8 Ways Emerging Technologies Make Workplaces Safer—and How Microsoft Cloud and Azure Can Help

Liz Alton

In the wake of COVID-19, many organizations are still working remotely and plan to do so until at least early 2021. However, some businesses must have physical offices, and manufacturing facilities and other locations are at least partially operating with a hybrid model due to the nature of their business. Microsoft Azure is providing the computing framework that is helping organizations implement cutting-edge technology to help keep their teams safer and ensure that critical guidelines are complied with. Other Microsoft cloud solutions are enabling notable “return to work” solutions such as Power Platform. While disinfectants, PPE, and ventilation all have a key role in safely reopening locations, technology is providing organizations with an even greater sense of safety in their reopening strategies. Learn more about some forthcoming technologies and those already being deployed.

Enhancing Collaboration with Teams and WVD

One of the most significant challenges organizations face is keeping their employees connected, productive, and in touch with clients. Whether organizations are fully remote or embracing a hybrid model, applications such as Microsoft Teams and Windows Virtual Desktop are making effective digital operations possible. Microsoft Teams, which runs atop Azure, enables your team to make calls, host video conferences, and chat. When paired with other solutions, it enables document sharing, collaboration, and more. With Windows Virtual Desktop, teams can access their applications and desktop from any connected device. The ability to support flexible, secure productivity solutions no matter where employees work from eliminates bumps along the road to reopening.

AI and Facial Recognition Power Contactless Building Entry

Swiping your badge may no longer be enough to get into the office. As businesses work to minimize the number of individuals on-site or in close contact, they’re rethinking their building access and entry processes. One solution that has emerged is using AI-powered cameras paired with machine learning and facial detection to help provide immediate facility access to authorized people. Not only does that keep your physical location, equipment, data, and team safe, but it minimizes the number of security personnel who need to meet guests face-to-face. By automating this process and relying on Microsoft Azure to power the underlying compute and relay information back to the security system in real-time, AI-authorized building entry becomes a swift and painless way to manage access.

Technology-powered Temperature Checks

Another strategy that some businesses are employing is automated temperature checks. An employee might be in the early stages of illness, for example, and not realize it because they have no detectable symptoms. However, a temperature check can reveal that someone is running a fever and alert them to go home, see a doctor, and ensure they’re not ill before running to work. By implementing temperature checks, organizations are hoping to help their teams get access to care as early as possible and proactively minimize the number of people they come into contact with. This is taking multiple forms, from temperature screeners at the entries and exits of buildings to heat-sensitive cameras that continuously scan a manufacturing line. If a value is detected that’s indicative of a potential problem, the right individuals within the organization are alerted to take action and help prevent spread.

Monitoring Office Capacity

Many organizations are keeping workers safer by setting capacity limits for personnel. By using staggered schedules or allowing as many people as possible to work from home, companies can ensure that no more than 25% of their teams are in the office at one time, for example. In some cases, capacity planning is a company-mandated initiative; in others, it has been shared as part of state or local regulations to help keep infection rates in check.

Microsoft recently shared insights on how their own internal team relies on Microsoft Azure data to help with space planning, occupancy monitoring, and much more. Capacity monitoring systems leverage small IoT sensors that constantly track and relay data about space occupancy to a central platform. If a space is approaching or exceeding the mandated limit, a manager can be notified and employees can either be redistributed to new locations or schedule adjustments can be made to simplify compliance and put health at the forefront.

Augmented Reality for Socially Distant Collaboration

Another set of tools that’s emerging is augmented-reality collaboration tools. For example, if a company would typically have two technicians working in close proximity on the same machine, augmented reality can help. One employee on-site can leverage glasses or their phone to relay what they’re seeing to a second expert who is remote. Using augmented reality, they can collaborate to complete a complex repair—without ever coming into close contact. Augmented-reality solutions are already being deployed to enable junior technicians to execute tasks as they’re guided by more senior resources and relay what they’re seeing in real-time, and adaptations are helping field technicians and other professionals safely get back to work.

Sanitizing Workspaces

The cleaning burdens that are on companies have increased, and it’s not always feasible or safe to have janitorial staff standing by to clean workspaces. Sanitizing robots are one solution that’s being explored, from public spaces like stores and airports to private, high-traffic office and production environments. Another solution that’s being powered by Microsoft Azure is global health and hygiene leader Essity’s solutions. Using IoT to relay data, facilities managers can gather insights on areas that need urgent cleaning and deploy staff immediately, helping mitigate the challenges of keeping environments as clean as possible.

Improving Air Quality

Many organizations are giving consideration to their indoor air quality, from upgrading ventilation systems to implementing air filtration solutions and UV sanitizing lights. Each of these steps is taken with the goal of mitigating any potential risks. Solutions like Breeze are using sensors powered by MS Azure to detect air quality issues. Other smart systems built on MS Azure include smart UV disinfection systems that help kill and contain viruses.

Holistic Return to Work Platforms

One of the most exciting solutions that’s supporting the return to work is the Power Platform, announced earlier this summer at Microsoft Inspire. Microsoft notes that the Power Platform “is a comprehensive, end-to-end set of modules that help organizations plan, coordinate, and manage the return to the workplace with confidence, helping to ensure the health and safety of employees.” The solution is easily customizable, with fast deployment, and built on a secure and compliant platform. Features help facilities managers assess whether a location is ready for occupancy, encourage employees to self-report health issues, and workplace care management insights. This is one of the first and most comprehensive solutions that pulls together many of the tools organizations are relying on to safely reopen.

While the technology that companies are using to get teams back into the office when needed continues to evolve, there are some promising innovations. Not only can this process help you in the wake of COVID-19, but it helps lay the infrastructure for keeping employees healthy and productive during future flu seasons and other unforeseen health events. Microsoft Azure is playing a key role in deploying the latest solutions, and having a robust cloud strategy in place can position your organization to adopt cutting-edge tools that fit your unique situation.

Ready to learn more about how Microsoft Azure can power all areas of your business? Contact Connection today to arrange for a personalized consultation.

Liz Alton is a B2B technology and digital marketing writer and content strategist. She has worked with a variety of brands including Google, Twitter, Adobe, Oracle, and HP, and written for publications including Forbes. She is a regular contributor to Connected, Connection’s official blog.