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The Technology Behind Social Distancing: How to Bring Employees Back Safely


With new infections surging across the country, employers are struggling to find ways to bring their employees back on site safely. No one wants to be responsible for another outbreak, but these companies need to get back to work.

Offices, hallways, and other commercial spaces are not designed for social distancing, so many companies are turning to technology to help their employees follow the rules. Automation and visual tracking devices can help prevent large gatherings, close in-person meetings, and other potential hazards in the workplace, so workers can go back to the office without worrying as much about getting infected.

As more businesses look for sustainable ways to maintain their operations amid the pandemic, this technology could quickly become the new norm, especially if the enhanced unemployment benefits expire at the end of July, sending millions of people back into the job market. See how this equipment can make a difference at work.

AI Cameras for Social Distancing

A company in New York called Actuate is selling new software that builds off existing security cameras. The software tracks human behavior and spatial distance inside the office. If two people get too close to one another, the system will automatically issue a warning and the incident will be logged for review.

Actuate says the system does not track individuals or their movements. It just measures how far apart they are at any given time. Administrators can look at the footage to see who was in the room, how close they were, and for how long, so they can decide if further action is needed. This may include testing these individuals for symptoms or self-isolation. The system also sends out a daily report, so these incidents do not go unnoticed.

The company says schools, governments, and other public places can use this technology to bring people back on site safely. It was even used in a residential building in the city. Authorities were able to detect a large gathering in the lobby and follow up with each resident before the situation could spiral out of control.

Right now, the company says it can upgrade existing security cameras with this software for just $10 per camera per month.

Wearable Tracking Devices

Other companies and organizations are turning to wearable tracking devices instead. Employees are given small devices at the beginning of the day. They then wear them around as they go from their desks to the meeting rooms and kitchens. If two sensors get too close to one another, the system will issue an automatic alert, reminding the employees to step back and stay safe.

Wearable devices can also track the person’s heart rate, movement, and body temperature, helping these individuals keep track of their symptoms.

Some track digital devices, such as cellphones, laptops, and other Wi-Fi-enabled devices, instead of the individual. This may work if the person usually carries the device everywhere they go.

What About Privacy Consideration?

As more companies invest in surveillance as a way of curbing the spread of the coronavirus, privacy issues will eventually come into play. Workers may not like the idea of their bosses tracking their movements in the office, but this equipment may be essential when it comes to maintaining public safety.

Actuate and other technology manufacturers are trying to limit the collection of personal information, focusing on human movement, rather than the identity of those in question. This trend could lead to a wave of surveillance the likes of which we’ve never seen.

In most cases, employees won’t have a choice, as long as the company does not violate their rights. When workers are on company property, the manager has a right to track their movements – but that surveillance should end at the door. Employers do not have the right to track their workers when they are not in the office.

Experts agree that it often comes down to communication. Companies using this technology need to clearly explain how it’s being used to their employees, including how it prevents the spread of infection, what information it’s collecting, and how is that information being stored or utilized in the office.

Will This Work?

Tracking movement inside the office isn’t the end-all-be-all when it comes to preventing infection. It only works if all parties are wearing this technology, including mail delivery drivers, IT specialists, contractors, as well as clients and customers.

Recent studies suggest that if around 50% of people in the office are using this technology, the company can detect around 25% of infectious contacts.

It would also be a mistake to think that this technology solves everything. Companies should still adhere to all of the CDC’s guidelines to reduce the chances of infection. They also need to invest in ventilation, limit access to the office, and reduce occupancy whenever possible.

The pandemic will likely change working life for so many Americans in the months to come. Keep these trends in mind as we search for a new normal.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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