Lee Copland, Managing Director of Maxxess EMEA looks at how facial recognition and integration advances made during the pandemic will have a lasting impact
It’s almost two years since the first pandemic lockdowns and in some countries, we are seeing work from home policies being relaxed. At the same time, employers are asking if it’s possible to keep some of the dividends of home working.
Regardless of whether lockdown policies are being enforced or lifted, plenty of organisations are now attracted to the hybrid model. Having been forced to embrace new ways of working, they have discovered the benefits that can come with a reduced physical premises footprint: cost savings, operational flexibility, and sometimes increased productivity.
And in many cases being based at home, for at least part of the week, is popular with employees.
But some business leaders have been arguing that improved work-life balance comes at a cost, with a negative impact on competitiveness, customer service and performance. Retail boss Sir John Timpson is on record warning that firms which allow offices to become occasional meeting places will increasingly be at a competitive disadvantage. And Japan’s Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry has suggested that working from home in that country has reduced productivity by almost a third.
As they weigh up the pros and cons of hybrid working, employers are also having to deal with the impact of labour shortages, and the so-called ‘great resignation’.
Some, like Octavius Black, CEO of the behavioural science consultancy MindGym, believe that current staff shortages are being driven in some cases by home working, because weakened workplace ties have made jobs less appealing. Quoted in the FT he argues that working from home is “dissipating the social capital that you need to be a successful, complex organisation”.
So how can employers get the balance right, and keep the advantages of hybrid working without the downsides?
A new generation of integrated communications, monitoring and engagement tools might provide a big part of the answer. These solutions were already emerging before the pandemic and have advanced further over the last two years.
What makes them so interesting is that while they are increasingly powerful, they don’t come with a high price tag. Their functionality is also being developed at a surprising rate as new applications are identified, customer by customer.
They are a progression of the integrated site security and building management solutions, which for some time have been streamlining corporate systems and cutting out the inefficiencies of siloed technologies in busy workplaces from hospitals, commerical offices and hospitality to transportation hubs.
An important advantage of bringing together key systems and integrating them with Microsoft Active Directory and other core office data systems is that organisations can manage access to multiple, dispersed physical premises - and access to networks - much more effectively.
Upgrading access control and implementing visitor management solutions is allowing employers to remove many of the old annoyances and inconveniences that employees, contractors, and other site visitors had to put up with every time they arrived on site and had to pass through security.
Now, these visitors benefit from touchless, frictionless access - and this is just the public facing aspect of a deep level solution that integrates HR databases and scheduling systems with security, allowing organisations to automate what was once a cumbersome process.
The next generation solutions are going further by strengthening and extending the connections between remotely based teams and corporate hubs or head offices.
It’s now possible, for example, to integrate AI-powered facial recognition with these solutions. The result is not just improved security at physical premises – with facial recognition providing a powerful ID option - but improved network security and more secure home working too.
With facial recognition, remote monitoring can ensure that only authorised employees view and work with sensitive data. If that authorised individual moves away from their laptop – or if another trigger event occurs such as a somebody looking over their shoulder, or the door of a secure home office is left open - access can immediately time-out.
The same AI technology will detect any attempt to deceive the system using a photograph or digital image and ensure a high degree of authentication accuracy. These tools can be tailored to the security level required by the user - in the case of a bank or government department, for example, the access restrictions can be more rigorous, with a smaller business where employees need to be nimble, it can be more flexible.
These tools are powerful and need to be introduced carefully alongside clear policies to prevent infringement of employee privacy rights, or the risk of alienating staff with unwarranted monitoring. Of course, the technology that home workers are now so familiar with can already show managers when they are, or are not, online. Skype, WebEx, Microsoft Meetings, WhatsApp, Slack, etc. and shared calendars have all been used by employers attempting to monitor employee activity – although a recent article in The Economist pointed out that staff can also make themselves appear busier than they actually are by keeping chat apps open on phones, for example, or using communications tools for non-work purposes.
But with better technology, a more constructive two-way engagement is possible between employees and employers. Are people taking breaks from their desks as often as they should? Are they working longer hours that they should be or still working at the weekend when they should be resting? Do they want to report a concern anonymously? Do they need emergency help?
Employees need to be able to answer these questions whether their staff are at home or in the office, not just to meet their duty of care obligations but to maintain well motivated and loyal teams.
Speaking to the BBC in January, Joanna Swash, CEO of outsourced call services provider Moneypenny reflected on the recruitment challenges that many businesses are facing. She pointed out that people are looking not just for jobs but for a great employer: “This is a new world we’re all operating in. It’s not about bums on seats anymore, it’s about treating people as an individual, making sure that they’re looked after”.
We now have some exciting integration tools and AI technologies to support that change, while strengthening security, meeting duty of are obligations and increasing engagement with staff. And that’s a win-win for businesses and employees.