By Gary Drenik
The world had to change how we work, socialize, learn and even shop as a result of the burgeoning pandemic. Driving the change is a sudden lack of safety felt by consumers in indoor spaces — the types of spaces we used to frequent without a second thought — and buildings and facilities managers have been left to figure out how to make their spaces “healthy” in order to bring back workers, students, shoppers and restaurant goers.
To better understand what makes a building “healthy,” I recently connected with Manish Sharma, vice president and chief technology officer of Honeywell Building Technologies.
Honeywell Building Technologies creates products, software and technologies that can be found in more than 10 million buildings worldwide. Manish shared insights with me on how the pandemic is affecting people’s peace of mind, what sort of technologies we can expect to see in indoor spaces moving forward, and how building managers can ultimately restore confidence.
Gary Drenik: Covid-19 has obviously changed the world in ways we could have never imagined. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen? What do you think will never go back to the way it was?
Manish Sharma: One of the biggest changes that we’ve seen at Honeywell is how people’s awareness levels have increased about infection spread, the role of air quality and general space health. People are more attuned to what’s happening to change the spaces that they occupy, use and interact with to make them safer, especially aspects like air quality and adherence to safety guidelines which wasn’t top of mind for many people before. Whether you are shopping at the mall, working from the office, or in a classroom, buildings were meant to be spaces to bring people together – and now, we’re creating solutions to help people from each of these dimensions. Think of how an emphasis on safety changed the way that we fly after 9/11. We’re experiencing a similar moment of inflection now. People are going to expect – and want to see – that the buildings they use are safer and healthier. This may mean a more touchless experience in the office, new filtration and cleaning solutions in their children’s schools or automatic management of occupancy density in common gathering areas. I don’t think we’ll go back to just assuming that a building has all of the right systems in place – I think expectations will be to see and know it’s safer and healthier.
Drenik: That takes me to my next question: As we consider the return-to-work or school post-Covid-19, recent data from Prosper Insights & Analytics varying degrees of ‘comfort’ among consumers regarding returning to normalcy. With this in mind, what are some ways to ease consumer minds when it comes to being indoors in the new normal?
Sharma: As we eventually make our way back into indoor spaces, air quality, cleanliness, and safety are key factors in reassuring people a space is safer. Building owners and managers must reassess not only their infrastructure but how they communicate changes and precautions in effect to their occupants and visitors. They need to look at technology, beyond HVAC systems, that not only keeps consumers safer but makes them feel safer. It’s great if a mall installs a new air filtration system, but it doesn’t do anything to quell shoppers’ fears if they don’t know that it’s been installed or how well it’s working to keep them safer. Restoring confidence in being indoors is two-fold: deploying the right technology to make it safer and then educating the public on how it is keeping them safer with visible, real-time status and notifications on a building’s health.
Drenik: When you say technology beyond HVAC, what is that you’re talking about? And why is it important for building owners and managers to think beyond new HVAC systems?
Sharma: A building must be looked at holistically. Upgrading your building controls strategies and HVAC systems are just one part. Building owners and managers need to consider technology like indoor air quality sensing, HEPA-based air purifiers, automatic temperature scanning, touchless access, autonomous UV light-based surface cleaning, mask detection and bringing the data to life in a Healthy Buildings dashboard if they’re going to truly create a healthy building.
If you think of the human body, you don’t just prioritize the health of one organ, you prioritize the health of your body as a whole. An upgraded building control strategy for the HVAC system is pointless if occupants aren’t maintaining social distance or complying with wearing a mask (which video analytics and AI can tell you). Similarly, it’s important to think of ways to limit contact with frequently touched surfaces with frictionless access control and showing occupants real-time health of a building through a Healthy Buildings dashboard.
This goes for any building. From offices and schools to stadiums, airports and malls, every facility manager should be thinking how to make their space a healthier building.
Drenik: As we head into the holiday season, what do brick-and-mortar retailers need to consider?
Sharma: The remainder of the year will be a critical for many retailers. While online shopping has unsurprisingly risen since March Prosper also found that people are more likely to shop in-store in October compared to September — suggesting shoppers are preparing for in-store holiday shopping. The study also found that people are more likely to avoid certain types of stores and shop at less likely times in October, compared to September.
Retailers need to consider how to reassure shoppers that they are shopping in clean and safer spaces. Stores that are not deploying the right technology or proactively sharing their safety precautions, may not attract as many shoppers. Retailers that invest in technologies to create a safer and healthier shopping experience – and transparently share with their customers what they are doing – may be more successful.
Drenik: Thank you Manish for sharing these critical insights regarding how Covid-19 has created an awareness and need for new safety measures for indoor spaces including retail stores and how Honeywell is working to keep people safe in these environments.
To stay ahead of the post-pandemic consumer, Prosper’s US Signals series of datasets include leading indicators and advanced predictive analytics covering forward looking consumer spending plans, behaviours and economic outlook:
- US Signals – Macro Economic and Consumer PurchaseIntentions
- US Signals – Retail Economy and Consumer Spending Forecast
To read my previous Forbes articles on changing consumer behaviour, predictive analytics, machine learning, data privacy and more, please click here.
Feature Image Credit: zimmytws – stock.adobe.com