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How Technology Could Help Alleviate The Fear Of Going Back To The Office

This week the government is unveiling the measures it expects office occupiers to put in place so people can start to go back to work. Under new rules, hot desking will be out, and the distance between workers required for social distancing could be measured out using tape. 

The process will be fraught with fear, for staff and employers alike. The coronavirus appears to be receding, but is far from vanquished. But maybe technology can help occupiers reassure staff that their workplace is as safe as it is possible to be at this time.

“Making data available to people can alleviate fear and build trust,” Gilbert Lennox-King, HB Reavis director of UK & Western Europe for Symbiosy, told the audience of a Bisnow London webinar on how technology can facilitate a smooth return to the workplace. Symbiosy is the tech and sensory platform created by developer HB Reavis that allows occupiers to measure and control multiple facets of the space they occupy, including density, air quality and cleanliness. 

HB Reavis' Bloom development in Clerkenwell

It will be impossible to completely alleviate the concerns of workers until a vaccine or treatment for the coronavirus has been found. But here are the key ways HB Reavis sees that technology can help to reduce the fear of going back to the office, including benefits that will outlast the coronavirus crisis. 

Fresh Air

The amount of carbon dioxide in the air of a workspace is emerging as one of the key factors impacting workplace productivity: Too much CO2 and not enough oxygen inhibits cognitive function.

“You don’t know if you’re yawning in a meeting room because the person talking is boring or because you don’t have enough fresh air,” HB Reavis UK Leasing Director Peter Victor said.

But with the pandemic in mind, now the quality of air is of even greater concern, and information about CO2 levels will be of huge importance for occupiers.

“CO2 levels are a proxy for how much fresh air is going through your space,” Lennox-King said. “High CO2 levels mean you are not getting enough fresh air. People want this information to help ease their mind, or be able to do something about a problem.”


“When people start off going back to the office, they are going to want to know there is enough space for them to practice social distancing,” Lennox-King said.

It is possible to combine sensor technology with screens positioned around a workplace to show workers which areas are more or less densely populated, and even have a type of warning system if there are too many people in any one area. 

This kind of technology also has a usage relating to productivity. Sensor technology can measure who within a company is interacting with whom, to measure whether pre-existing networks of interaction within a company are being maintained in a new world of social distancing where staff are working in shifts. Measuring this kind of collaboration, and checking whether the right kind of networks of interaction exist within a company, has an impact beyond the immediate coronavirus crisis. 

“It is important for companies to know what interactions are happening. From a management standpoint it is critical, and previously people just had no way of knowing,” Victor said. 

Clockwise from top left: HB Reavis' Gilbert Lennox-King, strategist and consultant Anthony Slumbers and HB Reavis' Peter Victor


As an extension of this, technology platforms that utilise sensors and screens can also give office occupiers important information about the cleanliness of their space, telling companies which areas have been cleaned, and when they were most recently cleaned. 


We are all now a lot more wary about touching things. As a result, technology platforms that allow staff to access different parts of a building by tapping a phone rather than pushing buttons, or using a phone to control elements of their environment like desk height or temperature, will become increasingly popular.

Contact Tracing

A growing weight of evidence suggests that contact tracing — finding out whom someone with the coronavirus has met — is a vitally important part of reducing the spread of the coronavirus. And contact tracing can be undertaken at the level of the individual workplace as well as at population level.

“We have locators which can show within 0.6 meters where people are in the office,” Lennox-King said. “We use our own office as a living lab, and we found that a couple of our team members returned from a business trip and had tested positive for COVID-19. It wasn’t a use case we had planned, but we were able to show where they had been in the office, and have those areas deep cleaned; and who they had interacted with, so those people were able to go and get tested. It shows the value of a system that can be flexible.”