As the world begins to open up following COVID-19 lockdowns, there is a growing need to control the number of people inside buildings. Our Virtual Queue system, originally designed for retailers, can also be applied to many other environments.
I’ve previously written about how we’re deploying Virtual Queue (VQ) for municipal services such as city halls and leisure facilities, and how it can be used in healthcare. I’d like to look next at how Virtual Queue can be used in office environments.
We can expect that the post-COVID world will bring huge changes to office life. Many workers may well not return, and will continue to telework. There are likely to be changes in layout to allow more distance between staff. My area of concern, however, is to look at issues specifically surrounding building occupancy and usage.
What is Virtual Queue (VQ)?
VQ is a customisable solution that allows stores, offices and other locations to control the number of people within the building and reduce the number of people waiting in line using a virtual queuing system. People who want to enter the location add themselves to the queue using their mobile phone, and can either pre-book a time or take the next available slot. They are informed via SMS or push notification of the expected wait time and can then wait safely in their car or at home instead of standing outside in proximity to other people. They receive a second message when it is their turn to enter the location. Optionally, owners can set a time limit for visitors in order to keep the line moving, and VQ will notify them when their time is up and they need to leave.
With most countries, states and cities imposing strict occupancy limits, it is essential for businesses to be able to demonstrate compliance with all local and national regulations. Staff can also access to VQ via phone or tablet. They can check people in and out, monitor the number of people in the building, and ensure that the virtual line keeps moving. We are currently developing automated sensor-based systems to help with this task. An overhead sensor captures customers entering and leaving the store. All Grid data is easily viewed in a dashboard which allows owners to track and analyze customer behaviour.
Built on MS Azure, MS Teams and the Ombori Grid platform, VQ is enterprise ready and can be deployed in a matter of days. It is a fully cloud-based solution which requires no existing infrastructure or hardware. It can be used either as a stand-alone solution or integrated with other Grid components to offer more options. For example, VQ can be integrated with digital signage that displays the current queue position. In a store environment, it can send coupons or other information to customers in store or in the queue, enable them to self check-out, or allow them to make a purchase online for either delivery or pickup.
Virtual Queue for Offices
Busy offices are some of the highest risk environments for spreading disease. With workers in close proximity in open plan areas, creating a safe workplace for both staff and visitors is going to be essential.
Offices of all sizes will be affected, from medium size buildings housing a single company to massive office blocks shared by numerous companies. Even small offices where the primary focus is on providing a location to meet with visitors, such as doctors, lawyers, and similar services will need to reduce the risk from a continuous turnover of people entering the building and using waiting areas, lobbies and meeting rooms.
We have been working with urban planners and building owners to identify a number of use cases where VQ can help. Three benefits immediately became clear.
- An ad hoc appointment and pre-booking system will reduce the amount of time visitors are waiting in shared spaces such as lobbies or reception areas.
- Accurately monitoring the number of people entering and leaving each location allows building owners and businesses to ensure they are not in violation of occupancy rules.
- Accurately monitoring and allocating the usage of shared spaces ensures that cleaning and disinfecting can be carried out between sessions.
Entrance and reception areas
The primary objective is to control and monitor the number of the people in each location. In a multi-occupancy building, each individual company or area may need its own VQ set-up. Instead of allowing people to enter the building or office at will, visitors will need to book an appointment. This can be done in the usual way by using an online or telephone booking system, or it can be done via digital signage displayed at the entrance to the building. Visitors will be notified when they are allowed to enter.
The same technology can also be used to monitor staff entering and leaving the building so that business owners can verify compliance with occupancy rules.
VQ allows people to book shared meeting spaces. To prevent unnecessary waiting outside a room, it will notify the current occupants when they need to leave the room for the next group, as well as notifying people when the room becomes free. Optionally, it can also notify the janitorial staff if the room needs to be cleaned between meetings.
Premises which offer dining service will need to control usage occupancy in the same way as restaurants. This will involve reducing the number of diners and staggering entrance times. VQ will allow diners to book their lunch or coffee breaks, and will notify them when it’s their turn to visit the cafe.
Obviously, nobody wants to make an appointment to use the restroom, but it is essential to reduce the number of people in each restroom as well as minimize the number of people waiting in line outside. VQ allows staff to check from their desk whether a restroom is vacant, and it can direct them to a different restroom if the nearest one is occupied.