White Paper: Safe Re-Entry to Buildings

Advanced, Connected Lighting Systems Make Safe Re-Entry a Reality

In 2020, COVID-19 swept across the globe creating a need for many workspaces to shut down, some of which still have not returned to their designated office space. As the time continues to tick by, there is new concern surrounding the virus, including newly discovered strains, the vaccine rollout logistics, return to school and more.

For many businesses, office workplaces have been shut down since the beginning of the pandemic, and safe re-entry to buildings is a top priority. Getting employees back in the office to increase productivity, enhance a sense of community and drive business goals forward will be top-of-mind for many executives going into the coming months and years. How do we reopen? How do we do it safely? How do we keep the business running during a global pandemic? All questions that have been floating around for months.

In all cases, businesses are coming to grips with the necessity of planning for the long haul, where they expect to coexist with this pandemic for some time, in some form or fashion. A growing number of forward-thinking organizations are also looking longer term to be alert and prepared for challenges to employee health in the future. Technology can play a key role in developing solutions that offer a long-term plan that is sustainable no matter how the pandemic evolves. Additionally, installing cutting-edge technology gets businesses ahead of the game with location-based services.

IoT Hard at Work

Smart phones, Bluetooth enabled devices, wayfinding, and navigation - all key developments in technology that continue to significantly enhance our day-to-day ability to remain connected in a constantly evolving technical landscape. While we have continued to adopt this technology to make our personal and professional lives easier, we did not know the amount of benefit they could have in a time like this.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has revolutionized the way we communicate and mine information. Today’s world has become a connected society in almost every facet of life. As a result, data is being collected, shared and used in new ways across networks and applications to make life simpler and better.

When it comes to smartphones, wearable devices and other tools, users see a natural progression in technology and tend to adapt and adopt relatively easily. Many industries are starting to make strides that can impact everything from general safety in a healthcare facility to efficiency gains within a commercial office or even personal shopping experiences in a retail environment. Going beyond just a better experience, COVID-19 has changed everything about the way businesses and companies operate. Technology becomes even more critical as it offers a way to create a more safety-conscious workplace.

For a more tangible example, a healthcare provider at a hospital can use this data to know when a space (such as a patent’s room) is ready for cleaning or is ready for a new patent. Or, the hospital can use the technology to locate a cart needed to facilitate treatments. It also can cut down on extended time between patients by triggering a notification when the next patient is in their room and ready to be seen. All key needs to provide better care with increased safety.

Could Safe Re-Entry Hinge on Lighting?

The conversation of safe re-entry to buildings has put the lighting industry at center stage. Like other technologies, the lighting industry is quickly evolving, departing from the analog world and jumping into the digital revolution. This “digital transformation” is very similar to the ones we have seen before with other industries, but this time may have even more positive effects on access to data.

Lighting is ubiquitous to our everyday life in any indoor space we occupy. Lighting, like many other technologies is experiencing a transformation. The first big step of the transformation was moving from analog to digital and yielding more eco-friendly solid-state solutions. Fast forward to today and it’s now being referred to as the new smart building network by creating a “constellation of networked satellites overhead,” generating, collecting, and sharing information to solve known and unknown challenges and problems.

This is where “enabled” digital lighting systems (such as those with Bluetooth® embedded controls) can significantly impact safe re-entry to the office and other buildings. With embedded controls the luminaire together with appropriate software applications can provide analytics that empower business owners to find solutions to problems they did not even know existed. The valuable data provided and shared (through notifications) is worth so much more than we once thought as the stakes are much higher now. This information-share of data can help influence the decisions we make to keep employees safer and healthier at work. It also can accelerate the process for a business resuming operations, cutting down on time out of the office and lost productivity for companies.

Not only can “enabled” lighting include luminaires with embedded controls empowering services such as:

  • Location-based Services: Real-time Indoor Positioning, turn-by-turn navigation, digital mapping, and augmented reality.
  • Location-based Analytics: Heatmaps, Zonal analytics, crowd simulation, visitor analytics.
  • Location-based Notifications: Contextual notifications, geofencing, customer surveys, loyalty integration, and location sharing.

But, for business owners, the important service of Support for Safety Capabilities and Contact Tracing -- from smart check-in features and occupancy monitoring, to optimized routes for navigation and employee proximity alerts – is an important element of safely returning to a building.

