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We have to evolve in a changing world

April 17, 2024 by Alistair Enser

This week, many children returned to school, even if only for one day. At the same time, non-essential shops opened, resulting in the inevitable queues of people. At the time of writing, there are strong rumours that the two-metre safe social distancing rule will be relaxed to one metre, although from what I saw on my local high street last week, it’s already happened!

Elsewhere, the Government ceased the development of its own tracing app, which had been plagued with technical issues, and which I have flagged in previous articles. In a recent trial on the Isle of Wight, the app was unable to spot 25 per cent of nearby Android users and a staggering 96 per cent of iPhones. In the light of this, the Government has now turned to existing tracing technology provided by Google and Apple which, while also presenting some challenges, was adopted by many other countries months ago. Health Secretary Matt Hancock would not be drawn on when the app would be ready on the news yesterday, although there is talk of “the winter.”

A slight return

There is a groundswell of people trying to return to some form of normality, as seen in the rush to the high street and the unprecedented queues outside Primark, Sports Direct and McDonalds. And while reopened stores are trying to follow the guidelines, many examples of questionable social distancing are being reported in the press. This is further supported by the latest Google mobility statistics which I will cover next week.

It points to the broader questions that businesses are beginning to ask, and which should be at the top of all business leaders’ minds. What is their objective in reopening offices, when do they open, and in what capacity? And, given these considerations, how do they manage reopening? When businesses talk of a return, they need to consider that returning to normality may not be possible or even desirable. In the ‘new normal’, there are many factors to consider.

At Reliance High-Tech, as we build our own plans, we have a long list of considerations which include safety, team morale, productivity, sustainability and trust. Broadly we see three types of individual, each with a different and fully reasonable approach to returning to ‘normal’.

Some just want to come back because of personal circumstance, perceived productivity, cabin fever and routine. Others are less keen on returning to the office because of health reasons, the perceived risk, or for example childcare. A third group is ambivalent and prepared to go either way.

It is clear that our return will be different to before. In our business we are listening to  feedback from employees and considering a range of options. It is the fine balance of what do we need to function effectively as a business and what do we want as humans?

These are likely to include rota systems, whereby we can limit the amount of people on site at any time, and which reduces the risk of taking out an entire team if an infection appears. This could be managed via planned rotas or dynamic rotas using a booking system with limited numbers per team and per building, allocated on a first come first served basis.

It also raises questions around testing and tracing individuals, and how to mitigate the risk of having people working alongside each other once again. If one employee catches the coronavirus, will they infect their immediate colleagues, an entire shift, or the whole team? As I have repeated time and time again, a balance must be sought between efficiency and risk.

Using existing technology

To achieve this balance, we are looking at the systems and technology we already have in place, to see how they can be adapted and repurposed to provide greater protection for people at work.

At Reliance High-Tech in Bracknell, access to the communal kitchen area is governed by a speed gate barrier, as it also used for customer demonstrations. There is also a separate access-controlled door and CCTV. Between the three systems, it is eminently possible to control the number of people in the kitchen at any time through occupancy monitoring. Equally, the CCTV covering our main office entrance now employs tailgating analytics and can also determine time as well as distance between people to determine risk.

Perhaps we are lucky to have this technology, but many organisations will also have legacy systems that can be re-purposed at relatively small cost, as necessary. It’s not always about changing the technology, but instead using the data that existing systems generate to make an informed decision and keep people safe. It’s existing technology, with analytics ‘bolted on’. Many organisations already knew who was in their office, but they didn’t use the data unless there was a security threat. Now we can use the same data for a potential ‘health’ threat.

Of course, it does bring up the issue of data protection, but without using the information that these systems generate, how can businesses truly safeguard their people and customers?

Let’s be honest here. Most people at work would like to know if they have been potentially exposed to an infection. By repurposing the vast array of data that in a lot of cases exists already, we can all be safer.

One final point. As we look forward to a potential reduction in social distancing to 1m and the vast mountains of derelict 2m tape buried in our refuse tips, consider how some simple video analytics and strategic voice announcements could achieve a similar objective with full flexibility.

Stay safe in the new normal as we begin to emerge with hope and expectation.