Home Winter 2020 Cover Stories Returning to the Office Safely in 2021

Returning to the Office Safely in 2021

Geoverse bundles its Private Cellular Solution with innovative partners to help CRE and Tenants do just that

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown its share of challenges at the commercial real estate industry. The challenges began when many enterprises were forced to quickly shift to a remote work from home model, leaving millions of square feet of prime office space vacant and lifeless for months, and put CRE’s future hosting large numbers of tenants, employees, and visitors, into question. Fortunately, as we enter the New Year, companies have begun to slowly return or at least make preliminary plans for workers to return, but another major challenge faces CRE owners—how can they make their tenants and thousands of people feel safe and confident about returning to their offices?

Geoverse, a Bellevue, WA-based specialized mobile network operator that provides tailored in-building connectivity solutions for the CRE industry and other verticals, is helping building owners address this real challenge. The company is deploying its “Work from Work” turnkey solution that will leverage its private cellular network at the foundation with an integrated package of proptech elements to help deliver this capability. CRE owners across major cities can ensure its many tenants and building visitors alike will feel comfortable and safe when they return to the office.

In order to protect and provide them with peace of mind, to start, Geoverse will utilize intelligent HD cameras equipped with thermal sensors. Geoverse is working with Sigma IT consulting on the camera technology application by adopting Sigma’s Computer vision AI (Artificial Intelligence) capability so that it can learn the key properties and behaviors of its home environment. The thermal high-definition cameras can count the number of people coming into and exiting an office building, as well as monitor their temperatures in real time. In addition, Sigma IT’s Computer vision AI platform can also monitor if those entering the building, hotel, school, store, or other facility are wearing masks and are practicing proper social distancing protocols.

“By incorporating the platform with Geoverse’s low latency cellular network, our computer vision and AI solution are able to perform even faster when monitoring social distancing with camera,” Sigma IT VP of Digital Innovation Mattias Zaunders said. “Our camera-based AI solution together with Senseware’s sensors for particle matter fits perfectly together for a complete COVID-19 mitigation solution. This is state of the art technology with ‘of the shelf ’’ cameras and hardware, hence it is commercially available to everyone, either by installing new cameras or even by utilizing existing CCTV infrastructure.”

Secondly, Geoverse has partnered with the previously mentioned Senseware, a company who has pioneered technology and new innovative applications around real time airborne quality monitoring and detection, as another integrated component of the solution. The Senseware platform has ultra-high-end sensors that the company’s using at its own offices today. The Senseware platform is using the air quality sensors to monitor for particles to determine if it is a contaminant based on its size.

These sensors can be used in a stand-alone format to just examine indoor air quality or be combined with Geoverse’s integrated computer vision solution to monitor, detect, and share details around a host of factors to ensure necessary precautions are being taken. These include real time person count and physical separation, temperature status of individuals, mask policy adherence, and the ongoing air quality across the target space. Since the elements are bundled with a turnkey private cellular network, this data stays local, but can then be shared with property management, tenants and even individuals so that any preventive action can be taken pre-emptively.

In addition, over time, the data can be collected to help determine trends as way to better influence safer behavior, for example, the window of 8:43 am and 9:21 am on Mondays is typically the most crowded in the lobby with an average of 22 people transiting, and social distancing protocols are increasingly challenged. A tenant gets an alert on their phone and makes alternative plans. In short, it helps make tenants and visitors remain better informed and make informed decisions to the benefit of the greater community.

“Senseware is teaming up with Geoverse to bring a rapidly-deployable IoT platform solution that aggregates all critical real-time environmental data from a building,” Senseware co-founder and CEO Serene Almomen, Ph.D. said. “The public is wary about returning to offices, schools, retail, and other venues because they are unsure whether conditions are safe. The aggregation of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), air filtration, and HVAC performance data is critical to determine whether ventilation performance in a building is optimized to lower the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 virus pathogens.”

“It’s not overly intrusive or complex,” Geoverse co-founder and SVP Marketing and Business Development Carl Gunell said. “It’s combining proven technologies that are available today in a new way and then introducing a high-performance network to extend reach and applicability. In fact, this solution is what we have in our office today and that we use and demo to other customers to help them understand new ways of leveraging the benefits of a private network.”

Looking ahead, as a logical next step, Geoverse doesn’t want the Work from Work solution to just detect contaminants in the building’s air, but also be proactive when the airborne contaminants are detected and reach a pre-defined threshold. This could include increasing ventilation in the building, automatically triggering mitigation systems, and then sharing these status updates with building management or tenants, so they know to bypass any problem areas until it is safe to return (i.e., avoid the west elevator bank for the next 15 minutes.).

