The global pandemic threw the world for a loop as businesses shut down, schools closed, and working from home became the new normal. Phrases like "social distancing" and "self-quarantine" became part of our everyday nomenclature, and safety measures such as temperature checks and mask wearing were integrated into daily life. It's now hard to imagine businesses and gathering places without these new standards in place.
From a business standpoint, reopening still poses many concerns and uncertainty. How can businesses keep employees safe, remain compliant with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and avoid liability while still maintaining a sustainable level of profitability?
From an employee standpoint, while many workers are eager to return to full-time hours and consistent paychecks, they are scared to return to an environment that increases their exposure to COVID-19. They may have questions about proper PPE, enforcement of social distancing and mask wearing, and many face new responsibilities that are not traditional to their position.
Artificial intelligence will play a major role as we try to move to a post-pandemic world, especially as it pertains to tracking people's health and wellbeing in public areas. Employers will tap technology solutions to help them face challenges such as adhering to new rules and regulations, monitoring compliance, and ensuring employee confidence and morale remains positive.
Today's new reality will rely on technology more than ever, and this trend will only continue to grow as we settle into the new normal. From monitoring individuals to helping to ease customer flow, technology -- specifically artificial intelligence -- will be critical.
As society plans the reopening of offices, shared spaces and customer-facing businesses, how can we ensure the safety of workers and the community at large?
One option is to hire or assign employees to policing practices such as temperature taking, mask wearing, and social distancing enforcement. Depending on the size of the business, this could take a great number of people. It would most likely involve a two-pronged approach, with employees on the ground as well as employees monitoring the situation from screens.
Human error is a risk in these scenarios. It's difficult to monitor a large group of people to make sure they are adhering to the CDC guidelines. It also places a substantial mental burden on staff; the average human attention span is about 8.25 seconds, and many are distracted by emails, text messages and constant notifications on their phones.
A technology solution is the clear answer in this case. Artificial Intelligence is a powerful technology tool that allows for multiple tasks to take place at once, faster and more efficiently than humanly possible. Cognitive computing systems such as neural networks are a specific type of AI that simulates human thought. This type of AI is used in autonomous vehicles and is also a good structure to build post-pandemic monitoring systems.
Cognitive computing can learn to digest information in different contexts. For example, if people are simply passing each other, or a family walks into a store together, the system will learn that they do not need to physically distance within the group and therefore will not be violating the rules of social distancing.
Not only is AI more reliable than humans at tracking multiple data points at one time, this type of monitoring can reduce liability exposure for businesses and organizations. Amazon is being sued by workers for not enforcing social distancing measures and being careless with contact tracing efforts. At the time, had the company had AI monitoring in place, it could have helped to make sure that such measures were being properly enforced and provided proof that the company took measures to ensure the safety of its workers.
AI in the Workplace
Remote working was the instant solution for many businesses when the pandemic escalated. While some businesses are fully back in office and adhering to mandated expectations for employee safety, others remain remote or are utilizing strategic and flexible work schedules.
For those going into office settings, a host of safety measures need to be implemented, but can pose a myriad of difficulties to ensure compliance and create substantial liability issues. AI can help to monitor body temperatures, ensure employees are social distancing, and even confirm that masks are being worn consistently.
This use of AI technology can help reduce worker frustration and dissatisfaction with new rules of compliance, free up staff from the need to manually attempt a fraction of what today's computing power can achieve, and keep employees doing what they do best, rather than enforcing rules.
The post-pandemic workplace will be made of more controlled environments including more managed daily interactions, reserving time for specific activities, rotating people in and out of smaller spaces, and flexible workspaces where employees can come and go as needed as opposed to each having a dedicated space.
As the COVID-19 situation fluctuates, so will the guidelines that need monitoring. AI systems can quickly and easily be programed to shift with the loosening or tightening of guidelines, allowing for flexibility in the system.
AI in Customer Experience
For those working in retail, hospitality, healthcare and other customer-facing industries, additional unique challenges abound. Customers have been patient and understanding with the recent changes, but as the new normal sets in, this perseverance will surely revert to earlier expectations and customers may even begin to demand more.
Customers will tire of waiting in line and having their temperatures taken to enter a restaurant or shop. While they will still expect safety measures and want to feel safe in the environment, their expectations of a quicker delivery method should be anticipated.
With a situational awareness solution, companies can mitigate risks and still focus on delivering quality customer service. Businesses that rely on heavy foot traffic such as shopping centers, hospitals, casinos, recreational venues and theme parks, will need to evolve to remain safely in business. For such large spaces with big crowds, technology to monitor for social distancing, temperature checks and mask compliance will be critical.
Hospitals will be one of the many workplaces that will evolve and depend on technology to avoid cross-contamination, especially with patients at higher-risk. AI technology can be used to take vitals, heartrate, temperatures and more without the need to enter a patient's room. This will help to provide better overall patient care while keeping patients and staff safe.
For retail and theme park settings, customer service can be faster and more efficient. There will no longer be the need to wait in a physical line. Customers will be able to check in, receive a notification when it's their turn, and then be able to walk right up for service or to experience an attraction. AI will be more important than ever in these high-traffic situations.
AI Monitoring and Privacy
With all of these technological implementations, employees and customers alike may be concerned about privacy. AI solutions have the ability to make people into avatars, where only behaviors and other rules are being monitored, which will help to ensure the privacy of individuals.
Unlike the extensive volumes of video surveillance data being collected, this type of monitoring does not entail identity information such as names or images. Moreover, data through this type of platform can be stored locally, not via a cloud system which might be breached more easily. This could reduce the risk of bad actors intruding in the system since access would need to be through the local database.
A Better Future With AI
AI-enabled technology solutions will help lead to a better future. The change has already begun, and the landscape will most likely continue to shift abruptly as we adapt to the post-pandemic world and learn more about how COVID-19 and other diseases are transmitted.
Customers, businesses and employees will all experience concern during phased reopening, but there are ways to safeguard individuals in minimally intrusive ways, thanks to AI, neural networks and other technological advancements.
AI technology solutions will allow us to advance and resume some semblance of normal activity, all while managing compliance, ensuring profitability and mitigating liability.