Building systems could reassure occupants by providing real-time information about the environment itself, such as occupancy levels, air quality or how recently spaces have been cleaned. One example is the CleanPulse app, which WSP developed for Canadian transport and tour operator Ontario Northland, so passengers or hotel guests can check the cleaning status of their bus or room. This could be easily rolled out to offices, either linked to the building management system or, more simply, as a cloud-based app.
“People are going to want that sense of safety – they want to feel comfortable that they’re not exposing themselves to risk,” says Randy Howder, Gensler principal and managing director of its San Francisco office. “The only way to really know that is with the kind of data that sensors provide. Before, this was just used to help facilities managers understand whether they needed more conference rooms or to turn the lights off when nobody was there, but now it’s going to be much more important to show data on spaces being maintained or cleaned.”
As well as facilitating touch-free entry, apps could also help to resolve common gripes about contemporary offices, such as a lack of dedicated space. “Your phone acts as your access card to move around the building,” says Jaco Cronje, an Internet-of-Things solution architect with WSP in Houston. “You could use the app on your phone to call the elevator, and it could send you a note to let you know where there’s a free seat so you know which way to turn when you reach your floor.” Connecting access control to the presence sensor network and room booking system could facilitate genuine activity based-working, by enabling people to view occupancy levels in different areas and reserve spaces. If the room booking system is integrated with individuals’ schedules, they could be automatically allotted appropriate spaces for each part of the day. Then if you want to speak to a colleague, the app could show their location so that you don’t have to wander fruitlessly.
Building amenities could also be accessed through the app, enabling people to place orders for food or book fitness sessions, and check on queues for the lunchroom. Queueing is set to become an all-too-familiar experience in the post-Covid world, and this will drive an expectation for virtual solutions, believes Fran Heller, CEO of Californian start-up Good2Go. Its restroom app was commercially launched in 2019 in response to the lack of public restrooms, and offers keyless, touchless access and virtual queueing to a network of facilities. Post-Covid, touchless restrooms will be even more valued, but it’s the virtual queuing component of the app that is suddenly fulfilling a critical need. “No one likes to stand in a queue, so having your position held virtually – so your phone stands in line for you – is a highly desirable feature,” she says. “If you could get into the queue for the restroom while you’re sitting at your desk, that is way more efficient. But it doesn’t matter what’s on the other side of the door, it’s applicable to any resource.” Heller is now talking to office owners about using the app to manage elevator capacity.