The whole “new normal” means new worries for many small-to-medium-sized businesses in America. Just under a quarter (22%) closed for good as of February this year according to a recent report from Facebook. What’s more, a study by economists at the Federal Reserve shows Covid-19 led to the permanent closure of some 200,000 more establishments in the U.S. than in a normal year.
So the trick is, how do businesses keep costs down — while driving health, safety, and revenue — up? Luckily there’s a treasure trove of new tech tools aimed at doing just that.
MASK VENDING MACHINES
Most state health guidelines still require wearing a mask inside public spaces. The last thing most companies want to do is turn customers away if they forget theirs (or worse, become a contagion vector for the next Covid strain because they let someone in without one).
Mask dispensers are now available for as little as $30 on Amazon. Or businesses can go all-in — like footwear and lifestyle brand Keen did — and install touchless mask vending machines.
The company already has a few of these machines outside its flagship stores in places like Palo Alto and Portland. Keen also makes the masks, so it’s a win-win for the company and their customers, and a good example of the kind of pandemic pivot we’ll see a lot more of in the future.
For some people, the drive to get back to work is better in theory, than the actual idea of sitting next to a stranger on a bus, in a car, or on the subway. (And by some people, I mean me.)
For anyone using public transportation, or sharing space in an office, or doing anything with anyone outside their own bubble really, the just-released airKAVE Portable ($350) personal air purifier promises to kill airborne SARS-COV-2 — the virus that causes Covid-19 — in real-time. The device uses micro-lightning plasma tech to “effectively and efficiently neutralize the air in a single-stage process inside the device within a fraction of a second,” according to airKave’s website. The company also says the travel mug-sized device cleans your personal air space up to about 100 cubic feet — more than enough room on your commute or even back inside the office.
For the new routine of temperature checks, a gadget like the touchless body scanner GateDoc (around $350) is an easy and fairly inexpensive alternative to a human checking everyone who walks in the door. It hooks onto a doorway or wall and lets people scan their own temperature when they enter an establishment, then alerts you through an app if someone’s running a fever.
DOME SWEET DOME
Oh, how the mighty cubicle and open office plan has fallen during these pandemic times. The openwork plan was all the rage—especially in the Bay Area where I live —before the pandemic. Now it looks like a health hazard. Rather than rebuilding the entire workplace, though, employers are going pod-crazy and installing everything from super high-tech Zoom rooms to airtight office cubes with built-in air purifiers, handle-less doors, and facial recognition.
For something less expensive though, the Steelcase Work Tent Collection offers an easy-to-install boundary wall, a tent that goes over the desk, or a pod-like bubble that completely encloses the workspace. In short, this new line has you covered. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)
WANT A DESK? MAKE A RESERVATION
More than 80 percent of companies plan to use a hybrid workplace model and bring employees back on a rotating schedule with three days a week in the office, according to a new survey from real estate technology platform KayoCloud.
One of the best ways to automate who’s where, when, is with workspace platform SmartWay2. It’s a dedicated desk-reservation management system that keeps track of who is coming into work, lets you reserve a desk, parking spot, and even order lunch. It also helps with social distancing and sanitation schedules.
MIGHT THE (SIX-FOOT) GAP
I’ve already been to a whole lot of places (like the airport in Miami…) where social distancing has gone by the wayside. In offices though, many employers and workers rely on social distance to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. But, humans are social creatures and bad at this, so there is a lot of new technology to help here too.
Some apps do this as well. Mind the Gap, for example, is designed to remind people to keep socially distanced while at work. It uses Bluetooth in phones to measure the distance and alerts people when someone gets too close.
The idea of vaccine passports is controversial, but there’s tech at the ready with apps to help keep your information safe and handy.
If you have an iPhone — there’s a new app called VaxAtlas that secures not only vaccination completion, but dates of vaccinations, and it alerts you if you need to get future boosters. It’s also HIPAA compliant and bank-level security, certified — so you share what you want or need to at your own discretion.
The non-profit Common Pass app is also available in limited release right now. It lets people store vaccinations and test results privately. It’s mainly for use in travel right now and generates a QR code that lets you prove you’re vaccinated or Covid-19 negative, without revealing personal data and other health information in the process.
Leave it to new technology to reimagine the workplace of the future. Now, all we really need is a clone — or two — and we’ll totally be set.