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Leveraging commercial security systems to enable a safe and secure return to the workplace




The Covid-19 pandemic has altered many long-established workplace policies and procedures, perhaps permanently. The old paradigm of a physical office in which employees report and interact daily has been reimagined as workplace flexibility – namely, work from home (WFH) or work from anywhere - has become essential for anyone navigating the past 15 months of our collective existence.

Employees are increasingly demanding that their organizations continue to offer the flexibility and comfort that they have enjoyed since the onset of the pandemic in March of 2020. In a recent study from EY, more than half (54%) of employees surveyed around the world would consider leaving their jobs post Covid-19 pandemic if they are not offered some sort of flexibility regarding when and where they work.

With a long list of Bay Area companies including Salesforce, Google, and Facebook announcing plans to switch to remote work or develop a hybrid model, many companies across the U.S. and beyond are being forced to rethink their return-to-office plans and permanently adopt more flexible work models. The Covid-19 Delta variant has simply postponed these potential changes, as companies are pushing out proposed “return to work” and hybrid work model implementation dates, oftentimes until early 2022.

As a function of these changes, companies are also changing their perspectives on workplace security, as conditions have materially changed during the COVID-19 crisis. Corporate security planning is being expanded into atypical areas, including developing strategies for work from home security planning and risk mitigation.

Based on the popularity of remote or hybrid work models, the “new normal” workplace will be with us for the foreseeable future. Particularly in white-collar, professional work environments (Tech workers in the Bay Area being an excellent example) work from home has been quickly adopted and implemented, the work from home or remote workforce is becoming a greater percentage of the professional population. To keep up with the new world of work, many corporate security programs - including situational awareness and support capabilities - will need to factor in this new workplace dynamic.

Many security professionals are grappling with workplace duty of care, usually reserved for a company’s facilities, which now also apply to work-from-home and “hybrid” or flex schedule employees. Similarly, policies relating to occupational safety and health may need to be re-examined and updated for those employees who work remotely. There are a few technologies that security professionals should implement to allow for a hybrid workplace and an eventual return to the office, even if once or twice a week.

Touchless access control solutions

While we are not huge advocates of thermal camera solutions for our business customers, based on both the expense of the equipment also its ability to accurately determine body temperatures, we have worked with many of our Bay Area customers to install, program and service touchless access control systems. These systems leverage technologies like near-field communication (NFC) and Bluetooth low energy (BLE) and allow authorized smartphones to open doors without the use of physical contact or extra hardware, reducing an employee’s exposure to viruses. In addition to mobile-based, other widely deployed forms of touchless access control would include License Plate Recognition (LPR) systems and Biometric Readers/Authentication.

Elevated skin temperature solutions and kiosks

Corporate Facilities departments are working with corporate security teams to redefine access control to adopt a frictionless or touchless experience, using smartphones to access a building without using a key card or with automatic door openers to avoid contact with door hardware. Many security teams are also evaluative COVID-19 related technologies, such as elevated skin temperature readers or temperature sensing kiosks.

When evaluating thermal cameras, thermal imaging solutions, infrared cameras, and elevated body temperature monitoring solutions, as part of your overall corporate security program, consider the following fundamental questions:

Is the system FDA-cleared? Does the system meet FDA accuracy requirements? What is the accuracy of the camera’s sensors? What kind of warranty programs, training, and technical support are offered by the manufacturer? Does the application present any employee or consumer privacy issues? And is a secondary screening process required? Security 101 can assist you in the evaluation of various surveillance technology, and ensure that you and your company are in compliance with both local and national requirements related to this type of video surveillance technology.

Contact tracing systems and programs

Contact tracing has become a key component of organizations’ pandemic response. Most importantly, security managers can leverage this technology to monitor employee interactions and identify which employees have the highest risk of exposure. Contact tracing can help streamline this arduous process, allowing security teams to limit the spread of COVID-19 (or any current or future virus), minimize exposure and the number of employees who must quarantine, and ultimately protect employees and help to maintain a healthy and resilient workforce.

Expanded security awareness programs and reporting capabilities must now include remote and work-from-home employees, as well as the technology to support them - including mobile and wearable technologies. Security and HR leaders need to clearly articulate to all company managers the importance of consistently communicating new policies and procedures which support the safety and health of all individuals. Company leaders should brief all employees of updated health and safety policies and guidelines on a regular basis, including entry/egress practices with a comprehensive COVID-19 response training program, either online or in-person, that should be required prior to returning to the physical office. We would also suggest that companies provide welcome back kits to assist employees with their transition back to the workplace. Each welcome back kit might include a printed FAQ guide about updated protocols for social distancing, respiratory etiquette, and other new office safety standards.

Because many companies have accelerated their digital transformation initiatives, certain physical security technologies should be considered for transformation. These include AI, IoT, and more building management integration, and emerging technologies in physical security applications, such as robotics and drones. A recent nationwide survey of organizations running video monitoring systems, for instance, found that U.S. organizations are rapidly repurposing their existing video surveillance systems to support the ‘COVID Safe’ return to offices and workplaces across North America.

Facilities management, operations, or security managers are now using their video surveillance systems (in combination with AI) to help manage social distancing requirements, help provide temperature level checks, trace all people movements and monitor occupancy levels and people density levels in breakout areas, and to help deploy facial recognition analytics into entrance area cameras to help enable contactless access control. Indeed, the pandemic has led organizations to use their current physical security technologies to transform and support the creation of COVID-19 safe workplaces for their staff.

After carefully reviewing new health and safety protocols, you should confirm that your organization and facilities are ready to reopen by taking into consideration the following:

  • New policy and guidelines on pre-arrival check-in and visitor management
  • Multiple control levels for facility cleaning and decontamination during and after work hours
  • CDC and local health authority guidance regarding elevators and escalators, masks, and hand sanitizer stations
  • New crisis management and leadership responsibilities