How desk management software could unlock our return to the office

With social distancing and contact tracing on the agenda, how can technology support our return to work?

As the lockdown begins to ease, business owners are looking at how they can safely manage an office environment. Here I take a look at how desk management software can assist this process. This article looks at how technology may be beneficial – but of course I am not a virologist. I hope you find these ideas useful as part of your larger strategy on employee safety.

There are two key elements that will influence our lives for quite some time: social distancing and contact tracing. Each has a different part to play in the control of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Many of our clients have embraced desk management software to manage their office space, allowing employees to control where and how they work. Meanwhile the company gains vital statistics on office utilisation. Now these same systems are brilliantly placed to support social distancing and contact chasing objectives at the local level.

Let’s start with social distancing. With desk management you can immediately define desks and zones where working is allowed. This will allow you to set appropriate distances between workers and not let anyone book desks that don’t fulfil the needed criteria. Not supplying power to unused desks can help ensure compliance.

Furthermore, when using the system you can manage the total number of employees in the office. If the office is full, you simply allow no further bookings. This isn’t a period of just sharing the end of someone’s desk if things are busy – we won’t have that luxury.

It won’t be quite as spontaneous as people are used to, and they will need to do more forward planning to ensure they get a desk. But that’s a good thing – it focuses thought on how and when they will travel and avoid unnecessary journeys. People will adapt so long as you have a clear strategy that is communicated to all – and easy access to systems that allow them to see availability and book resources.

In terms of contact tracing you’ll have a clear map of who sat where and when. In the case of an employee testing positive for COVID you’ll be able to instantly notify anyone that was in the office that day. This reflects the nationwide contract tracing that will take place: it’s vital to be able to notify people of close contact to an infected person.

The real-time booking information will also allow you to proactively tell cleaners which desks have been used that day and will need cleaning. Additional considerations you may wish to consider are if you temporarily remove shared keyboards and supplying antiviral wipes and cleaning equipment on desks. Additionally, a clear desk policy should be enforced judicially.

With all such systems, keep employees informed of how data is used and why. There will be concern over increased surveillance and individual traceability. Reassure employees that it’s not about monitoring their activity it’s about safety. Be clear how long you will retain and use data. Data should be anonymised where possible and a Chinese wall policy that explains in what situations individual data can be accessed and by whom.

The return to work will place demands on both employers and employees and there is bound to be learning along the way. But I am confident a desk management solution has a key part to play in keeping us all safe.