When imagining the office of the future, we’re often quick to picture a fully automated workplace, powered by robots and artificial intelligence – and in fact, this “future” is not too far off.

Security and access technologies have taken big strides in the wake of COVID-19, and many new and existing solutions have been thrust forward to prepare offices for the return of the workforce.

As organizations re-evaluate their office spaces, leveraging these technologies will be critical to addressing three key areas:

  1. Improving employee health and safety,
  2. Enhancing business efficiencies, and 
  3. Proactively solving business challenges.

It’s about creating a safe, healthy, and efficient environment in which people and assets are protected, and businesses can thrive.

Not only that, it’s about creating a space where employees can collaborate and be creative. Talent is central to any thriving business, so ensuring that employees are comfortable and confident in their workspace is critical to the future of the office.

Resilience in a post-COVID era requires adaptability, and a security ecosystem – one that integrates security technologies seamlessly and provides a wealth of actionable insights – can help businesses remain nimble.

To address the three key areas above, business leaders should consider the following steps.

1. Improving Health & Safety: Mapping the Workplace Journey

The first step to protecting your employees is to “walk” their journey through the office, identifying where they may encounter risks. You need to consider how employees of all abilities enter and leave the building, as well as how they navigate the space throughout the working day.

Could certain areas pose more potential health risks than others, for example shared meeting rooms, cafeterias, and restrooms? If so, how could they be optimized to ensure that people transition between facility areas in the safest way possible?

Key to this is identifying high-touch areas. Door handles, alone, can harbor thousands of harmful germs, which is prompting many organizations to consider not just automatic exterior doors, but touchless, automatic interior doors as well.

As people have become hyper-aware of the risks of spreading germs, implementing touchless technologies like this is one step toward improving employee health and safety, and ultimately creating an environment in which employees feel confident to return to work.

2. Enhancing Business Efficiencies: Integrated Solutions that Automate Processes

Once you’ve conducted a thorough risk assessment, the next step is to implement the necessary solutions. Access control and integrated workflow management systems are two key focuses for many businesses.

A 2021 survey conducted by Forrester on behalf of STANLEY Security showed that 42% of organizations are planning to implement low-touch or touchless access control within the next 12 months. These systems enable contactless entry via smartphones or optometric recognition, minimizing contact with doors.

Especially when integrated with visitor and workflow management systems, access control can become a powerful tool for enhancing business efficiencies. For example, businesses can automate visitor check-in processes by pre-registering people and granting mobile credentials before they arrive on-site.

Or, for example, businesses may look to these systems to support a hybrid workforce model. The same survey data shows that half of companies are limiting the number of employees they have on the premises at any one time. With people coming into the office on different days at different times, companies face the challenge of monitoring occupancy, density and flow.

Integrated access control and workflow management systems allow employees to virtually book time in the office, which then automatically generates the proper access credentials. Not only does this automation eliminate the risk of human error, but it enables businesses to act smarter – enhancing protection, boosting efficiencies, and driving time and cost savings.

3. Proactively Solving Business Challenges: Unlocking the Power of the Security Ecosystem

All of this activity creates a wealth of data and insights, which can be used to proactively solve business challenges. Therein lies the true power of a security ecosystem that integrates hardware and software solutions and creates opportunities to leverage AI and machine learning.

Businesses can use the insights from these systems to identify how office space is being used, trends in occupancy and density levels, highly trafficked areas that may need attention, and more. This information is invaluable as we adjust to a new phase of work, and organizations look to not only keep their people safe but optimize the office experience.

Importantly, these insights also provide businesses with a deeper look into their space management, allowing them to make adjustments in real time to create more efficient and effective work environments, where employees can collaborate and be productive.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed the workplace as we know it, and it will continue to shape the workplace of the future. A company’s most valuable asset is its people, and by establishing a strong security ecosystem, businesses can feel confident that they’re welcoming employees back into a secure and healthy workspace.

But beyond this, security and access infrastructure should be seen as a business enabler and a source of essential intelligence, helping offices not only to survive, but to thrive.

This article originally ran in Security, a twice-monthly security-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security Magazine. Subscribe here.