Touch-free technologies have been available for some time, but COVID-19 has accelerated their adoption. The pandemic created widespread awareness of the need for increased hygiene vigilance. This has driven touch-free tech adoption as workplaces increasingly invest in them in an effort to ensure a safe working environment for staff post-pandemic, helping to instil confidence in employees.
Once seen as just a ‘nice to have’, the technology has now not only proven its value but driven demand from architects and fit-out companies wanting to include touch-free solutions in their projects. According to a CapGemini report, even after the pandemic, 47% of Brits expect to increase their use of “touchless interactions such as voice assistants, facial recognition or apps”. The same study found that 73% of organisations believed that consumer behaviours based on non-touch practices would remain after the pandemic.
Touch-free solutions promote a hygienic environment and are convenient to use. This will drive continuing demand and adoption – accelerated by the awareness instilled during the pandemic (if we weren’t ready for touch-free taps in 2019, we are now).
Public spaces, including retail, were drivers of adoption, but demand for touch-free and other hygienic solutions is now influencing commercial architecture. What was once an expensive indulgence is becoming a ubiquitous consideration in new office design.
In many ways, the new technologies are a removal of existing elements rather than something new to include. But, in certain circumstances, this may fundamentally change the shape of offices from the size of reception areas to the flow of people through workspaces.
So, what technologies are available, and how might their adoption impact office design?
Companies, such as ourselves here at Zip Water, have developed touch-free taps. Our HydroTap Touch Free Wave model uses clever infrared sensors to allow whole workforces to access instant filtered boiling, chilled and sparkling water – combining convenience with hygiene. Additionally, as part of Zip’s new fifth-generation HydroTap range, customers can choose the HydroTap Classic Plus, which features SteriTouch antimicrobial technology on some elements of the water path and the touchpad itself, killing 99.99% of bacteria.
Entry-card and, more recently, facial recognition technology is making entry into offices increasingly contactless. Anyone who has passed through UK customs in the last few years will have seen it in action: you face the camera, and if the face fits, you are let through. Facial recognition can also be linked to alert systems to let relevant parties know their guests have arrived.
For many years, we’ve been able to check in online for flights. Recently, Ryanair introduced humanless baggage check in. Passengers use pods in the airport to weigh and check in their luggage. This technology may well find an application in offices – for example, deliveries. The Ryanair example also shows the potential for completely different spaces as queues and queuing are changed – and possibly even eradicated.
Lights and blinds
A key aspect of touch-free is that it doesn’t remove the touch, but it removes the public touch-point by allowing access through an app that staff can use on their phones. Lights and blinds are two of a range of things that can be controlled by an app.
No one wants to touch a public toilet, and hands-free toilet facilities are on the rise as a key public touch-point in a place of hygienic sensitivity. Many public places, such as service stations and airports, already have touch-free flushing toilets, and their presence is set to spread further into commercial spaces.
Like water taps and toilets, coffee-making facilities are frequently used. Voice-operated or infrared sensors have freed users from touching screens and buttons, and contactless coffee machines, such as the Nespresso Momento, allow staff to make everything from a mocha to an espresso without touching the machine.
Doors were one of the main challenges in offices. Solutions existed as new innovations or as after-market add-ons for existing doors. One solution was simply a fixture that allowed people to use their forearms. The more elegant solution is new door systems that use voice, facial recognition, cards or infrared technology to open. Sensors and motors on every door is a significant investment, but with the benefits of hygiene and convenience (for those with their hands full), its adoption will no doubt spread through offices.
Touch-free elevators are also not a new tech, but they continue to replace old push-button lifts. More recent innovations include a lift that detects an individual’s destination floor through infrared sensors.