Earlier this year, Siberia’s health authorities came up with a splendidly graphic way of communicating social distancing advice. Rather than simply cautioning citizens to maintain a distance of one and a half meters between each other, posters placed in prominent places featured a picture of two Russians standing on either side of a “medium-sized” Brown Bear.
Elsewhere, the messaging has tended to stick to standard measures of distance. But maybe the Russians had a point. Judging distance isn’t always easy. Do any of us really know when we breach a 1.5-meter guideline, either in the workplace or in shops? In busy environments, we potentially break the rules all the time.
All of which creates headaches for managers charged with ensuring their workplaces are Covid-secure. Yes, you can separate desks and workstations by a suitable distance but in situations where staff are moving around and collaborating, keep a check on overly close encounters can be difficult.
Clearly, the big danger is that poor social distancing contributes to the spread of the disease, but there is also a secondary problem. Namely, if a member of staff tests positive, how many other members of the team are sent home to self isolate? The challenge facing managers is not only keeping their workplaces as Covid-secure as possible but also keeping their businesses running effectively and avoiding a complete or partial shutdown.
So what can be done to improve social distancing or to be more precise, the monitoring of it? Well, one U.K.-based startup believes the Internet of Things can provide a solution.
Founded in 2017, EMSOL was established to enable businesses 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 on the same technology to provide a workplace monitoring solution dubbed Worksafe.
As founder and CEO, Freddie Talberg explains, one of the keys to creating a solution designed to cut emissions and improve air quality was the ability to know where vehicles were at any given time. “Position and locational accuracy was the big thing,” he says. “We used Bluetooth as part of the solution.”
As the pandemic took hold, Talberg and his team realised that Bluetooth coupled with positional analysis could be used to monitor activity within workplaces. It works like this. Every employee is given a Bluetooth tag. In parallel, the workplace itself is mapped out. “Because of the positioning data we can monitor social distancing,” says Talberg. That includes the ability to keep a check on individual interactions while also identifying congestion points where problems occur.
With the information presented on a dashboard, employers have the ability to warn individual workers that rules or being breached, or more generally devise better working practices, based on the available data.
But is this something that employers and – perhaps equally importantly – workers will warm to? It’s undoubtedly the case that technology-enabled workforce monitoring is a fact of life in many sites. Work in a warehouse and the chances are your location and working speed will be measured as you move around. Equally, with home working now common for the foreseeable future, some employers are using software to monitor time at the keyboard or productivity. It has to be said, this isn’t always popular and arguably it raises privacy issues.
Talberg sees addressing Covid as the overriding issue. “Would you go to a supermarket if the people there had no respect for social distancing,” he says, By the same principle workers and managers want effective measures to protect their health.
In its main traffic/pollution management business, Emsol has partnered with a number of major organisations, including the National Health Service, retailer John Lewis and Network Rail. It is, however, early days for the company’s Covid solution. As things stand, the system is being used by Sustainable Workplaces, initially with 50 Bluetooth tags issues.
It’s a relatively small project, but on the long road that runs from where we are now to vaccine-assisted normality, huge efforts will be made to get the economy on track. Tech solutions that offer greater safety may well find a market.