Enabling Social Distancing with a Smart Occupancy Monitoring System

Enabling Social Distancing with a Smart Occupancy Monitoring System

– By Bradley Wingrave

May 20, 2021

The role of smart occupancy monitoring systems in safety and wellbeing at work

What does a smart occupancy monitoring system have to do with social distancing? A lot has changed over the last couple of years. While many have embraced the ‘new normal’, it is certainly not a time to get too relaxed when it comes to COVID-19 safety precautions. Social distancing has long been posited as an effective way to avoid infection. However, the effectiveness of this precaution relies wholly on enforcement. Within the built environment, smart means of enforcement are emerging – one of which includes smart occupancy monitoring.

An(other) argument for social distancing

In response to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) quickly advised a world population to physically distance at a range of 6 feet. The CDC later conducted research into the effectiveness of social distancing and reported that ‘new cases, hospitalisations, and deaths were averted’. With new variants of COVID-19 cropping up around the world, social distancing and smart occupancy monitoring systems have the potential to become an abiding strategy for health and wellbeing.

Our relationship with buildings has changed

Global lockdown has drastically altered how many people work. In London, it has been reported that building occupancy dropped as low as 10% during lockdown. Forced to work from home, many people have re-evaluated pre-COVID systems to allow for more remote working, staggered shifts, and the like. In monitoring hazards for employees and ensuring their safety, the administrative burden placed on enforcing social distancing and occupancy monitoring can be heavy. Smart occupancy monitoring systems automate processes and provide actionable data to which managers can respond when health and safety rules are broken. They also stand to simplify existing processes and remove grey areas – especially around guests, customers, and contract workers’ presence within a building.

What is a smart occupancy monitoring system?

The smart occupancy monitoring system that’s used to enforce social distancing can form part of a larger smart technologies building monitoring ecosystem. The smart building monitoring technologies from Smarter Technologies Group, for instance, utilises IoT sensors, tags, and pressure pads to give business owners and building managers a detailed view of movement within their premises.

Smarter Technologies Group has compiled a comprehensive guide on smart buildings. Combining real-time building monitoring, automation, and reporting with things like automated meter readings and Legionella compliance pave the way for sustainable, streamlined, and cost-effective buildings and processes. Find out more about these simple, scalable, safe, and smart solutions from Smarter Technologies Group and tailor your smart building today.

How smart buildings are being used for safety

Smart buildings are nothing new. For some time, buildings have been on a smart trajectory to enhance efficiencies and drive automation, sustainability, and profitability. In experiencing how the technologies are making for simplified – and often safer – processes, COVID-19 has underscored the relevance of these technologies in an evolving world. The pandemic has also accelerated the uptake of these technologies in smart buildings.

These technologies have the ability to be tailored to specific applications. A few examples of areas smart technologies help with safety include:

  • Monitoring and alerts around building access
  • Monitoring and alerts around occupancy of places like lobbies, retail stores, restaurants, etc.
  • Maintenance of correctly spaced desks, chairs, canteen tables, etc.
  • Quickly identify and rectify bottleneck points within buildings
  • Cleaning and sanitisation record-keeping and scheduling
  • Contact tracing
  • Monitoring of high-touch equipment

This is just a handful of the potential areas smart building occupancy monitoring systems and smart technologies in general have the power to influence. Depending on how far you’d like to go, myriad opportunities exist for smart transformation within buildings of all sizes and types.

With accurate data and actionable insights into building utilisation, these technologies have exciting potential to soothe employee concerns around safety and protect customers and clients. This meets all stakeholder expectations around health and wellbeing in the workplace, making buildings a more welcoming place to be.

Landlords are also adapting to increased demand by tenants in this regard – and so property managers also benefit from the implementation of smart systems into their buildings. This is a strong marketable point for ongoing tenancy.

How smart occupancy monitoring systems are used to enforce social distancing

A real-time, comprehensive picture

These systems provide a granular, 360-degree view on space occupancy within buildings. This means that individual movements can be monitored at all times – even in very large buildings or multi-location operations.

