The first weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic caught everyone by surprised and most companies were not prepared to deal with such a widespread phenomenon. Many companies had policies in place after the West Nile virus and SARS emerged, but neither were as severe as Covid-19, and neither threw the entire planet into turmoil.
Governments rushed to provide guidelines and companies swung into action to keep their employees safe and their workplaces somewhat operational. Many workplaces were forced to shut down and some weeks or months later, gradually reopened with reduced onsite staff.
Many technologies were created or fast-tracked during early development due to the needs created by the pandemic. While in some cases R&D was only mid completion, the market became hungry for new tech to navigate through the pandemic protocols, and many companies agreed to become test subjects for new tech. Some manufacturers changed gears and adapted their facilities to produce pandemic-related equipment.
Cost became less relevant and time became the driving factor. Success was defined as to who could get to market quicker and provide adequate, constant supply and support.
As the pandemic came under better control and businesses started to increase in-person staffing levels, executives started to ponder on what should or could be done with all the tech that so much was spent on. It was realized that a lot of the equipment and technologies purchased were becoming obsolete.
Few companies were smart in their initial purchase decision. Post-pandemic use of equipment or tech needed to be justified before a purchase received approval, to maximize the ROI.
The flexibility of technology to be usable beyond its inceptive purpose is going to be the winning factor for the next generations. Whether it’s by way of a software or hardware upgrade, an addition to the original system, or fully integrating it into a new system, decision-makers have learned that an initial investment in technology – driven by a pandemic impulse or not – will need to be analyzed in more depth, to ensure it will not be shelved or disposed of after its initial use.
As an example, during the pandemic, temperature checks upon arrival at the workplace became mandatory in many places. Some opted for a simple handheld thermometer administered via either self-checks or checked by another person. Many deployed expensive infrared scanners connected to smart readers that would alarm management in case of high temperature detection. Some companies had thermal scanners with results showing on a monitor, or a tablet on a stand capable of facial and thermal scans, informing management in case of high temperature, and advising the person to wait for them.
Large-scale infrared scanners have no further use in a workplace since there are no temperature mandates in place. Scanners with a monitor at the entrance will look unprofessional when there is no further use. But the handheld thermometers can be reused in first aid areas and the thermal facial scanner can not only be used in first aid rooms, but also has the capability to become an employee sign-in/out device, which can do so by facial recognition or RFID card reader scans.
Another line of technology that made an impact during the pandemic was the people counting systems. Many companies enforced mandates to have a maximum number of people in the workplace at any given time. Doors would not open to new entrants until certain number of people left the premises to accommodate the maximum allowed threshold.
While those systems usually have a high price tag and have no further use after the pandemic, there was one that stood out more than others, and that was a human counter but specifically for washrooms.
As it is not possible to see the number of occupants in washrooms, often times one would go in only to find that it is full, then exit and wait outside the door. This occurred more frequently when washroom capacity was reduced during the pandemic. This counting tech consisted of two parts, a counting sensor mounted on the ceiling at the washroom entrance, and a tablet mounted to the side of the door. The tablet would show number of occupants, and whether it is clear to enter or not with a red or green icon.
Beyond the pandemic, this tech is being used to provide convenience so people don’t enter to find a full washroom, as well as transparency messaging on the tablets indicating when the washroom was last attended to, keeping up with accountability.
My recommendation to all facilities and operations professionals and executives when making decisions to invest in technology is to think beyond its initial intended use and see how its useful life can be prolonged for a better ROI.
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