COVID at work: How the virus is even changing how we gain entry to the office

As organizations around the world prepare for the post-pandemic workplace, access-control issues loom large.
Written by Bojan Stojkovski, Contributor

Half a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses and organizations worldwide are reimagining how the new post-pandemic workplace will look.

With physical distancing and efficient hygiene practices firmly at the top of everyone's list, attention is now switching to contactless technology to make the workplace safer for employees who are slowly starting to return to the office.

Because workplaces have the potential to become virus infection hotspots, employers are keen to implement best practices. Czech-based 2N Telekomunikace, a developer and manufacturer of IP intercom and access-system technology, reckons it can help businesses deal with some of those challenges.

SEE: COVID-19: A guide and checklist for restarting your business (TechRepublic Premium)

"COVID-19 has put the modern workplace in a vulnerable spot. As more and more people return to offices following the recent lockdown, more rigorous measures will need to be put in place, such as contactless access-control systems," Michal Kratochvíl, 2N Telekomunikace's CEO tells ZDNet. 

"The key card or pin pad that many of us used to access the office before the pandemic will have no place in the post-COVID-19 workplace. The virus can remain viable on these surfaces for several hours and can spread to other people."

So most of 2N's products focus on mobile-based access systems, which eliminate the need for shared surfaces and at the same time provide safe and secure office access, Kratochvil adds.

With smartphones a key tool in people's daily lives for controlling smart homes, shopping, and making online payments, now they can also assist in dealing with the effects of the pandemic. 

"They can also help relieve us from costly and cumbersome cards and fobs, by acting as our secure access credential," argues Kratochvil.

"The advantages of contactless entry controls, remote control of visitor access, and socially distanced video intercoms are all the more apparent when so much focus is on hygiene."

In 2018, mobile credentials were downloaded and used by 4.1 million people worldwide. IHS Markit projects that by 2023 that number could well reach over 120 million.

A recent survey also showed that more and more employees are now prioritizing the security that mobile-based access-control systems provide, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

While most workers are still using key cards to enter their offices, 41% say their preferred choice for storing credentials is now the smartphone or smartwatch.

As technology already plays a vital role in providing reassurance and protection for people around the world, mobile-based and other modern access-control solutions are already making a difference for various communities. 

One example is the use by a school building in Prague of access systems to secure its activities in the new pandemic climate.

The building currently houses three institutions – an elementary school, a high school, and local municipality offices. It has implemented a system that managed to resolve access for all three institutions, enabling separate entry points and creating individual zones and restrictions related to the time of day.

SEE: IT budgets 2020-21: Planning for business continuity in uncertain times

Elsewhere in the world, another example is that of a women's center and shelter building in the US city of Pittsburgh. The center, which has been operational for more than 40 years and provides care for victims of abuse and domestic violence, faced issues with its outdated security and communication systems.

The solution that helped the center deal with its security concerns was a new video telephone system, with IP video intercoms and dynamic IP access control. 

"With the increased visibility and two-step verification, there is no way a violent abuser can get into the building," said Mark Ritter, information systems manager at the center.

When it comes to the future of these and similar access-control systems, the turmoil that the pandemic has brought also means companies in this industry have to focus on innovation.

"Before this current crisis, 13% of our revenues were reinvested in R&D, and that will continue. Mobile will be a particular area of focus for innovation. Also, more integration, and incorporating products from different companies to provide fully comprehensive security systems," 2N Telekomunikace's Kratochvil explains.

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