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The Less-Touch Office: Working in the Era of COVID-19
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The Less-Touch Office: Working in the Era of COVID-19

For a time, touchscreen displays were the height of innovation. Forget the old-school buttons; that was so last century. Everyone wanted an interface that reminded them of their iPhone. And that technology is still great – there are many possibilities for personalization and connectivity in a touchscreen LCD panel that just aren’t possible in an analog interface. But there is also the potential for germs. Germs are nothing new and are far older than buttons or touchscreens – the COVID-19 pandemic brought about an entirely new awareness of all the ways in which touching shared surfaces could be riskier than we realized.

So, what is an office to do? For a while, of course, it was a bit of a non-issue as all but essential workers were at home, sharing germs with only family members. But even in the height of the lockdown the idea of touching surfaces was a problem – people had to buy toilet paper, hand sanitizer and wine, after all, and doing so in person meant touching buttons on checkout kiosks. Or did it? A population that had only slowly and reluctantly been adopting the idea of contactless payment solutions was suddenly happily whipping out their smartphones and watches at the cash register. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended contactless payments to consumers in March, and by August, a MasterCard survey showed 79% of consumers were using contactless payment methods.

Hotels had also introduced “smart rooms” prior to COVID-19, but they were more of a novelty than anything else. Lying in a cushy hotel room and barking out orders to Alexa was fun, but for the most part it was all about the entertainment value. But maybe it shouldn’t have been. Just Google “hotel room remote control” and you’ll never touch one again – and that was pre-pandemic.

Now? Not touching things is foremost in peoples’ minds, and if you can control something with your smart device or your voice, you probably should. And that brings us back to the office – because many people are returning to the office. As reopening begins in different phases across the country and around the world, workers are once again faced with the need to interact with shared surfaces. But just like the retail and hotel industries, the office technology industry has some tricks up its sleeve.

In 2017, Sharp became the first MFP provider to work with Alexa for Business to create MFP Voice. When we first showed off this technology, the consensus was that it was a neat feature. Now? Three years later, much like Apple Pay and the smart hotel room, it’s most definitely an idea whose time has come.

When workers come back to the office and need to use the shared MFP (and no matter what you hear, there are still shared MFPs, workers are still using them, and the need to print, copy, scan and fax is alive and well) they need to be as safe as possible. However, if you’re one of those people who gets into fights with Alexa regularly (mangos, Alexa. MANGOS! Why would I want to add a tango to my shopping list?) there is a is  Synappx™ Go app that can be installed on your phone and used to control all those functions as well. Just create preset preferences, and there is no need to touch those controls on the MFP (we know you’re practicing recommended cleaning and sanitizing guidelines – but we’re all a little extra alert these days). Synappx Go does more, but let’s leave that for another time.

We are living in a changed world, and it’s not just about COVID-19. While the pandemic has certainly changed a lot of things, some of that change is actually good and has made our lives simpler, and we’re not likely to just revert to the old ways once a vaccine has been widely distributed. People often resist change because it seems complicated – but people also adapt quickly, and once they realize it’s not so hard, they appreciate the convenience. The retail industry isn’t just going to go back to swiping cards and entering PINs once the pandemic is behind us – a lot of people have grown to love contactless pay, and the financial industry’s increased focus on new options is evidence of that.

As workers return to the office, whether part-time, on staggered schedules, or full-time, safety will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. From six-foot workspaces to masks to social distancing in common areas, there will be some inconvenience involved. Fortunately, not all of the change will be inconvenient – much like contactless pay and remote check-in, controlling the office MFP with a smartphone or voice command will be one of the positive changes to come out of this situation.

To learn more about Sharp’s touchless solutions, watch Touchless Solutions for a Healthier Office.

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