Returning to the workplace with wearable tech, robots and QR codes

Technology can play a vital role in our transition to the post-pandemic workplace.
29 July 2020

Ready to reopen? Source: Shutterstock

  • Organizations are preparing to adjust workplaces for the safe return of workers
  • Next-gen tech could help companies abide by safety regulations. Here are three examples… 

Many companies are reluctant to step away from the new-found benefits of remote or flexible working – tech giant Google, for one, extended its work from home mandate until next July. And while a shift to remote working has gained momentum, other businesses – by necessity or habit – are readying to bring their workforces back into the office.

But that’s not to say the in-office environment will be the same. Welcoming back employees after months of vacancy, in the midst of pandemic tailwinds which could realistically whip up again into another gale, businesses must think wisely about how they can instil safe working practices that minimize person-to-person contact and ensure staff are comfortable.

“Pre-COVID-19 workplace cultures will not automatically resume once public health concerns subside,” management consultancy group Gallup said; “Shrewd leaders are already anticipating this psychological shift and considering how to adjust to it.” In short, we’ll be seeing a lot more organizations adjusting the workplace setting and culture to adapt to new realities and, much like the frontal role it played in transitioning us away from physical workplaces, we can expect technology to play a key role in getting us back in. 

Wearable tech

Wearable technology shows promise in ensuring employees, especially in closed environments such as factories and fulfillment warehouses, remain at a safe distance from each other. Companies are increasingly looking towards using wearable technology or Bluetooth technology that will signal employees when they are within close proximity from one another in order to prevent human clusters from forming. 

For example, retail giant Amazon has introduced new technology to ramp up their social distancing practices. A machine learning model named Distance Assistant monitors the distance between employees. Additionally, the retail giant has also released a wearable tech baked with an LED light and audio system that alarms employees when they are violating social distancing rules.

Other companies are developing slightly more barebones devices that emit a signal when the wear gets too close to somebody else wearing one. When the distances between two devices drops below a parameter set by the workplace, both devices will indicate that wearers are not maintaining appropriate physical distancing.  


Californian fulfillment company DCL Logistics enlisted robots to help cope with a 30% surge in business. The company’s online shop, which fulfills product orders from the likes of thermometer maker Kinsa and cereal company Magic Spoon saw e-commerce orders spike in the thick of the pandemic. Under normal circumstances, the company would have hired temporary staff to manage the increased workload, but in a bid to keep existing employees safe, a different solution was needed. Instead, the company added more cobots (collaborative robots) to their team. 

Previously, each fulfillment line would require five human workers. However, with the addition of robots, only two are required, lowering safety risks and also increasing productivity. DCL Logistics’s chief revenue officer Brian Tu shared that the robots have led to “a 300% increase in productivity and a 60% jump in labor cost savings,” as reported in Reuters. 

Besides fulfillment centers, robots are increasingly being employed in customer-facing industries, including retail. TechHQ recently spoke with BrainCorp’s vice president of product, program, and UX design, Phil Duffy, in the emerging role of robots in storefronts – a sight he said was becoming more acceptable to consumers. 

QR codes

In general, QR codes allow users to scan bar codes with their mobile devices, which then open a direct link between merchant and the customer. QR codes have been widely adopted across industries and support a range of functions, from paying for takeaways at a local deli to knowing the origins of the coffee beans used for your morning caffeine fixes.

Restaurants have been quick to embrace QR codes as a means to display menus, while minimizing contact. All customers need to do is hover their phones over QR codes for the menu, order and proceed to paying right after. This new trend has not only reduce the number of items restaurant staff need to sanitize but also enables managers to monitor the foot traffic in restaurants. 

A customer uses a QR code menu to order food. Source: AFP

Touchless technology

Minimizing contact with ‘high-touch’ areas such as door handles, faucets, and elevator buttons should be a particular focus of any ‘return-to-work’ strategy.

Salesforce recently joined forces with Siemens to develop a touch-free office environment that will support organizations worldwide for a safe return to work. 

Some of the return to office solutions include a mobile employee ‘boarding pass’ for elevator and building access. The employee-facing app aims to ensure compliance with social distancing and safety regulations. Employees can use the app to reserve conference rooms and desks, checking availability with real-time updates. In addition, employees can seek for health and safety amenities and even request for sanitization services through the app.

IoT solutions will be used to create “sensory systems” throughout the office building that enables the employee-facing mobile app to operate and provide real-time data updates on how space is being used.

Technology will play a critical part in ensuring the workplace environment is safe to operate for both employees and customers – it’s likely that these trends will continue even after the pandemic subsides.