With the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines comes the hope that offices may be able to safely reopen at some point this year. However, even in the best-case scenario, the post-pandemic office environment will look significantly different than what we were used to in March 2020.

Regardless of when your organization will reopen physical workspaces, now is the time to begin planning for that return. One major aspect of your plan should include recognizing how employee attitudes about the office have changed and what the company must do to help them feel safe and comfortable once they’re back.

But how to do this effectively? In a word, technology. Just like Slack and other collaboration tools made the shift to remote work significantly easier, technical innovations will play a central role in the office of the future.

Here are just a few examples of how, when coupled with new policies and procedures, technology solutions can help address many of the physical, mental, and logistical concerns associated with returning to the office:

Tracking Critical Health Data

Numerous interrelated variables go into ensuring a safe working environment that will minimize the chance of infection. For example, workers will likely be asked to complete a health assessment each day prior to coming into the office.

Managers must determine how to ensure the office is staffed to support business needs while also keeping appropriate social distancing measures in place. It’s important that these considerations also extend to common office areas—for example, how will companies limit the number of people in shared restrooms or break spaces?

Finally, organizations need a reliable and efficient means of contact tracing should an employee be diagnosed with COVID-19. Through customizable apps, companies can easily address these and other elements involved in navigating a safe return. Relevant data points can be accessed via a central dashboard that tracks information from every office location along with local COVID-19 guidelines.

Ensuring Compliance

Once organizations have addressed the health and safety element, they must figure out how they will enforce these policies when employees arrive back at the office. Expect IoT devices to play an increasingly important role here. For example, smart camera technology has matured so that these cameras can now perform machine learning processes themselves without routing the data to another device. As such, these cameras could be trained to identify when people are too close together to help companies enforce social distancing. Another example is wearable devices, which can monitor employees’ temperatures and other vital signs associated with COVID-19 symptoms.

It may seem a little “Big Brother,” but many analysts believe these types of technologies are critical if companies are to reopen safely.

For more on these and other considerations—including how organizations can minimize employee anxiety upon their return—check out this Computerworld article.