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What Data Can Teach Us About Getting Back to Work

Across the board, we saw a sharp focus on creating and implementing better health and safety standards that will likely remain. 

What will it take to get back to work?

This question is top of mind for many organizations as COVID-19 vaccinations roll out across the globe. 

Companies like Amazon, Capital One, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and many others, have elected to allow employees to keep working from home – even after the pandemic. For businesses aiming to reopen office spaces, there is an opportunity to re-envision the traditional workplace model. With new property-focused technologies, business owners can get back to work while ensuring the health and safety of those employees who do head back to the office. 

2021 will open up a new playing field for businesses and set a new precedent for the way people work, where they work, and how they interact with their workspaces.

Where we are now

Throughout 2020, decision-makers faced new and mounting challenges in the wake of the pandemic. While certain industries have been more impacted than others, like gyms, retail, and education, businesses of all shapes and sizes were forced to adapt and innovate their operations and processes to remain successful. 

Brivo analyzed the larger trends seen in our data (based on 20 million commercial property users with billions of data points on commercial property usage) and saw how industries and states reacted differently to mandated closures and guidelines. Across the board, we saw a sharp focus on creating and implementing better health and safety standards that will likely remain even after the pandemic ends. 

Gyms and healthcare facilities are implementing strict social distancing policies, limiting occupancy and increasing the frequency of thorough sanitizing. Students and school faculty are now primarily using tele-education tools like Zoom or Google Hangout. The construction industry, which saw a sharp decrease in activity at the start of the pandemic—down 55 percent—is only 14 percent off pre-pandemic occupancy rates. The data shows hair and beauty salons at historic occupancy levels, +45 percent above pre-pandemic levels in November, well above pre-COVID rates.

While most of the country is still far below normal occupancy levels with the country only 55 percent reopened according to the Brivo Commercial Reopening Index. The Brivo Index measures America’s ’‘back to work’ number by monitoring credential holder activity from commercial access control data across the U.S.

  • These industries are close to pre-COVID levels:
    • Agriculture, forestry and fishing is back to normal levels at 100 percent
    • Hair salons are seeing a surge in usage, in some cases up 40 percent over averages from 2020
    • Construction is at 86 percent of normal
    • Retail trade and wholesale manufacturing at 70 percent of normal
  • There is also regional disparity in how people have returned to normal work routines. 
    • Despite rapid COVID infection rates in the midwest, several states are above normal occupancy levels from before the pandemic:
      • South Dakota +13 percent
      • Wyoming +61 percent
      • Nebraska -2 percent
      • Utah -4 percent
    • Other areas of the country that have grabbed headlines for having rapid COVID infection rates continue to see low occupancy rates:
      • California -48 percent
      • Arizona -47 percent
      • Colorado -38 percent
      • New Mexico -37 percent
      • Washington -35 percent
      • Texas -24 percent

Where we are going

Many companies have already begun implementing changes to their work environment – creating new floor plans, adapting employee schedules, creating remote opportunities, and even innovating the way they sell their products and services. For business owners, this is an opportunity to galvanize their approach to security and the safety of their people, property, and assets. Detailed below are three ways data can be utilized in business for better health, safety, and security standards in 2021.

No. 1: Shared workspaces and occupancy tracking  

Even with vaccine distribution underway, social distancing, wearing masks, hand washing, and frequent sanitizing will remain some of the best options to keep employees safe at work.

 The overall narrative about work after the pandemic is that employees who can work effectively and logistically from home will continue to do so and will make trips to the office when they need to for office-specific projects, meetings, etc. Amazon Web Services CEO, Andy Jassy, says this, in turn, will likely turn office buildings into collaborative, shared meeting spaces. 

“I don’t think you’re going to have people coming back to the office 100 percent of the time the way that they did before,” Jassy told CNBC’s Jon Fortt. “I think there’s going to be some type of hybrid model and I think it will probably differ depending on your job function.”

This means business will start tracking employee behavior to make more informed decisions about how the office should function. For example, if there are 10 people that work in an open floor plan and only four are showing up consistently—monitoring technology can flag this trend, helping business owners reconfigure their floor plan or plan for bigger/smaller office space in the future. 

