Since the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, the company has found that 60% of interactions among North American workers violate the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s six-foot distancing guidelines, as do an even higher share in Asia, where offices usually are smaller. […] For those employers pushing ahead with a return to the office, sensors that measure room occupancy are proving to be a necessity, said Doug Stewart, co-head of digital buildings at the technology unit Cushman & Wakefield, which manages about 785-million-square feet of commercial space in North and South America. Most offices are already fitted with sensors of some kind, even if it’s just a badging system or security cameras. Those lagging on such capabilities are now scrambling to add more, he said. The systems were used before the pandemic to jam as many people together in the most cost-effective way, not limit workplace crowding or keep employees away from each other, Stewart said. With that in mind, companies can analyze the data all they want, but changing human behavior — we’re social creatures, after all — is harder, he said.
Understanding worker habits is more useful if you have a way to nudge them into new patterns. Since the pandemic began, Radiant RFID LLC has sold 10,000 wristbands that vibrate when co-workers are too close to each other. The technology was originally designed to warn workers away from dangerous machinery, not other people. So far, the wristbands are responsible for reducing unsafe contacts by about 65%, said Kenneth Ratton, chief executive of the company, which makes radio-communication devices. At this point, the data on more than 3 billion encounters shows the average worker has had about 300 interactions closer than six feet lasting 10 minutes or more. Nadia Diwas is using another kind of technology: a wireless key fob she carries in her pocket made by her employer, Semtech Corp., which tracks her movements and interactions — making it useful for contact tracing if someone gets sick, which is as important as warning people they are too close. The technology originally was developed by Semtech to help devices such as thermostats communicate on the so-called internet of things.