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Spaced desks, one-way halls, voice technology

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As Canadians gear up to return to work, employers are putting into place a wide range of safety protocols to protect their workplaces from the threat of COVID-19.

As a result, offices in a post-pandemic world could look very different from before, experts say. And they might stay that way.

“There’s going to be a forced evolution at the office,” said Evan Hardie, a d


irector of research at IDC Canada,

who researches the future of work at Canadian workplaces.

Returning employees could see a host of changes, including spaced desks, personal lockers, voice-automated technology, staged areas for elevators and one-way hallways, Hardie said. They may also have to follow new protocols such as varying shifts, cleaning surfaces after usage, and wearing PPE to the office.

Some employees may never return to the office again, Hardie said, as companies who have been forced to develop technology for remote work during the pandemic may not be able to afford the new cost of renovating their spaces.

Yet all this doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the traditional office tower, according to Lisa Fulford-Roy, vice president with Toronto commercial real estate giant CBRE. “I think this is going to shine a lens on how can we be smarter about the spaces we’re creating for people to occupy safely and healthily and productively,” she said.


PHYSICAL LAYOUT

According to experts, the biggest challenge for firms will be having to redesign spaces that have been in place for decades, to allow for physical and social distancing rules.

Since the last economic downturn, companies have been following an open office trend, where “essentially everybody’s sitting really close to each other,” Hardie said, to allow for more communication. “I think we’re going to see a change there, where you’re going to have employees spaced out, they won’t maybe be facing each other in the office too.”

To maintain physical distancing rules, companies are considering spaced desks, one-way hallways, and the reconfiguration of common areas like kitchens, utility rooms and staging areas for elevators. Gensler, an American architecture firm, has released ‘ReRun,’ a tool which reconfigures your office’s existing floor plan to optimize physical distancing conditions, using computer algorithms.

Under new set-ups, workers may also be asked to come into the office at different times and bring their own equipment.

“Keyboards, mice, headsets, those things are going to be personal accessories now,” said Hardie. “So you’ll have either a locker at the office that you can lock yourself or you’re hauling it back and forth every day.”

Many workplaces could follow in the path of major tech companies and restructure their work environments from headquarters to hubs. “Rather than having a head office where the majority of their workforce is in one central location, firms may opt for regional hubs,” Hardie said.

Christian Paquette, a labour employment lawyer, said he’s gotten many questions from companies. These range from how to implement policies on shared rooms, to the nitty gritty details around personal garbage bins, ventilation systems, eating utensils, and desired cubicle heights.

“I think, ironically, one challenge for employers might be that some may not have sufficient space anymore because of social distancing,” he said. “They may need to find more space in some cases, or put an emphasis on some parts of their workspaces and less on others.”


WORK POLICY

At the beginning of May, Paquette and a colleague released a list of

key guidelines

for employers looking to incorporate COVID-19 requirements into their work policies.

“There needs to be clear lines of communication,” said Paquette. The article recommended that employers form a “dedicated, multi-disciplinary team” to monitor the workplace reopening and conduct risk assessments; create a contingency plan in case of a shutdown; and open a communication channel keeping employees informed of the measures being put in place and any changes thereafter.

Employers also need to develop a procedure to address attendance issues and work refusals, such as those for “employees who are afraid to return or may face special circumstances” such as compromised immunity or child or elder care obligations.

Mohammad

Abdoli-Eramaki, who teaches occupation health and safety at Ryerson University, emphasized the need for a system that monitors individuals, to identify those at risk of spreading the virus.


“The issue with COVID-19 is that it’s not identifiable,” he said, which in turn makes it difficult to determine certain hot spots in a workplace where exposure to the virus is increased. Ergo, “there should be a system in place where (the individual) monitors (themselves) … and if (they) don’t follow the policy, someone else does (monitor them).”

Paquette said it ultimately comes down to the level of risk each employer faces.

“For instance, (if) you have a proven outbreak in a work environment, that may justify different measures than an office space where people are not in close quarters (and) where other types of measures can really be put in place that are much less intrusive, like social distancing and self-reporting,” he said.


TECHNOLOGY

The pandemic has forced several workplaces to hastily upgrade and/or invest in technology to allow for people working remotely. On one hand, for those coming back to the office, employers might continue to make investments to keep the office accessible and safe, such as voice and automation technology.

“The ability to not have to touch everything in the office, to have technology that steps in, either through automation or through your voice, allows you to take your hands off a lot of things that you would have been touching in the past,” said Hardie. Companies looking to track employee movements could do so via keycard access, or by using technology that produces heat maps and monitors social distancing.

