Earlier this year, the Siberian health authorities developed a great graphical method to communicate advice on social distancing. Instead of just warning citizens to keep a distance of one and a half meters from each other, posters in prominent places showed a picture of two Russians standing on either side of a “medium-sized” brown bear.
Elsewhere, messaging has tended to stick to standard distance measures. But maybe the Russians were right. Judging the distance is not always easy. Do any of us really know when we are breaking a 1.5 meter policy, either at work or in stores? In busy environments, we may be breaking the rules all the time.
All of this is a headache for managers who need to make sure their workplaces are Covid safe. Yes, you can separate desks and workstations with a suitable distance. However, in situations where employees move and work together, it can be difficult to verify close encounters.
Clearly, the big danger is that poor social distancing is contributing to the spread of the disease, but there is also a secondary problem. If an employee tests positive, how many other members of the team are sent home to self-isolate? The challenge for managers is not only to keep their workplaces as Covid-proof as possible, but also to run their businesses effectively and avoid a complete or partial shutdown.
So what can be done to improve social distancing, or more specifically, surveillance? A UK-based startup believes the Internet of Things can offer a solution.
EMSOL was founded in 2017 to enable companies to meet carbon targets by monitoring emissions in real time using a combination of IoT and cloud technology. Fast forward to 2020 and the company is using a variation of the same technology to deliver a workplace surveillance solution called Worksafe.
As founder and CEO, Freddie Talberg explains, one of the keys to creating a solution to reduce emissions and improve air quality was the ability to know where vehicles were at any given time. “Position and location accuracy were the big thing,” he says. “We used Bluetooth as part of the solution.”
As the pandemic hit, Talberg and his team realized that Bluetooth, in conjunction with position analysis, could be used to monitor activity in workplaces. It works like this. Every employee receives a Bluetooth tag. At the same time, the workplace itself is planned. “Based on the position data, we can monitor social distancing,” says Talberg. This includes the ability to review individual interactions while also identifying congestion points where problems arise.
With the information displayed on a dashboard, employers can warn individual employees of rules or violations, or develop better work practices in general based on the data available.
But is this something employers and – perhaps equally important – employees will be getting into? Undoubtedly, technology-based workforce monitoring is a fact in many locations. Do you work in a warehouse and chances are your location and work speed will be measured as you move around. With home work becoming the norm for the foreseeable future, some employers are using software to monitor keyboard time or productivity. It must be said that this is not always popular and arguably raises privacy issues.
Talberg sees it as a primary problem to address Covid. “Would you go to a supermarket if the people there didn’t respect social distancing,” he says. By the same principle, workers and managers want effective measures to protect their health.
Emsol has worked with a number of key organizations in its core traffic and environmental management business, including the National Health Service, retailer John Lewis and Network Rail. However, it’s still early days for the company’s Covid solution. From today’s perspective, the system is used by sustainable workplaces, initially with 50 problems with bluetooth tags.
It’s a relatively small project, but on the long road from our current path to vaccine-aided normalcy, great efforts are being made to get the economy going. Technical solutions that offer more security may find a market.