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NEW DELHI : Technology is set to be at the heart of every workplace as we return to office post the coronavirus-induced lockdown. From enhanced surveillance to faster processes, companies are looking to not only make workplaces more secure but also deliver services to their clients differently.

“You and I are not going to go to a trade show for the next five years, are we?" asked Sanjay Srivastava, chief digital officer, Genpact.

It’s not just that large gatherings can aid the spread of the disease, but also because many are realizing that a lot of the offline events can happen digitally.

“In the long run, we will have to adapt to a new normal where covid-19 is part of life. The Internet of Things (IoT) will play an important role in this new normal and that will push its adoption in a lot of technologies that already exist," said Sanjay Gupta, vice president and India country manager, NXP Semiconductors.

The use of interconnected devices and sensors can help workplaces reduce the need for employees to touch surfaces, but companies themselves can also use light sensors and next-generation ID cards to make the workplace more efficient.

The fear of objects frequently touched by others at the workplace is another factor.

Workplaces are trading fingerprints sensors for face recognition tech for attendance, factories are using wrist bands that alert workers if they get too close to each other, and hospitals are using heat-sensing trackers that can keep an eye on patients’ body temperature. Inside these devices are tiny sensors that can capture data in real time and transmit them to other devices.

Many offices are already planning to make changes to adhere to social distancing norms and monitor employees using cameras with thermal sensors to ensure they are not carrying a fever.

Homegrown artificial intelligence (AI) company Staqu said it already has 15 clients for its new video analytics software. It uses existing closed-circuit television cameras and thermal cameras to determine whether social distancing is being maintained, monitor employee body temperature in real time, etc.

A software and services provider called Ramco Systems has built a system where an employee’s presence is recorded with face recognition cameras. After this, a thermal camera built into the system runs a body temperature check. If the temperature turns out to be normal, the office door opens. If not, the door remains closed and the human resource department is alerted.

Automaker Ford is reportedly testing wearables at its factory in Michigan, US, to keep social distancing among the workforce. If they come within a range of 6 feet of each other, the watches vibrate.

On the other hand, companies are also increasing the use of technology in how they deliver services. For instance, while chatbots today deliver a somewhat rudimentary level of customer service, tomorrow’s bots may be able to do better.

Similarly, factory floors will look at increased automation.

As a result, many will have to enhance their skills to stay relevant as things change.

“In the old normal, if you said some of the work can be done using automation, the problem was how do you cross skill your employees to add value on top of that," said Srivastava. “At every stage of evolution, technology automates some things and the human value adds to another level."

There will be a fundamental change in how things work and new business models, supply chains and mechanisms will come into being, said Srivastava. “Some of what we used to do, say, last year will get automated, but a lot of new ideas and projects will also come into play," he said.

The post-covid world isn’t simply about measures that focus on employee safety. It’s also about efficiency, speed, and cost-effectiveness. When you go back to work , you will have to adapt to the increased use of technology around you.

“This will affect every individual working in corporations. The way that you used to work will change," said Subram Natarajan, chief technology officer, IBM India/South Asia.

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TOUCH NO MORE

Connected lift: It allows people in apartments and office buildings to call ahead and indicate the floor they want to go to using a smartphone app.

Smart appliances: Microwaves or coffee machines which can be controlled with voice commands will be good fit for offices.

NFC-based tags: These can enable contactless payments at toll plazas, parking spaces in office complexes or markets.

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