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Encouraged by the rapid pace of Covid-19 vaccinations, employers planning to reopen physical workplaces face a number of unique challenges—not least keeping elevators safe, says Adam Stanley, chief information officer and chief digital officer at commercial-real-estate-services giant Cushman & Wakefield PLC.

Speaking at The Wall Street Journal’s Pro AI Executive Forum on Wednesday, Mr. Stanley said on a recent trip back to the office, he and a colleague stood in opposite corners of an elevator as an impromptu safety measure. “We both laughed because it was so awkward."

Mr. Stanley said many companies are approaching these and other back-to-work issues by leveraging software and platforms powered by artificial intelligence. They are also increasingly likely to adopt a hybrid model that splits employees’ time between in-person and remote, he added, along with a greater reliance on the role of smaller, satellite offices.

“I think AI will help buildings get better with traffic management," among other post-coronavirus workplace problems, Mr. Stanley said. As such, the use of AI in the business world is fast becoming essential for daily operations. “It’s no longer just nice to have," he said.

Among other applications, smart software can help support a range of advanced safety-monitoring tools, such as contact tracing, health check-ins, contagion-risk alerts and social-distancing notifications that flag overcrowded office floors or conference rooms, he said.

AI algorithms can be fine-tuned over time with an ever-larger pool of data on the comings and goings of employees, providing insights for corporate executives and building managers to optimize work schedules and other on-site activities, Mr. Stanley said.

To further minimize contact, he added, many Cushman & Wakefield corporate clients have signaled they are eager to get people back into physical workplaces, with AI-enabled safety precautions, while keeping a permanent segment of remote workers.

An estimated 60% of global companies are developing a hybrid workplace model, where most employees come into the office no more than three days a week, according to Suzanne Adams, an analyst at information-technology research and consulting firm Gartner Inc. Gartner estimates that more than 1.1 billion workers around the world worked remotely last year, up from 350 million in 2019.

Likewise, a February survey of 1,000 global companies commissioned by national staffing firm LaSalle Network found a majority were pursuing a hybrid model. But there are signs that many of these plans are still in the early stages. A separate poll of 2,200 U.S. workers by the Conference Board, a research group, found that 44% of employees polled didn’t know their company’s plans to return to the workplace.

Mr. Stanley said, as the emergency shift to remote work passes the one-year mark, many companies are starting to see a drop off in productivity, after an unexpected boost in the early months of the crisis.

He said that is putting pressure on many employers to get workers back at their desks. And after a year of working from home, he added, many workers are likely to welcome a change of scenery.

“There’s almost a Covid fatigue," Mr. Stanley said.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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