On the other hand, companies who have already invested in technology that supports remote work may find the additional investments too costly. “They may well say, okay we’ve made this major investment on ramping everybody up for home office, so maybe we’ll wait until we figure out a good plan of attack for the actual office itself’,” explained Hardie.


ALTERNATIVES TO THE OFFICE

For employers who have successfully adapted to working from home during the pandemic, there may no longer be a need for an office anymore, said Allison Cowan, director of capital of the Conference Board of Canada.

“They are seeing advantages in the long term, such as real estate savings, benefits from commuting, benefits for employee heath,” she said. Several large companies such as Twitter and


have already asked staff to continue working remotely indefinitely, while others like BMO have confirmed they are looking into hybrid schemes that would combine the office with remote work opportunities.

For some companies, that might mean rethinking their current spaces, for others it might mean letting go of their leases entirely and opting for flexible alternatives, i.e., rentable co-working spaces.

Kevin Penstock is the CEO of The Profile, a Vancouver company that offers rental co-working spaces. He said he’s been receiving a lot of calls. “There’s no question (that demand for these spaces will go up),” he said. “People are going to try and figure out how to get all their staff in their offices downtown, half the people will be stuck at home, these companies are going to need this type of select space.”

Penstock has rolled out a

multi-phased plan

for the reopening of his spaces, which includes modified shared spaces (two-person tables instead of five), the phased return of members, physical distancing signage, health screenings and a new cleaning regimen.

The challenge, he said, will be catering to demand despite the limits on the number of people per shared space, as well as monitoring those who flout the rules. “We can ask people to start doing some shift work,” he said. “Then we’re going to have to start sharing the space in a way that’s a bit different than we’re used to.”

However, while the demand for traditional offices may go down, it won’t entirely disappear, according to Fulford-Roy of

CBRE. That’s because

people miss the social element that comes with working at an office.

“There may be subsets of employees or departments where (working remotely) might be suitable”, she said. “But I think, for the most part, we’re missing our colleagues, we’re missing the interaction.”

“It’s going to be less about changing the landscape of engagement and productivity. (Instead) it’s going to be a lens of how do we do that safely?”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

Source:- Cape Breton Post

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Shopify, Canadian government launch initiative to help small businesses grow online amid COVID-19 – BetaKit

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Shopify has partnered with the federal government to launch a new initiative called Go Digital Canada, aimed to bring more Canadian small businesses online and support them in the new era of digital transformation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We wanted to provide support to help bring these businesses online, and help future proof that backbone of the economy.”

The initiative is set to be announced Wednesday at Startupfest’s virtual fireside chat between Harley Finkelstein, COO of Shopify, and Mary Ng, Canada’s minister of small business, export promotion and international trade. Go Digital Canada will serve as what Shopify called a “central resource hub,” where entrepreneurs can receive support on growing their business online through tools offered by Shopify, as well as partners and experts.

“From our perspective, small businesses, they are the backbone of the Canadian economy. They make up 98 percent of Canadian companies,” Sylvia Ng, general manager of Shopify’s Start product line, told BetaKit. “The fact that they’re faced with these unprecedented challenges due to COVID right now [made us want] to provide support to help bring these businesses online, and help future proof that backbone of the Canadian economy.”

Go Digital Canada’s educational resources will include coursework, resources, and support from experts, all of which businesses can opt in to use. These resources will be provided by Shopify as well as organizations in Shopify’s partner network.

RELATED: Shopify partners with four Indigenous-led organizations to offer e-commerce education

In addition to free courses, Go Digital Canada will offer a 90-day free trial of the Shopify platform for merchants that register before October 1, 24/7 support, a tap and chip reader (while supplies last), and free access to Shopify’s POS pro plan for brick and mortar merchants, until October 31. Other resources include step-by-step guidance from Shopify Compass and live webinars.

One of the partners on Shopify’s new program is Digital Main Street, through its national ShopHERE program.

​Business owners​ using the hub are able to tailor their stores to suit their individual needs, including setting up online payments, gift cards, and local pickup or delivery options, and launching free email marketing campaigns.

The Government of Canada is not providing any financial backing to Shopify for Go Digital Canada, rather Sylvia Ng said the government partnership is aimed to “amplify and guide” Shopify’s work.

“Shopify is an incredible made-in-Canada success story, and their work to help Canadian entrepreneurs go digital, as we increasingly shift online in response to COVID-19, will help create even more Canadian success stories,” said Minister Ng.

