On May 1, Texas began Phase I of its economic reopening, permitting certain businesses to begin operating again. Many states have since followed. As state governors look to continue to reopen with additional safety precautions in place, several (including California, Kansas, Texas, Ohio and Delaware) have implemented rules that require the use of face coverings in public places when social distancing is not an option, which includes work places. COVID-19-related orders have impacted construction projects statewide, though many states are reopening and construction projects are getting underway again, if their progress was even affected in the first place.
As construction companies, property management companies (PMCs) and property owners contemplate a safe return to work, many challenges await. Perhaps all of us have now experienced the awkward elbow bump or foot tap in lieu of the traditional handshake. While no one may be able to solve that social conundrum, technology is getting creative to meet the challenges of returning to work during a pandemic.
We have previously addressed the future of work from home—but what happens when employees do return to the workplace? The need to ensure worker safety and cleanliness has inspired innovative new technology. For example, one construction company stated that it planned to introduce new motion-tracking technology that can attach to a hard hat, sounding an alarm when workers get within six feet of each other and collecting data that can help modify worksite practices. Other construction companies may consider rethinking their supply chains, considering how certain pieces can be prefabricated for installation elsewhere so that certain elements of construction won’t require as many workers in close proximity.
Similarity, safety and cleanliness will be paramount as companies determine when their employees will return to the office. Property owners and PMCs can implement contactless technology in their buildings, such as automated doors and elevators (either controlled through an app or voice-activated technology), or improved air circulation systems to proactively fight germs and measure air quality. Before even entering the building or worksite, employees, vendors and others may complete health-related questionnaires or have their temperature taken to better screen those who may be sick. Instead of a key card, employees may use their phones to gain access to buildings.
Companies currently considering these new technologies are not alone. Property technology companies have reported a substantial increase in demand for touchless access technology and similar workplace solutions. Providing a safe and clean working environment for employees and tenants will not wane anytime soon, so these contactless technologies are likely here to stay. Investing in these technologies now will benefit everyone, as employers and employees alike will feel comfortable returning to the office, and can also feel confident in renewing their leases. We should all be prepared to embrace this new normal (at a six-foot distance, of course).