Returning to In-person Collaboration More Safely

The way we’ve been collaborating has steadily evolved over the last decade – driven by rapid advancements in technology and Millennials and Gen Z demanding more flexibility in how they interact and manage relationships. But nothing has required us to change as rapidly as COVID-19. Even with this evolution, there is no denying that many institutions were unprepared for the need to collaborate remotely. Looking forward, the next big obstacle is how do we more safely manage in-person collaboration in this new era[1].

For the foreseeable future, there will be foundational changes to the way we interact. We’ve proven we can work remotely, but we will eventually return to our offices, classrooms, and clinics with the intention to interact in-person. But we may not all go back at the same time and in the same number.  We may work shifted hours to increase social distancing and most likely won’t be overcrowding collaboration spaces.

Enabling collaboration in a post-pandemic environment will require solutions spanning facilities, HR, IT, AV, and more. Cleaning schedules, health monitoring, and social distancing standards are now critical things to address that can leverage new and existing technologies to aid in the implementation of new procedures.

Social Distancing

As we saw when this pandemic first started, guidance for acceptable interactions changed frequently and we should be prepared for the same experience as we move back to in-person engagements. What works today may not work for tomorrow, so it’s important to have a way to keep employees, students, and staff reminded of the latest guidance.

  • Customizable digital signage in the collaboration space can display the latest approved occupancy to participants. As the room occupancy adjusts up or down based on a company’s policies, the digital signage in the room can dynamically adjust without needing to deploy additional technology. Collaboration spaces that were once safe for ten participants may now only be fit for five to maintain social distancing guidelines when work resumes – and may be acceptable for seven occupants a few weeks later.
  • Institutions can leverage computer vision to count the number of people in a space and, in conjunction with the digital signage, provide real-time notifications to room participants and remind them when they are over capacity.

Health Monitoring

Going back into a shared office space or classroom will be a scary thing for many people as they’ll continue to be concerned about possible transmission. It’s important to employ practices that help ensure sick individuals are not onsite and provide those who are, with the ability to maintain good hygiene practices.

  • Institutions can leverage thermal imaging kiosks at the entrance of their buildings to determine if an individual is running a fever.
  • Around the office, school, or clinic connected hand sanitizer dispensers could be leveraged to alert facilities when the sanitizer is low to avoid running out and preventing good onsite hygiene.

Keeping Spaces Clean

Cleaning and sanitizing schedules will be increased as we move back to our collaboration spaces which requires institutions to be mindful of the tools they are promoting in these spaces and can create a lot of overhead if required to be manually monitored.

  • One of the more prevalent methods today to control a meeting is a touch tablet at the center of a table. Center of room control tablets are surfaces that will need to be cleaned and could be a vector for disease transmission.  Encouraging users to leverage their own devices in shared spaces is ideal, but deploying cleanable surfaces, like glass and antimicrobial plastics, on tables, light switches, or any surface that is high touch can also help reduce the spread of germs.
  • Cleaning and sanitizing schedules will be accelerated as we move back to our work spaces. Space utilization data from cameras, passive infrared sensors, or meeting participation can be used to determine when the room was last occupied to influence cleaning schedules. Dynamic mapping can ensure high traffic spaces get cleaned more frequently.
  • Facilities could also provide real time occupancy to employees so that they could know when a room is available to be cleaned.

Evolving Environment

No matter when we return onsite, how quickly or slowly, or how it might feel much different than before the pandemic, we should do what we can to help ensure the safety of employees, students, and staff and that they are informed in their new collaboration environments.

The Intel Unite® solution team (myself included) will continue to work with industry leaders, analysts, and IT departments in various verticals to identify tools and capabilities that will aid businesses, schools, and clinics in returning to in-person collaboration.

To stay informed on the “Return to In-person Collaboration More Safely” series, connect with me on LinkedIn and keep your eyes (and ears) out for our soon to launch podcast series.

-Brian Cockrell

Brian Cockrell is the Intel Unite solution Product Owner and Co-founder.  He is responsible for the Intel Unite solution strategy and roadmap. Brian has 20+ years of experience in developing and supporting solutions for Enterprise IT, including 10 years focused on collaboration, AV design, and integration. He is a builder and serial intrapreneur that has kickstarted multiple products at Intel including Intel Unite solution.


[1] Please consult your local health agency for specific guidelines related to in-person engagements and COVID-19.