While many offices have included touchless features for years, the focus on health may spur the adoption of more no-touch components in the workplace

Much like the “paperless office,” the touchless office concept has been in the works for some time, as voice-activated devices like Siri and Alexa make the technology more accessible. The complete digitization of organizations and buildings is also a driving factor. 

These changes have accelerated significantly in the last year as social distancing measures are required at companies. And for some, the goal of a no-touch office — or at least, a less-touch one — is becoming a priority in the modern workplace.

Here’s a look at some of the features a touchless office may include now and in the near future. 

Entering the building

Doors and keypads are some of the most-touched surfaces in an office. Almost every employee or visitor to the building will grasp the door handle at the front entrance, and if a code is necessary for entry, everyone keys the number pad.

But touchless technology can be implemented at all points of entry for a building. Rather than hitting a keypad to put in an entry code, employees can scan a QR code from ID cards or phones. The doors then open automatically. 

Similar technology applies to other doors inside the building, minimizing the number of people who have to touch these high-traffic surfaces daily. Countless commercial properties already have sensors on their doors that cause them to open automatically, so it isn’t much of a stretch to include these features in the modern office.

The result is hundreds and even thousands of fewer touches on doors daily, limiting the spread of viruses and bacteria within the workplace.

Workstations and communal areas 

The touchless setting doesn’t stop once employees are at their workstations, as Bluetooth technology makes it easier to place phone calls, access screens, and send messages without handling a device. And cloud computing and digital documents have also already vastly reduced many of the physical contacts involved with shuffling paper. 

But other environments remain highly tactile. Bathrooms, lunchrooms, and conference rooms are spots with plenty of communal touching of doorknobs and other surfaces. And we’ve already seen the common adoption of touchless faucets and dryers in kitchens, breakrooms, and particularly washrooms. Nevertheless, cleaning and sanitization remain essential services in these spaces.

Other prospective strategies are set to take touchless further, however. And they all revolve around emerging digital building systems and apps that will be able to control … well, almost everything.

Robert Hemmerdinger, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for the building automation company Delta Controls, writes that the “building automation industry is positioned to see drastic changes to help facilitate a healthy workplace:”

In a touchless office, an employee can use a Bluetooth access reader to open the doors of the building using their phone. They can book meetings, schedule hot-desk assignments and schedule times that they’ll be in the office or working from home from a single app. This app will turn on lights and adjust the room temperature. When they need to attend a meeting, this same app turns on televisions and opens meeting space doors. With Bluetooth beaconing it will all be automatic, or they can fine-tune their settings. There’s no limit to what can be controlled. 

One day, employees could order a coffee from the company canteen using their phone, the same way they order from their local coffee shop today. This isn’t a future vision reliant on technologies that have yet to be created. The vision described here uses communication technology that’s in existence and in operation today. With the right building system, corporations need to be exploring a touchless office as the centerpiece for their return-to-work strategy. Welcome to the new normal.

It still may not be practical to provide alternatives for many of the routinely touched surfaces from an office. But the options are growing fast, and integrated building systems may, eventually, make virtually touchless the norm.

The benefit for tenants

Most of the current touchless technology is relatively affordable and straightforward, and it can provide benefits for both tenants and the landlords who must attract them. 

First, there’s the safety aspect, as reducing the number of people touching any particular surface can keep employees healthier. Healthy buildings have become a priority for many organizations, and “third-party certification programs, such as LEED, Fitwel or WELL” that gauge a building’s wellness aspects are in greater demand. Next, some of this technology makes it easier to see who’s in the building at all times and automates functions, which can save time and energy costs. 

These features could attract more tenants, and some may soon insist on them. Nevertheless, property owners should assess all significant renovations and upgrades through the lens of local demand and tangible ROI. 

Assessing commercial property innovations

As you add or improve a commercial property, it’s wise to keep an eye on what lessees might want from you, now and in the future. Touchless features that are a component of the healthy building and building automation system trends are worth considering. 

Morris Southeast Group stays current on CRE trends and evaluates what tenants in South Florida want from their properties. Our team can assist as you make decisions about your current portfolio or future investments. Contact Morris Southeast Group at 954.474.1776 to learn more. You can also chat with Ken Morris directly at 954.240.4400 or kenmorris@morrissegroup.com.