go,” he says.
If you have breakfast at the toilet after lunch, you will be looking more and more at touchless touches, says Mr Lawrence.
The new software is helping companies spread people.
The Gensler ReRun tool imports floor plans, calculates safe bubbles around each worker, then produces several ways to position workers so that their bubbles do not overlap.
“We recently did an analysis on a two million square meter building which took about 10 days to shoot. Otherwise it would have taken several weeks,” says Lawrence.
For the same reason, some companies are trying to teach artificial intelligence (AI) to video cameras.
Artificial intelligence algorithms can offer feedback on “touchpoints” where people are too close, while protecting individual privacy, says Dr. Mahesh Saptharishi, Chief Technology Officer of Motorola Solutions, based in Boston.
Instead of watching the actual video, they can ask artificial intelligence how much social distancing is observed and where the problematic points are. “So the employees don’t have the feeling that someone is watching what they are doing,” he says.
In the meantime, your cleaner may be working for the month for many months to come.
An April study in The Lancet Microbe showed that the virus can last up to seven days on plastic and stainless steel (like door handles) and glass (like screens) for four days.
Cleansing wipes can break the layer of fat that surrounds and protects the coronavirus. And the active ingredient in sodium hypochlorite bleach destroys the crown of protein tips that give the virus its name and ribonucleic acid (RNA) which is its model to be reproduced. The same goes for ethanol in surgical spirits.
But it would be helpful to know which surfaces should be cleaned.
The contact track should track the surfaces and structures used by you and your sick colleagues, says Matt Calkins, head of the US software development platform Appian, who also made workplace safety software on coronavirus.
If you know which of your rooms to target, you know where to best send your deep cleaning team and maximize the use of bleach, ethanol and wipes, says Calkins.
The virus can also be carried in the air, on water droplets or fine dust particles, say the researchers. And the air conditioning systems?
The British government says that the risk of air conditioning spreading coronavirus in the workplace is “extremely low”.
Nonetheless, “we are advising organizations to examine their air conditioning system,” says Dr. Mark Parrish, International European medical director of International SOS, who advises companies on medical risks.
Filters with extremely narrow apertures – such as high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) and more powerful ultra-low particulate air (ULPA) – can remove coronavirus from circulating in the air, according to the British air filter manufacturer SPCB.
The problem is that such ventilation systems will normally need more powerful fans to push the air through these narrower filters, he says.
Air conditioning upgrade could be one of the many options used by office owners to make their tenants happy.
Maciej Markowski of spaceOS says that simple practicality could be the winning factor.
“It is ridiculous that you are in a building and it is easier to order food from across the city than the restaurant downstairs. Or with three taps on the phone you can tell Amazon that a package is broken, but there is no way of telling your building that there is a huge spill in front of your office. “