As businesses plan their back-to-work strategies, implementing a safe workplace is now at the top of every executive’s mind. Changing floor plans, separating desks and walling in workstations are just a few of the options large corporations are considering. Companies like Twitter have gone so far as to offer employees the choice to work from home indefinitely. The social media company also announced that it would not reopen its doors until September at the earliest. Staggered shifts and work-from-home policies appear to be the new norm across many companies. This phased approach may not work for those in the hospitality industry, however.
By definition, hotels are bustling gathering spaces—filled to the brim with both staff and guests. They are places where many different objects and surfaces are touched, shared and reused by countless visitors, sometimes within mere minutes of each other. If these facts never raised red flags for travelers in the past, they surely will now, when social distancing and personal hygiene are on everyone’s minds. How will the hospitality industry protect the health and well-being of its employees and guests as they gradually return? An article from Business Insider concluded that contactless technology will be the number one option for the hospitality industry. Hotels will need to deploy contactless technology that enables safety and cleanliness—while communicating those procedures to guests and staff.
The building automation industry will likely undergo seismic changes to facilitate a healthy environment for hotels. Standards for fresh air and indoor air quality will undoubtedly be affected. Managing the air control in a guestroom, lobby or conference room will be necessary. But fresh air will not mitigate infection points. Door handles, elevator buttons, check-in desks, audiovisual remotes, room keys and shared appliances each represent a possible infection point. Building automation will need to expand its scope in creating contactless technology to contribute to a safer hospitality experience. There is an expectation that building automation systems and the equipment that people use in a facility are separate. Typically, a hotel room temperature is controlled by a wall thermostat. Users adjust lighting by switches and dimmers; remotes or touchpads control automatic blinds; and AV equipment is manually switched on by another remote control. As long as these systems remain separate, they will remain as infection points. All of these systems will need to become more commonly integrated to have a meaningful effect on safety. Building automation, which has been around for decades, is the answer.
The design of these systems needs to start with user-centric thinking. Building systems are generally designed with the thought that only select individuals in a facility will access the system directly. These people are frequently facilities managers, maintenance staff and energy managers. A user-centric design assumes that anyone in the hotel could access the system. Executives, hotel staff and guests of specific rooms need to be able to control their space without infection points, and the solution is likely already in their pockets by way of the smartphone. In an era where there is an app for everything, it’s surprising how infrequently apps are designed and implemented for building control. The COVID-19 pandemic may change this old-school thinking. In a new normal, where every day light switches and remotes represent an unknown risk, the building automation industry has new motivation to alter the status quo. When that happens, the possibility of a touchless hotel environment begins looking more like a reality.
There’s still the matter of the television or projector in a hotel meeting room. Guests or staff are always searching for a remote control to turn on a screen, adjust volume and change inputs. That’s where the extension of system integration comes in. As Internet of Things protocols such as MQTT become more prevalent, building automation systems can utilize those protocols to control devices that are used every day but rarely integrated into the system. IoT provides a common point of integration. Other communications can be integrated as well. Bluetooth, IR communications, API integration—all of these communications can be implemented today.
With touchless technology, hotels can create spaces that are safe for both guests and staff. The deployment of Bluetooth will permit guests to avoid a trip to the check-in counter and instead head directly to the guestroom. An app could give user control to turn on lights and adjust the temperature of a space—all without reaching for a wall switch. With Bluetooth beaconing, it will all be automatic, or they can fine-tune their settings. The hospitality industry is at a crossroads, yet it has immense power to restore the confidence of the traveling public. Everything described here utilizes communication technology already widely available today. When hotels partner with the right building system, they will be able to provide a safe and comfortable experience for guests who are eager to get back on the road—for business or leisure, but most importantly, for that sense of normal.
Robert Hemmerdinger is the chief sales and marketing officer for Delta Controls.