There have also been interesting shifts in how many businesses have operated during the pandemic. Co-working businesses have taken advantage of some of the shifts in working place usage—some making bold and gutsy changes to their business model to adapt to the new ways of working. 

The Pioneer Collective, a coworking and event space in Seattle, made some serious changes as they learned to adapt to COVID work environment. The company converted some of the private office space to production studios so companies could produce training videos. They also created virtual memberships to support business needs like mail and provide smaller offices for cooped-up workers to get out of the house.  You can learn more about this innovative effort here. We will likely see more innovation like this as we pull further away from the pandemic. 

Additionally, you’ve most likely seen a line of people waiting outside a store as employees carefully track the number of customers inside the building in order to stay aligned with social-distancing guidelines. Limiting the number of people in a given space has become standard almost everywhere.

With customizable data reports, you are able to put limits on the number of credentialed users who have access to any given space. For example, cap the cafe area at 10 people, or revoke a user’s access to a particular room given their job function. Set access limitations based on the time of day and entrance locations, all from one centralized location. If you’re using a mobile tool, those permissions can be easily updated remotely by a security administrator for multiple locations—a useful tool for companies locked into longer-term leases. 

No. 2: Access control and remote property management 

COVID vaccine approvals indicate a light at the end of the tunnel regarding the pandemic, but the ever-evolving situation will require industries and businesses to continually evaluate and course correct until things return to a “new normal.” Now more than ever, businesses are tasked with keeping their people safe and healthy while closed businesses must keep an eye on their less-trafficked facilities.

With remote management, businesses can efficiently control their work environment from anywhere with streamlined workflows, operational and identity management integrations, and powerful security features to improve efficiency and enhance safety. This includes video surveillance, which can help monitor for unusual activity or behavior. Is an employee trying to enter the building outside normal business hours or are they attempting to enter a section of the office they wouldn’t normally? Coupled with a strong security platform, video surveillance can give insight into employee behavior that the swipe of a badge or mobile credentials can’t. 

Video surveillance will also be key in viewing real-time or historic footage to identify if employees and guests are following your new safety requirements. Monitor if people are adhering to the recommended six-foot social distancing guidelines, if people are wearing their masks, how often employees are coming in, and how long they stay. These insights help decision-makers adjust policies moving forward as well.

No. 3: The shift to cloud tech

Cloud is quickly becoming the new norm. Creating products that are still server-based would be like trying to bring back Blockbuster. Just like Blockbuster lost to Netflix, server solutions won’t survive in the cloud and IoT world we live in today.

However, despite widespread cloud adoption across most industries, it hasn't been widely deployed in proptech. Today, only 10 percent of access control security technology is cloud based. This is a missed opportunity. Cloud-based access control provides continuous data collection to help companies understand security challenges, while on-premise solutions are not designed to track and keep data. Also, data collected through traditional security servers is siloed and can’t be connected with other IT solutions—hindering effective interoperability. 

The growth and sophistication of cloud-based solutions means capturing and managing massive amounts of data has never been more accessible, affordable, or efficient for businesses. No single provider can offer every best-in-class service a company needs. Instead, most companies have a combination of integrated solutions that they need to run their business. As providers continue to add cloud-based options to their portfolio of products and services, companies will be able to build customizable ecosystems for different areas of their business without compromising on communication and collaboration. 

To make this more appealing and effective, open platforms help combine the right solutions a company needs. Cloud-to-cloud integrations across platforms are the dominant integration model. This approach replaces on-premise systems with integrated solutions. 

As we continue forward, data will play a critical role in how we learn and adapt our businesses and industries to thrive in this new normal. Optimism might be in short supply these days but we know that in technology there is always a brighter future.

Steven Van Till is co-Founder, president & CEO of Brivo, Inc. a cloud services provider of access control, video surveillance, mobile, and identity solutions delivered as a SaaS offering. He also serves as chairman of the SIA Standards Committee, and is a frequent author and speaker for numerous security publications and forums, and the inventor of several patents in the field of physical security.

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