Author – Jessica Mudditt – Dexus 8/07/2020
As organisations transition back to the office, the imperative to maintain the health and wellbeing of occupants is at an all-time high. How will technology shape the post-pandemic office?
The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of office workers to spend the beginning of 2020 working from home. As Australian organisations start to welcome their employees back to their buildings, the level of interest in maintaining health and wellbeing in the workplace has become a priority as employers look to give their staff the confidence to return to their offices.
In most capital cities around Australia, buildings are starting to hum again, albeit a COVID-19 safe hum. With isolation and workers missing their colleagues being a common complaint among those who worked remotely during the lockdown, many workers are keen to return for at least part of the working week.
The question is: how can employees be kept safe as they venture out of their homes and into their offices?
“One of the few positives to emerge from the pandemic has been a flourishing of innovation and a new willingness to embrace technology,” says Jonathan Hannam, managing partner of Asia Pacific’s largest real estate technology investment manager, Taronga Ventures.
“We’re seeing the owners of commercial buildings, doing everything they can to make the office experience better – including cleaner air, faster internet, and spacious and clean workspaces.”
“Technology and innovation are now seen as a differentiator” – Jonathan Hannam, Taronga Ventures
Tech blossoms in wake of pandemic
Hannam expects to see a far greater focus on more robust hygiene procedures, along with contactless technologies.
“There used to be some resistance to change and technology in the real estate sector,” says Hannam.
“Construction is heavily regulated due to health and safety requirements – and in the past, that was often a blocker for technology, even if it improved efficiency.
“In the post-COVID-19 world, those barriers no longer remain because the focus is on getting people back to the office.
“In fact, technology and innovation are now seen as a differentiator,” says Hannam.
Avi Naidu and Jonathan Hannam, Taronga Ventures
Health is everyone’s concern
Through Safe Work Australia, the government has placed high levels of responsibility on the employer and landlord to minimise the risk of coronavirus spreading in workplaces.
“At first, people saw the virus as something that couldn’t be controlled, or that it was the government’s problem,” says Alex Fuerschke, head of building technology at Dexus.
“But from the landlord and employers’ perspective, there’s been a realisation that this is a workplace health and safety matter, and that due care must be applied.”
A new branch of technology known as ‘social distancing solutions’ has sprung up in response and includes everything from ordering a lift to arrive using a smartphone, to a thermal heat map that assesses the numbers of people in an office and triggers an alert if a congregation forms that violates social distancing requirements.
The rollout of touchless technology is growing rapidly. At the Gateway building at Circular Quay in Sydney, Dexus has rolled out Australia’s first fully integrated ‘touchless entry’ office tower using the latest in biometrics technology and data integration. Utilising 3D fingerprint technology, the tower’s workers can pass through security, ride to their floor in a lift and access their workplace all without touching a single surface.
How it works is highly innovative, but simple for the user. As they enter the building, occupants scan their hand through a biometric scanner and a unique algorithm is created using the line patterns in their hand. The system’s intelligence grants access through the gates, understands their destination and calls a lift to deliver them to their floor – eliminating the need to touch anything else. A second biometric scanner beyond the gates allows the employee to select from multiple floors if required.
The tech is also used to facilitate access to the change rooms including locker management, access to the secure bike cage and carpark entry and exit to provide a complete journey.
The Gateway building at Circular Quay in Sydney is Australia’s first fully integrated ‘touchless entry’ office tower
Where to next?
With the demand rapidly growing for innovative technology that can leverage building managers’ healthy building strategies, Taronga Ventures has launched the RealTech Ventures Fund. Its aim is to support emerging real estate technology through providing growth capital and strategic mentorship from a network of leading property managers globally, including Dexus.
A focus for the growing fund is the health and wellbeing of the people who work in office buildings. Calumino is an Australian company involved in the Fund that has developed a low-cost, high-accuracy rapid thermal scanning product for commercial and residential buildings.
“During a pandemic there is a level of comfort in knowing that every person in a building has had their temperature checked – thus our interest in Calumino,” says Hannam.
“An interesting outcome of this technology is that if tenants are aware that their temperature will be checked, then the individual is more likely to avoid coming into work if they are feeling unwell.”
Fuerschke adds technology is not a replacement for robust personal hygiene practices and social distancing measures – but it certainly complements it and can radically enhance the customer experience. It is comforting to know that there are solutions available that can help the return to office life – even if it does look a little different.