One of the partners for Go Digital Canada is Digital Main Street through its ShopHERE program, which has a similar mission of helping small businesses move online. Sylvia Ng said Go Digital Canada’s online hub is mostly self-serve, but businesses that need more dedicated assistance in going online will be referred to the ShopHERE program, which will provide one-on-one support.

RELATED: Facebook commits $1 million in ad credits to ShopHERE initiative

ShopHERE was initially a City of Toronto initiative focused on building online storefronts for local independent businesses and artists. Following a Google Canada commitment of $1 million, ShopHERE went national with a goal to set up 50,000 online stores across the country. Shopify is supporting ShopHERE by assisting businesses in getting their online store built and launched within 90 days.

Sylvia Ng said one unique component of the Go Digital Canada hub is that when businesses complete a learning module, Shopify will provide links for businesses to act on what they have learned directly on Shopify’s platform.

“The hub is going to be very rooted in community,” Sylvia Ng told BetaKit. “All the courses that we have there aren’t just by Shopify, but also by our ecosystem, and [by] bringing our partners like Digital Main Street on, we’ll be growing that community further and bringing the trust that these merchants and businesses need in order to understand how to grow their business.”

Image source Unsplash. Photo by Roberto Cortese.

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Google officially shows off new Gmail with Chat, Rooms integration – MobileSyrup

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Google has developed a pattern of announcing things immediately after they leak. The search giant did precisely that with the recently leaked Nest smart speaker, and now it’s done the same with today’s Gmail leak.

Ahead of next week’s Google Cloud conference, the company showed off its new Gmail app. It’s not really Gmail anymore, though. Instead, it’s a unified hub for all of Google’s communication platforms, and it integrates with Google’s productivity tools like Docs.

The Verge reports that the new Gmail will be available as an “early access preview” to G Suite customers this week. Later this year, it will roll out to all G Suite customers.

However, the consumer version of Gmail likely won’t see any significant change in the short term. Google told The Verge it plans to think through “how and when to bring [the] experience to the consumers who might want it.”

The new Gmail’s main goal is to put all of these tools into one “integrated workspace.” In the future, that means that, for example, the chatbox that shows up in a Google Doc or Meet window might integrate with users’ other chats and rooms. For now, however, the integration isn’t that deep.

Instead, the main difference is that all the tools happen to be in the same space. On your phone, that’s the Gmail app — your PC, the Gmail website. That hopefully means less bouncing around between tabs and apps to get things done.

Another benefit of packing all these communication tools into a single app is that setting something like ‘Do Not Disturb’ can apply app-wide instead of managing the setting across multiple tools. Along with that, Gmail’s search will get more powerful as it’ll work across email, chat and more.

The Verge likens Google’s strategy to that of Microsoft with Teams. The Redmond, Washington-based company leveraged its Office 365 — now Microsoft 365 — tools to push Teams. Google is doing the same with Gmail, its most popular platform, to promote these new collaboration tools.

Unfortunately, outside of G Suite customers who will actively use all these tools, the new Gmail may bring a host of functionality that people don’t want or need. As Google tightens the integration between these platforms, it may make it more difficult to avoid some features.

[embedded content]

Hopefully this marks a turning point for Google. The company has developed a reputation for making competing apps and services. Although chat apps stand out as the most prominent example, other apps like Keep and Tasks seem to offer similar services with slight variations.

Javier Soltero, general manager and VP of G Suite, explained to The Verge how Google is moving in a different direction now.

“The history of these products is that they were all built individually and they all had a core set of opinions that were obvious to everyone: multi-user, user collaboration, etc. … They all had the same set of shared ideas but they were not necessarily driving toward a shared end goal,” Soltero said.

At least for G Suite’s communication platforms, the shared goal is a unified front with deep integration across Google’s services that can fend off Teams and Slack.

Source: The Verge

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Google pledges not to use Fitbit health data to target ads – STAT

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With the clock ticking on a European Commission probe into Google’s $2.1 billion bid for Fitbit, the tech giant offered regulators a concession late Monday, agreeing not to use Fitbit’s trove of health data to help target ads.

Google had been staring down the possibility of a sweeping antitrust investigation by European regulators that was the latest in a series of probes into its deal with Fitbit announced last November. But the tech giant had a potential way to avoid the full thrust of the investigation: A promise, in the form of a binding pledge, not to use Fitbit’s fitness data for ad-targeting. Regulators gave the company until Monday to offer such a statement. Google complied late that day, Reuters reported.

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