Smart occupancy monitoring systems send alerts

For the purposes of social distancing, pre-set physical distance thresholds can be set. Building owners and managers receive a notification where these thresholds are breached. These notifications are sent remotely, to a cloud-based dashboard, in real time. This aids in enforcement and gives managers reporting power. This, in turn, makes for enhanced traceability and accountability.

Access control and access restrictions

One of the lessons inherent in the COVID-19 pandemic and building occupancy is knowing who is in a building at any given time, where they go within the building, and ensuring that they are behaving within prescribed parameters. This starts with access control. Smart building occupancy monitoring systems and smart building technologies inform building and business managers of who is in the building. They also allow for access to be restricted once occupancy limits have been met.

A heat map of movements

Smart occupancy monitoring systems empower users to use data to establish optimised usage of space within their buildings. This means you can set up and monitor workstations, boardrooms and meeting rooms, and coffee stations in a COVID-aware world. This monitoring extends to all common areas, lavatories, elevators, and all office spaces to ensure compliance with building parameters around social distancing.

Minimised touchpoints

Smart technologies are a porthole to a more automated world. Together with smart occupancy monitoring systems, smart IoT systems of tags, pressure pads, and sensors have the potential to reduce touch-based requirements in certain settings.

Low-impact interactions

In a similar vein, the data insights from smart building occupancy monitoring systems and smart technologies highlight ‘unnecessary’ points of contact with personnel. Where possible, these interactions can be digitally dealt with or work within the same social distancing parameters to mitigate risk to clients and staff.

Smart occupancy analytics for long-term planning

By better understanding how space is utilised, managers are given the tools to better plan for the future. Rather than relying on approximations and estimates, these decisions should be precise. The data transmitted and stored using occupancy monitoring systems have the potential to be a major driver for long-term planning.

Air quality monitoring and safety

In addition to social distancing, the EPA recommended indoor air quality measures to help to curb the spread of the Coronavirus. Smart technologies are assisting on this front too. Occupancy, heating and ventilation, and HVAC and air-conditioning are all some of the considerations they raise – all of which can be monitored by smart technologies to work within optimal and recommended parameters.

Smart cities and connected buildings

Workplaces do not exist in isolation. While behaviour may be monitored in one location, it is important that health and safety guidelines are followed with a blanket approach to achieve effectiveness. This is where the argument for smart cities gains special momentum. By connecting granular data collected across multiple locations, the benefits of smart building occupancy monitoring systems – and smart buildings in general – are vastly extended (within the limits of privacy laws, of course).

Predictive modelling and future-proofing

Real-time data gives us in-the-moment reaction power. However, it also holds long-term value. By collecting and analysing today’s data, we are given powerful insights that inform future strategies. This data can be used to map safety, consequences, and effectiveness of certain protocols using a digital twin, taking the guesswork out of these seismic events. By collecting data on today’s circumstances, we are better able to look around and plan for future outbreaks.

After infection case reporting

Contact tracing was a central strategy in curbing the spread of COVID-19. However, many nations failed to perform this task effectively. A couple of the reasons for this include outdated technology and over-worked personnel. However, these are but two reasons of many for the challenges faced by contact tracers in different locations (first and third world included). On the face of it, however, smart technologies would no doubt aid contact tracers in their job of identifying, notifying, and quarantining people who have come into contact with infected individuals.

On the one hand, the information collected will be thorough, detailed, and accurate. On the other, the simplicity of collection and record-keeping means even thinly spread contact tracers would be empowered to use the data to great effect.

Invest in a smart occupancy monitoring system today

The smart occupancy monitoring systems from Smarter Technologies Group use IoT-powered tags, sensors, and pressure pads to communicate data over the Orion Data Network. These simple, cost-effective solutions are inspiring a move towards data-driven processes for efficiency, profitability, and safety.

Contact Smarter Technologies Group today for more information on these and other smart technology solutions.

About the author

Bradley Wingrave has a wealth of business experience spanning more than two decades and his success in a number of entrepreneurial ventures makes him a forerunning expert on businesses, offices, facilities and legal compliance.

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