The COVID-19 pandemic is still disrupting life for many people, businesses and organizations around the world. However, that world has begun adapting to a new normal, and much of daily life has resumed at various points since the pandemic began, including travel, in-person school and in-office work.

In the early days of the pandemic, workplace safety and security conversations were centered around touchless solutions. Entrance providers scrambled to provide wave-to-open door mechanisms, antimicrobial surfaces and other solutions to either eliminate the need to touch door hardware or to make it safer. However, in time it was recognized that surfaces are not a significant vector for transmission of COVID-19, and — while it is still worth considering, given our expanded understanding of the need to contain the spread of disease — the rush to deploy touchless solutions has slowed somewhat.

Securing work environments in 2022

Today, organizations must consider a different set of issues relating to employees’ return to the office. In 2020, as the pandemic grew in scope and employers became more aware of the risks of having an entire staff population working in close proximity, the majority of office workers shifted to a work-from-home situation. Some relocated to other cities or states and continued to work remotely from farther away. Many employees are now opening discussions around the possibility of making work-from-home a permanent or at least more frequent arrangement, leaving employers to deal with a wide variety of differing employment situations for their workers — a hybrid workforce.

This new reality creates a different need in regard to personnel population management. Now, the roster of employees who are authorized to be present onsite may change every day. Additionally, because of the need to minimize overcrowding, each staff member may have a more precisely defined area of the facility where they are allowed to be — they cannot move freely around the campus, even if they once had full site access. There may even be specific limitations to the hours when each individual is permitted to visit a public area like a cafeteria or fitness center.

To ensure adherence to the rules helping maintain health and safety as personnel return to work, access control and visitor management solutions used in conjunction with security entrances are an excellent resource for employers.

Because so many employees in the new hybrid workforce are now using custom schedules and locations, security directors should consider managing access for them the way they have traditionally managed access for vendors and visitors. Some will have a fixed schedule; others will be onsite only when they need to be present for a meeting or other physical event. Access permissions for these workers can be assigned for each specific day or daypart when they will be in the office, and only for the building or area of a building where they need to be present. Security entrances, which require a valid credential in order for the individual to pass through, are the best solution for consistent enforcement of these access permissions.

The data generated from security entrances can also deliver further insights to help manage health and safety risks. For example, an audit can be run to see how many people are in each controlled area of the facility every day and time throughout a specified period. This information can help security management with a deeper understanding of the overall risks from a health perspective.

Security entrance data can also be a valuable resource for contact tracing, should someone in the organization report a positive test result for the COVID-19 virus. The movements of that individual within the facility or campus can be viewed and cross-checked against all the other people who have been present in the same areas to determine who they may have come in contact with; management can then inform all those people that they need to quarantine or otherwise comply with policies.

For those organizations who do choose to implement touchless entry as a way to reduce the overall spread of germs and bacteria, automatic security revolving doors and other entry solutions provide a secure and auditable hands-free solution. Integrated with contactless credentials and readers, they minimize the possibility of surface contamination.

Over the course of the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a significant number of challenges to businesses, and new problems are sure to emerge before it is entirely under control. Now that people are beginning to resume a more active presence at work, it is important that organizations expand the concept of security to encompass the health and wellbeing of their employee populations. Implementing a strategic, carefully-planned solution featuring security entrances integrated with access control is a meaningful step in caring for the workforce.

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