What will the post-COVID world look like? As more people receive their vaccines and case counts fall, this question will quickly stop being hypothetical and become a practical issue. That being said, when we consider what technological changes were already happening before the pandemic and the new worries plaguing communities today, one of the best ways to categorize this near-future world is as a touchless society.
Smart Technology And Pre-COVID Automation
One major trend that had been reshaping public and private spaces before the pandemic was the growing use of smart technology, such as automated smart lighting systems, smart thermostats that conserve energy, and programmable, digital locks. These tools offer an array of advantages focused on energy savings and remote monitoring and access, but were also popular with public facilities like hospitals and hotels for hygiene purposes.
Beyond Hygiene Theater
It’s true that many of the recent approaches to public hygiene, like wiping down chairs and counters or even sanitizing groceries are part of a practice characterized as hygiene theater – it makes people feel better, but it doesn’t actually make us safer. On the other hand, those with the privilege of staying home or even just masked this past year have noted that they got sick far fewer times because of reduced physical contact with others. Frequent colds disappeared and flu cases were diminished. It’s no surprise, then, that many businesses are looking for ways to create low-touch or contactless work environments.
In addition to the sorts of smart home technology cited above, which is already widely used in newer offices, workers can expect to see everything from connected coffee pots to outdoor meeting spaces. In place of communal cafes with traditional food workers and cashiers, they may also encounter alternative dining options like The Jar – Healthy Vending’s contactless smart fridges. Even as food is unlikely to be a major source of disease transmission, many of the changes we’ll see in the coming months will be designed to allay anxiety as much as anything else, and vending offers a way of reducing the density of individuals in a given environment.
Finding A Balance
Even as workplaces, schools, and other public places seek to minimize physical contact and the concomitant anxiety, all of these spaces will find themselves working hard to strike a balance. People are craving community, collaboration, and contact as much as they are anxious about it, and that’s a hard set of contradictions to contend with. Minimizing unnecessary or inhuman points of contact, such as surfaces or low-impact contacts like chatting with the front desk clerk, in favor of more high-value interactions. In other words, if eliminating the small contacts such as pressing elevator buttons will make people feel better about having a brainstorming meeting with coworkers they’ve only seen over Zoom during the past year, then that’s a worthwhile shift.
It may feel strange to return to a world where we don’t touch things in the same way – opening doors, passing credit cards to cashiers, or turning on the lights – but this is precisely what is on the horizon. Though physical contact between people will steadily return, functional automation will proliferate. It’s an acceleration of a change that was already occurring. All we can do now is adapt faster.