The COVID-19 pandemic triggered cyclical office closures and major changes to how and when people accessed their workplaces across the US and globally. Organizations were forced to adjust their policies and processes in accordance with new guidelines and recommendations from health officials.
During this time, Openpath started tracking social distancing by state using anonymized entry data to gain insights into the impact the pandemic had on building security and usage. This social distancing data, collected over the course of approximately 15 months, shows that building access is still nowhere near pre-pandemic levels. Based on the findings from the Social Distancing Index (at the end of this article), it appears that social distancing at the workplace is going to continue to be the norm for the foreseeable future. And organizations need to have the right security and building management tools in place to successfully navigate the new normal.
Settling into the new normal is difficult when guidelines are constantly changing to reflect infection rates, vaccine availability, and new viral variants. Today’s workplaces need to be safe, secure, and adaptable at a moment’s notice. In addition to sanitization and health procedures, organizations turned to technology to future-proof their businesses during the pandemic.
One way many businesses dealt with the sudden changes to their usual work environment was to establish remote and hybrid work models. Staggering shifts helped many organizations follow social distancing guidelines for the workplace, without having to find more physical space for their staff and employees.
With more flexible work schedules, however, comes the need for flexible technology, too. With fewer people on the premises, and more variation in their schedules, security remained a top priority for business and property owners. How do businesses ensure the right people have access to their office at the right times, without infringing on social distancing requirements or sacrificing their workplace security? And how do you maintain a high standard of security and manage your buildings without being on the premises?
The COVID-19 pandemic caused heightened awareness and anxiety around spreading the virus by touch. Common surfaces, especially in commercial spaces and offices, were prime suspects. Door handles, elevator buttons and PIN pads were suddenly taboo to touch. Many businesses curbed this fear by deploying touchless technology.
Companies needed to pivot their technology from touch to touchless, almost overnight. One example is Openpath’s access control door readers. Openpath was able to roll out their contactless Wave to Unlock feature on all readers seamlessly over-the-air. This helped give businesses greater peace of mind, without the cost and hassle of scheduling in-person maintenance to update every door reader.
Similarly, we saw a significant increase in the number of mobile and digital solutions for office operations. Organizations adopted apps and software for occupancy tracking and reserving desks in advance. Buildings started requiring digital health questionnaires for access. Companies switched from key card and key fob credentials to mobile-based visitor credentials. All of these updates reduced touch points in commercial building access systems, while at the same time improving workplace experiences and providing valuable data insights.
In a world where being there in-person isn’t always an option, cloud-based technology has a serious leg-up on on-premise solutions. For office security, the pandemic created a need for remote access to monitoring tools, access permissions, and activity logs. Cloud-based access control and video surveillance systems let teams log in from anywhere, on any device, to see what was happening in the space.
Day-to-day building operations were also impacted by social distancing at the workplace. With fewer people on-site, integrated cloud solutions provided the best ROI. Utilizing IoT integrations allowed organizations to automate everyday tasks and processes. Connecting access control, tenant management, HVAC, and maintenance systems made operations more efficient, with remotely accessible controls to ensure everything went smoothly. A fully integrated building management system also provided a clearer picture of usage and trends throughout the space, which informed critical business decisions during the pandemic.
To see how implementing policies like social distancing affected building usage and security, Openpath started the Social Distancing Index (SDI). The SDI tracked consumer access control usage across the US and by industry based on Openpath’s real-time reporting beginning the week of February 24th, 2020*, when all states were operating at 100%. This data was recorded over approximately 15 months, until vaccinations were more widely available in the US.
Openpath’s cloud managed platform illustrated anonymized, national building access logs, by state and by industry, indicating how the nation reacted to the COVID-19 outbreak and social distancing protocol. The SDI data reflected the initial results of the stay-at-home order on business operations, with national building entry dropping from 100% to just 29% by early April 2020. While some may have expected that number to be lower, many essential workers were still accessing their workplaces during this time, and many people still did not have a proper remote working setup at home. This holds true when looking at the data by industry: government, commercial real estate, and manufacturing entries did not drop as significantly as entries for gyms, schools, and places of worship.
