‘Social distancing’. A term few of us were familiar with a year ago – now a term shaping everything from the arrangement of seating in pubs and restaurants, to the scheduling of rota systems for office-based workers. As the world adjusts to, if not a post-COVID reality than at least a post-lockdown reality, what roles can technology play in helping us to achieve social distancing measures?
The answers are plentiful. Here are just a few examples of how existing and emerging technologies can help.
In myriad busy and complex environments, one of the most important – and deceptively simple – aspects of achieving social distancing lies in optimising the schedules of different rooms and resources. Universities and colleges, for example, need to ensure that the numbers of staff and students throughout campus do not exceed limits in particular settings – even as those individuals move from lecture, to seminar, to demonstration and so on. Corporate offices must ensure that capacity in open-plan areas and meeting rooms alike is carefully managed.
Room scheduling software, then, is playing a crucial role in helping organisations to simulate their capacities based on distances between individuals and the precise layouts of different environments. As circumstances – or government rules – change – parameters can be adjusted up and down.
An obvious one perhaps, but there is no doubt that remote working technologies such as videoconferencing tools, collaboration software and simply provisioning remote access to corporate networks, have played a crucial role in enabling social distancing over the past year. These technologies will remain just as important as workplaces transition to the hybrid approaches will look set to become the new normal. Even if staff are in the office some of the time, the rest of the time they need to be equipped to work just as efficiently from home.
Care homes have truly been at the front line in the fight against COVID-19. Their combination of highly vulnerable residents and an ongoing stream of visitors means that these are settings in which meticulous approaches to social distancing are particularly important.
Several care homes are deploying mobile mesh technology to directly connect smartphones together, creating a wireless network without the need for WiFi or 4G. In turn, this enables those care homes to deploy myriad useful software features, as well as collecting and harnessing vital data for protecting the environment.
For example, visitors to the care homes can book visits remotely and complete self-assessments of their general health before arriving, effectively carrying out a pre-screen, whilst the same app enables the care home to push notifications to them. Geozones can be created throughout the care home, delineating particularly sensitive areas based on bespoke policies or the health status of individuals. Even if visitors do not have their own smartphones, they can be equipped with safe, wearable solutions on arrival, which connect to the same mesh network.
This mesh networking approach has many applications beyond the care home context, and could soon be seen enabling social distancing in many other contexts.
A socially distant future?
It remains to be seen in what shape and form social distancing becomes part of the ‘new normal’. However, one thing seems certain – technology will play a critical role in upholding it.