When looking at next steps to re-enter the workplace, executives can become early adopters of technology by adding solutions that are sustainable and offer long term benefits and solve future business challenges.

Working Smarter, Not Harder

In most buildings the air conditioning, lights and other systems are set to turn on and off at the same time every day regardless of whether people are in the office or not. With a smart building optimized with a Digital Ceiling, all of these systems could stay turned off until a proximity sensor notices someone in the building. When this happens, the system can also trigger applications like security cameras, Wi-Fi access points, lights and AC to be turned on in that zone only, thus preserving energy throughout the space. Over time, the building can learn what normal usage patterns are and become increasingly predictable, adjusting based on smart data.

To handle the volume requirements to keep a safe building and workspace, some businesses have even tapered hours, meaning staggering the times various individuals or departments head into the office and leave. This goes against what most of us are used to, a very regimented schedule that rarely changes. The data captured by a digital ceiling can offer businesses more flexibility and the ability to offer the same standards of safety to every employee no matter what time they come into work.

Putting Innovation into Action

With the onset of COVID-19, we had to reframe the way we look at meetings and or large events taking place -- a practice we unfortunately do not see going away anytime soon. For example, consider a meeting taking place in a large space within an office building. These integrated systems can answer questions like “how many people were in each meeting?” “how far apart were they standing?” or “when did this meeting finish up and participants began to exit the space?” Again, these questions may not have seemed natural a few months ago, but now with new sweeping protocols, businesses have to take note and find a path forward to the “new normal.”

Post-and-amid COVID-19, safe building re-entry is an extremely important topic, and smart lighting systems can be a key component in creating a more secure work environment. While mobile phones can track relative location, in an indoor location they cannot track absolute location without some help. Properly placed, line-powered beacons overhead are needed to deliver the meaningful accuracy and data that will benefit businesses when strategizing about safe re-entry.

Systems of lighting enabled BLE beacons, mobile phone applications, and cloud-based analytics can perform the below functions that make a significant impact on safe re-entry:

  • Smart check-in and virtual queues with contact tracing
  • Monitor and enforce occupancy limits
  • Optimize and enforce navigation routes for distancing
  • Employee proximity alerts
  • Monitor space cleaning in real-time
  • Track visitor circulation and flows

With its already integrated nature, lighting is quickly becoming one of the primary ways to implement new network infrastructure that will deliver end-to-end, multi-faceted solutions meaning more valuable data for users and efficiency for business owners.

What Applications Benefit the Most?

Because it is extremely flexible, Digital Ceiling technology is valuable to a variety of applications. Commercial workspaces are one of the most natural fits. For the past 10 years, the workforce has become more mobile, changing how office spaces are used. Historically, offices were divided up based on specific department titles, for example Marketing, Research & Development, etc., but now many are dividing their employees into workstream-based teams. With these changes, meeting spaces are more important now than ever to boost collaboration and productivity. Data being pulled directly from Digital Ceilings can provide developers an accurate picture of foot traffic and room congestion to determine how many meeting spaces should be available or how large community spaces should be, aiding in redesign and layout of a space. This is a key area digital ceiling technology can play a role in the safe re-entry to the workplace.

In addition to commercial office space, Digital Ceilings make a perfect fit for large and small retail spaces with high foot traffic, healthcare facilities, colleges/universities and more.

Transformative Times

We are in transformative times -- dealing with a global pandemic, evolving our lives to a work from home format, finding a way forward outside the walls of offices -- the world is changing. Meanwhile, the digital transformation is taking more shape than ever. We now rely on Zoom meetings, instant messaging platforms and the Google Suite to collaborate and drive business goals, while still recognizing we are less efficient than we were when we were able to gather together even if only for part of our work week. Like our increased dependence on work-at-home technologies, it should come as no surprise that safely re-entering the workplace will also hinge on the digital transformation.

As with all technology, Digital Ceilings will continue to evolve with researchers pushing boundaries and identifying more applications and ways lighting systems can make an impact. These solutions go way beyond just overhead lighting and converging networks, but they offer an opportunity for businesses to see the hope in bringing their workforce back to home base.

For a demonstration of how enabled lighting works in your building, please email upgrade@unvlt.com or send your project requirements to https://unvlt.com/fast-quote.

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