Even through varying guidelines for social distancing by state, the data followed a similar trajectory throughout the reporting period. There are expected dips in building access around holidays, such as Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, when many workplaces are closed. As government and health administrations began relaxing stay-at-home orders, entry rates on the SDI began to slowly climb. However, the national building entry rate never topped 55% over the entire course of data collection. What this shows is that hybrid work, remote work, and staggered shifts are still in effect. We have hit a plateau, and these trends will likely continue for the foreseeable future.
There’s no clear insight from the social distancing data that the workplace will return to the way it was before the pandemic. Therefore, businesses and property owners need to be prepared with technology and strategies that can withstand today’s environment, and are future-proofed for new challenges to come.
People will always have high expectations for security in the workplace. The best physical security systems keep unwanted individuals out, but make it convenient and frictionless for authorized users to get in. Mobile and touchless access control is a great example of this. While key card and fob systems are still commonplace, we expect to see a greater number of businesses make the switch to mobile credentials and hybrid access solutions.
As workplace social distancing continues, remote operations and security strategies will continue to be an essential part of managing any business. Cybersecurity is also a top concern with more remote and hybrid employees. Organizations who employ security convergence, merging their cyber and physical security strategies, are going to be better prepared for emerging threats and vulnerabilities as the security landscape continues to shift. Cloud-based tools make it easier to collaborate between distributed teams, and integrated systems reduce redundancies and make organizations more efficient in the long run.
Flexibility and adaptability are essential for the new normal. Businesses who make the decision now to invest in adaptable technology are better prepared for the constantly changing guidelines and recommendations that are still in effect. Plus, access to more data from connected systems and devices empowers organizations to be proactive, rather than reactive, in challenging times.
The data included in this analysis is proprietary to Openpath Security, Inc and was derived from Openpath’s technology platform. All customer data has been anonymized and is presented strictly for informational purposes. No information is shared or sold to third party vendors. The analyses are based on records logged as part of the normal operations of Openpath's access control system and services, of approximately 5 million unlocks from over 1600 unique organizations, from 2/24/2020* through 4/12/2021, and distributed nationally across 44 states (all except Alaska, Hawaii, West Virginia, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Wyoming) and Washington, D.C. This data pool provides an in-depth picture across the US, which is reflected in percentage ratios that were updated weekly during the duration of data collection.
The Social Distancing Index data was updated every Monday with the previous week's results. We shared this data to help inform decision makers and individuals on the impact of social distancing and COVID-19 workplace safety guidelines throughout the first year of the pandemic.
This social distancing index data offers insights on the entry activity levels across the US, and how usage differed by state and industry through the initial 15 months of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the CDC and other health authorities, social distancing is one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Our Social Distancing Index illustrates the trends and patterns associated with workplace and facility access, which gives a unique snapshot of the return-to-work landscape during this crisis.
When comparing social distancing data by state, you can choose to view the entry activity in a few different ways. By comparing your state’s entry activity to the US social distancing data national average, you can see if state ordinances regarding returning to work and reopening businesses were more or less effective. For multi-site enterprises, you can also choose to view only the workplace social distancing data by states you operate in. In addition, viewing the social distancing data by state over time allows you to notice trends in entry activity that correlate to government regulations regarding returning to work.
Our social distancing index also shows how closure orders and occupancy rates affected different industries across the country. Over time, you can see how the social distancing data for specific industries correlated with government and state recommendations for temporarily ceasing operations, versus when they were allowed to return to work. You can also notice certain trends in entry activity level for states with a heavier percentage of operations in one particular industry. For example, you can view social distancing data by state for Washington D.C. and compare that to the social distancing data for government facilities.
While the social distancing index is purely informational, the key takeaways from this interactive data empower businesses to compare, understand, and establish strategies for physical security measures in the new normal.
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Koetsier, John. "California, New York Staying Home. Georgia And Nebraska? Not So Much". Forbes, April 9, 2020.
TechHR News Desk. "Openpath’s Social Distancing Index Demonstrates the Efficacy of Mandated Stay-At-Home Directives in Driving State Compliance". TechHR Series, April 9, 2020.
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