“This could be a solution that people are interested in—it just happens to run on a private network,” Gunell said. “It’s a very compelling solution to help ensure adherence, safety, and peace of mind. For the benefit of trust, this is using our private LTE network. It’s a completely wireless solution, and of course if you get the private LTE network, you can then use all the more typical use cases like reliable smartphone connectivity, integrated building management systems and IoT, or some other business critical application. Geoverse works to ensure that people have a good, strong, solid connectivity for their phones and smart devices.”

“As Gunell points out, this situation could arise again as many known experts predict. And even outside the Work from Work application, the solution will still be useful for CRE owners to ensure people entering their building are healthy, as well ensure the property is always secure.”

Geoverse’s Work from Work solution is coming at an ideal time because tenants are increasingly anxious about returning to their offices, but it’s not without valid concern. People taking public transportation to work and than entering an office building is one concern for some. Then there is the proposition that numbers of people will be filing into smaller contained spaces like elevators. It’s these types of instances that will force CRE owners to show rather than tell their clients that is safe for them to come back to their buildings. Geoverse is confident that its integrated solution will make that task a little easier for CRE owners and give them peace of mind.

“There are ways of leveraging the solution,” Gunell said. “You can identify people that are coming in, make sure you have touchless entry and limit the number of people entering the elevator with the same camera technology used to make sure they’re safe inside of the elevators.”

The Work from Work solution’s main objective is to help CRE owners give tenants peace of mind about returning to their offices. It serves another purpose, however. Work from Work will also make it easier to keep track of the number of people inside of a building. There’s no need to have a staff member count manually. CRE owners can decide what level of capacity they want their building to reach at a given time, 25%, 50%, etc. and the solution will alert them when that number is reached. The same goes for ensuring people are wearing masks—no one has to physically check that every building entrant has one. Security cameras can detect and notify staff of unmasked people so that they can be engaged if necessary.

Meanwhile, a monitor can be placed appropriately, and the transiting people can be identified as “green” or “red” based on their current temperature status. With multiple thermal cameras, a room’s aggregate temperature can be determined as well. If there is an area in the building that crosses a 103-degree temperature threshold, the solution can identify the person(s) with a potential health issue.

This solution isn’t just an answer for returning to the office following the COVID-19 pandemic. As Gunell points out, this situation could arise again as many known experts predict. And even outside the Work from Work application, the solution will still be useful for CRE owners to ensure people entering their building are healthy, as well ensure the property is always secure.

Even if the setup isn’t used to identify mask policy, it could biometrically identify a person when they enter or exit or use the cameras to automatically detect the employee’s badge as they’re entering the building or to view their license plate when they approach the parking garage. Cameras could even be used to make sure there’s a car that’s permitted to park in the building or to charge them. There are a lot of things video can be used for—Geoverse has just added the AI ledger.

Although the Work from Work solution is initially geared to office space CRE, the concept is broadly applicable to any building or venue that typically has a lot of people passing through it, especially properties that have lobbies and other common areas like hotels, campuses or even airports.

“There’s no reason you can’t replicate the intelligent and real-time monitoring and data sharing in a school or hotel with all of these verticals that are trying to return back to normal in a safe, graduated way,” Geoverse Director of Marketing Tony Eigen said. “This could be a big part of making it safe and installing confidence as well. There’s a broad applicability potentially for such a solution.”

A logistics environment is another scenario where the solution’s camera technology could come in handy, according to Gunell. If people are loading boxes on a truck and one disappears, it will be easy to determine its whereabouts. A construction site is another example—just like how the solution can detect people not wearing masks, it can help spot people who are without their helmets or identify who may not be permitted on site and alert local personnel. Construction workers can look at how many building materials are missing and if those numbers match with the building’s height and how fast it is being built.

“There are all sorts of use cases that you can apply AI and have that look for an anomaly and respond versus never detecting or detecting way after the fact when it becomes much more problematic to address,” Gunell said.

Whether Work from Work finds its way into an office building, college campus, hotel, conference center or hospital, its goal remains the same—help CRE owners make their tenants feel comfortable about safely returning to their place of work.

“I think where we lost momentum at one point is people are very focused on just the office space and then they stopped going to the offices,” Gunell said. “This is a way to help landlords add some confidence that everybody’s walking in there and no one has a fever. It also takes away the need for people to verify that people are using masks and if they’re in the lobby area that six-foot distance is maintained.

There’s also potential for CRE owners to gain a return on their investment with this solution—they could charge office owners or tenants for it since it will make it safer for their employees to be inside the office or it could be a platform that helps reduce reliance on staff in place who manually do much of this work.

“Primarily this is a way to start reopening again because we feel landlords are understandably concerned that if people can’t go into the offices, do they eventually lose those tenants?” Gunell said. “This is a way to assure people that there is a viable and safe way to return. It can be completely automated and use technology to ensure the local rules and regulations surrounding COVID-19 are followed.”

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