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Returning to Work: Balancing Collaboration, Safety


People working in the office during COVID-19
Image: ElitProd -
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 Twitter’s example and keep the entire workforce home forever. More likely is a shift toward a hybrid work environment that comprises both in-office and virtual/remote employees.
That means enterprises need ways to balance collaboration and safety equally, allowing employees to interact and be productive without putting anyone in danger of contracting the virus.
Technology for Safer, More Effective Collaboration
As we move into a hybrid work environment, the very footprint of an office space is likely to change to accommodate collaborative environments that are bigger and support social distancing — think fewer cubicles or shared desks and more conference and meeting room spaces — but enterprises will need a way 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.
Enterprises can get this safety functionality — and benefit from improved productivity — with the latest unified communications (UC) and collaboration tools, which have cameras that support people counting. These platforms don’t only count people; they also have reporting and cloud-based analytics built-in, 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 captures 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 further 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 technology (soundbars, microphones, ceiling speakers, tabletop audio devices, etc.) ensures everyone can hear each other clearly.
Another technology that combines safety and collaboration is a personal device content-sharing gateway, which allows employees to use their own devices (laptops, mobile phones, etc.) to share content onto another screen. Meeting participants don’t have to touch anything that isn’t their own device, which helps prevent the spread of bacteria around an office. Neither do they have to huddle around one person’s laptop in close quarters to review notes or a deck, which promotes social distancing.
Additionally, personal device content-sharing gateways allow people to work off 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 Teams can have a meeting with a remotely located vendor using Zoom, 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 this past spring, and there is no playbook for this new reality. But one thing is for sure: Safety and hygiene now will have to be prioritized just as highly as productivity and collaboration was and will continue to be.
Enterprises can use this time to rethink 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.

Looking for more perspectives on how to tackle COVID-19 and beyond? Then make sure to attend the Enterprise Connect Digital Conference & Expo 2020, Aug. 3-6. Register today and view the full conference schedule here