Social distancing is as synonymous with the Covid-19 pandemic, as lockdown hand sanitizer.
The 2-metre distance between individuals continues to be in place as of June 2020, and has played an integral role in flattening the curve in the fight against the virus. But as we head into the coming few weeks and months what next for social distancing? And how can we harness technology to help us get back to some semblance of normal life?
As schools, businesses and shops begin to reopen, more and more organisations are looking to conduct effective social distancing and ensure safety. Some of these are “human” - one-way walking systems in corridors, staggered lunch and break times, and enforcing regular hand washing and businesses will need to adapt and innovate to ensure the safety of their employees and customers.
Urban planners and architects, for example, are drawing up ideas for how our cities can be safer, cleaner and greener in light of Covid-19. Schools are implementing “pod” education, and we all recognise that the term “critical infastructure” now needs to include broadband and technology in its definition as more than 60% of the working population works from home.
But as we enter what many are referring to as a new normal, we have to use every possible tool at our disposal, and technology is crucial.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of innovative ideas. Several companies have been developing new technologies to help, and also emphasizing how old technologies could fit the new reality. Wearable and in-device technology, monitors within equipment, people-counting cameras – formerly used to optimise office space – being adapted to alert people if they are too close to one another, and a sensor-equipped robot dog that is enforcing the two-metre rule in a Singapore park.
These technologies not only offer warnings when people get too close, they can help managers use AI to plan working patterns, plot socially distant routes around workplaces, and monitor interactions. Technology can help us spot and mitigate potential problems, the change of shift forcing people into a shared car park. Some are even arguing that these technologies will continue to add value even once social distancing becomes less crucial – allowing managers to introduce monitoring of staffing and location that increase both efficiency and well-being. For examples, monitoring when staff have been unsustainably busy, and introducing spot breaks or increasing staffing levels at those times.
However – all of this requires a significant amount of trust – that the data being collected will be used appropriately, and that employees won’t be “named and shamed” if or when they infringe the regulations. It is noticeable though that the pandemic and experience of lockdown has accelerated the public's willingness to surrender some of their privacy to help control the spread of the virus and promote a return to normal activity. The success of other economies like South Korea and Germany in limiting lockdown and infection rates, has relied on tracking, testing and tracing and whereas a year ago there might have been more resistance. Covid-19 has changed everything – including the publics willingness to share personal data.
Above all, these technologies give both businesses and their employees peace of mind. There is an understandable anxiety in the workforce about returning to work environments, and by combining practical and technological solutions, we can reassure employees that their safety in work is a priority, and in turn allows organisations to move from responding to recovering and rebuilding.