Five Strategies For Leveraging AI, IoT For A Safe Return To Work

Facility managers are looking to technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to help employees safety return to work.

By Kendra DeKeyrel

In almost a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended decades of conventional wisdom about the nature of work. Employees across industries continue to demonstrate that productivity isn’t measured by hours spent at a desk or in an office, but by qualities like diligence, ingenuity, and resilience.

By the same token, the pandemic has also illuminated the true benefits of coming into the office – much of which positively impacts mental health: social interaction, in-person collaboration and innovation, and mentorship. While some degree of remote work is likely to become a permanent facet of our new normal, only 12% of U.S. workers say they want to continue doing it full-time.return to work

With 35% of companies still unsure when they’ll reopen, organizations must begin planning now to chart a safe and productive return to a changing workplace. To help determine new protocols for managing facilities, employers and building managers are increasingly looking to technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to safeguard their workers and spaces.

But as tightening economic conditions and the need to reopen force organizations to do more with less while rapidly accelerating the transition to dynamic workspaces, it’s crucial to bear in mind some AI and IoT best practices.

1. Don’t Get Locked Into A Walled Garden

Many vendors are good at building analytics and monitoring solutions that connect with their own devices. But when it comes to integrating systems from a diverse range of technology providers (the reality for most enterprises), these proprietary platforms fall short, forcing organizations into closed ecosystems that hobble digital agility and drive up costs.

As sensor technology becomes rapidly commoditized, paying a premium for branding and packaging simply doesn’t make sense. Organizations should always look to vendor-agnostic models as a means to simplify deployment and ensure a cost-efficient pathway to scaling in the future.

2. Rethink Point Solutions

It can be tempting to lean on siloed point solutions as a way to quickly deploy new capabilities without having to develop a comprehensive digital strategy, but this can often be self-defeating. AI and IoT-based monitoring platforms are designed to thrive on data to surface unique insights, while point solutions, by nature, are designed to keep data siloed. Without the ability to seamlessly correlate disparate datasets into a single source of truth, organizations are only getting a fraction of the value of AI and IoT.

Before investing in any new technology, organizations should always ask themselves how it maps back to their overall digital strategy.

3. Prepare For The Future

As eager as we are to return to some semblance of normalcy, the need for intelligent facilities management isn’t going away any time soon. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, organizations must continue to plan for future crises and build more resilience into core infrastructure.

When considering AI and IoT systems, it’s vital to plan for the long term. Locking into a single vendor can limit an organization’s flexibility to expand later on. Similarly, the cheapest solution often carries unexpected cost implications down the line. After accounting for factors like integration and ongoing upkeep, inexpensive AI and IoT platforms often wind up with a bigger price tag than more robust alternatives.

4. Compliance Requires Empathy

While AI and IoT are immensely powerful tools for defining workplace protocols and monitoring for compliance, organizations shouldn’t rely on them for enforcement. People generally don’t like to be told what to do by a machine. To truly make employees feel safe and happy about coming back to work, new protocols should be communicated with empathy by a human.

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Organizations should view their HR department as a vital stakeholder in getting employees to abide by new guidelines, and empower them to take the lead on internal outreach.

5. Plan Carefully… But Don’t Wait Too Long

With any new technology, the tendency is often to wait and see how first-adopters fare before diving in. Even in the best of times, that strategy can quickly put companies at a competitive disadvantage. But in the current climate, the dilemma is even more dire. Organizations who wait face the very real possibility of missing the market.

Leading real estate firms are already leveraging AI and IoT solutions to differentiate themselves in a rapidly evolving landscape and gain market share against their biggest competitors through intelligent, integrated monitoring capabilities. Those who don’t get started now, simply won’t get noticed.

As workers begin returning to the office, the coming months will prove to be a pivotal moment for employers and building owners. The stakes have never been higher. These best practices will help organizations chart a strategic course toward digital facilities management, and ensure a safe return to work.

return to workKendra DeKeyrel is Director, Offering Management – IBM AI Applications.

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