With COVID-19 cases on the rise again in Canada and new restrictions being imposed across many parts of the country, maintaining business continuity can prove challenging as the disease ebbs and flows. The prospects of potentially having a vaccine available to the wider population in the coming months provide some reassurance. But the societal implications of the coronavirus will be enduring as companies continue to be held to new, higher standards of workplace health and safety.
Intelligent technology – and more generally, the evolving demands of IT – will play an increasingly greater role in meeting these new expectations. Not only will the emphasis on sanitized spaces persist, so too will the ways we’ve grown accustomed to interacting over the last year, including digital collaboration and the convenience of e-commerce and mobile applications to transact and communicate instantly via the devices at our fingertips.
In my company’s own plans to bring teammates back to our offices, technology has been at the heart of how we implement a responsible and safer return. We initially reopened our Canadian headquarters in Montreal in mid-August to roughly 10 per cent of our 420 total teammates there. We invited back a similar proportion of teammates to our offices in Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton; these were folks who preferred working in a more structured environment vs. their home setups. Our distribution centre and service labs, located a few minutes away from our Montreal office, also have stayed open throughout the pandemic, as many of the clients we provide technology solutions to provide essential services like healthcare, education, public service, etc.
Besides physical preventative measures like face-mask compliance, spacing desks six feet apart and routine cleaning several times a day, we’ve sought an additional layer of protection for our teammates through technology. At each of our key locations, we’ve implemented an Internet of Things (IoT) platform connecting smart devices that aid in the detection and prevention of diseases.
Under normal circumstances, the platform provides a user-friendly view of data collected at the edge, unifying information from any connected device – sensors, cameras and other IoT sources – to help derive deeper intelligence about the health and efficiency of daily operations, whether that be the mundane management of a building’s climate control to monitoring inventory.
With the pandemic, we also saw it as a conduit to help get people back to work, where smart devices like thermal cameras, room occupancy sensors or contact tracing solutions could enhance the physical preventative measures, ensure safety policy and compliance standards were met, and promote quicker responses to areas of concern.
We installed a thermal camera in the lobby of our Montreal office and added similar temperature-scanning kiosks at the entrances to our other facilities nationwide. Before coming to work each day, teammates use a mobile app to take a daily screening survey based on Public Health Agency of Canada COVID-19 guidelines. A green light from the app gives them a QR code for access to our buildings once their temperature has been scanned via a thermal camera or the kiosks at an entrance.
While the number of our teammates back on-site has fluctuated as COVID-19 continues to flare up across our provinces, our experience so far with intelligent technology to help detect and prevent the spread of viruses has been met by no known cases of the coronavirus being spread at work and, just as importantly, encouragement by our workers. They just want to do their part to contribute to the wellbeing of the greater good, and taking a few extra precautions has been universally accepted.
But in our return-to-work strategic planning – not to mention continuity plans to originally enable a mostly remote workforce at the start of the pandemic – a secondary benefit has been gaining a deeper understanding of how IT’s role runs much deeper into our business. This has been particularly true as our technical staff has collaborated with functional areas they haven’t traditionally worked with, such as human resources, operations and finance. Now more than simply serving in a support capacity or being seen as a traditional cost centre, its expanding place in the business is clear: IT is now an operating model gamechanger.
The competition across industries, along with a shift in worker and consumer expectations over the past year, has made innovation essential to all organizations. Even companies that aren’t traditionally technology companies now need to embrace smarter preventative measures while recognizing market gaps and new ways of engaging people through modernization.
IT, much like more traditional research and development, is now capable of creating proprietary solutions that drive new business outcomes forward. These solutions can turn into revenue producers beyond the core business (such as creating licensing or subscription service models), they can tap into a customer’s buying journey with greater convenience to the end-user (like restaurant curbside service delivered through a mobile app), and create new efficiencies by simplifying operational processes through automation.
Although we don’t know when we’ll be able to bring back all of our teammates to the workplace – and many will continue to work at home permanently or spend time in-between home and office – we do know that thanks to technology, we have newfound flexibility to pivot as the conditions around us change.
Here’s to hoping that in the new year, we’ll be able to focus that spirit of innovation on better ways to propel our businesses to new heights rather than on the things we previously took for granted, like going to work or the grocery store without fear of catching something.