Returning to Work: Balancing Collaboration and Safety
        To ensure safety in the office during COVID-19 and beyond, enterprises will increasingly rely on technologies like people counters and personal device content-sharing gateways.
        July 31
        This article is posted here with the consent of the author. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position, view, or opinion of Crestron Electronics, Inc., or of any of its employees. Crestron Electronics is not responsible for, and does not verify the accuracy of, any of the information contained in this article.
        By Andrew Gross
        With the pandemic disrupting workforces and office spaces across the globe, enterprises everywhere are rethinking their approach to how — and where — people work. While many organizations report their employees’ productivity levels have been the same or higher while working remotely, it’s doubtful all companies will follow the example of Twitter and keep their entire workforce home forever. More likely, there will be a shift toward hybrid work environments that accommodate both in-office and remote employees.
        That means enterprises need tools to help them balance collaboration and safety equally, enabling employees to interact and be productive without placing anyone in danger of contracting the virus.
        Technology for safer, more effective collaboration
        As we move into this new hybrid work reality, the very footprint of office spaces is likely to change to accommodate collaborative environments that are enlarged to support social distancing. Think fewer cubicles and shared desks, and more conference and meeting room spaces. With these dramatic changes, enterprises will need ways to enforce the new rules.
        That’s where people counters come in. People-counting technology has been around for a decade or more, but it was never widely adopted in the enterprise, mainly because of security and privacy concerns. That’s all changed. It’s now a need-to-have, not just to protect employees from the virus, but also to shield employers from a potential lawsuit if an employee falls ill because a conference room was too crowded.
        By deploying the latest Unified Communications (UC) and collaboration tools, which have cameras that support people counting, enterprises can achieve these safety measures, while also benefitting from improved productivity. In addition to counting people, these platforms also offer built-in reporting and cloud-based analytics, which can be used to better understand how employees use collaboration spaces and how they can be improved.
        Some people counters in UC tools can also be set to proactively detect issues. For example, if the camera detects that a seventh person has entered a six-person-maximum conference room, the tool can alert facility managers or IT leaders, so they can intervene.
        To promote collaboration, advanced native room systems can tie into the UC platform. This allows the technology to support everyone in a meeting equally, whether they are in the room or remote. The digital display and UC platforms allow all participants to see each other, while high-quality audio technologies (soundbars, microphones, ceiling speakers, tabletop audio devices, etc.) ensure everyone can hear each other clearly.
        Another technology that combines safety and collaboration is a personal device content-sharing gateway, which enables employees to use their own devices (laptops, mobile phones, etc.) to share content to another display. Meeting participants don’t have to touch anything that isn’t their own device, which helps prevent the spread of viruses around an office. Neither do they have to huddle around one person’s laptop in close quarters to review notes or a deck.
        Additionally, personal device content-sharing gateways allow people to work from the devices with which they are most comfortable and familiar; they know where their files are, what shortcuts are programmed into the trackpad settings, and so on. Less time is wasted learning how to control a colleague’s device on the fly, which helps everyone make the most of the meeting.
        Some personal device content-sharing gateways allow employees to cross-collaborate over other video conferencing systems that customers, vendors, or partners may use. For instance, an office that runs on Microsoft Teams® software can have a meeting with a remotely located vendor using Zoom Rooms™ software, with all participants enjoying the audio and video functionalities of the native room system.
        A hybrid future
        Every enterprise is in a different place with their return-to-work plans and procedures following the height of the first wave of the pandemic this past spring, and there is no playbook for this new reality. But one thing is for sure: safety and hygiene will now have to be prioritized just as highly as productivity and collaboration have been and will continue to be.
        Enterprises can use this time to rethink and restructure their office spaces by deploying technologies that meet both needs at the same time, thus supporting employees’ safe return to work while meeting business goals and remaining profitable.

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