A major shift is taking place in the way companies and organisations operate: the way they use their buildings and manage their people.

This transformation is being driven by a combination of external pressures, including the rapid  impact of the 2020 pandemic, and longer term trends that were already established, such as the need to cut carbon emissions, manage increasingly mobile and remote staff and contractors, and adapt to the rise of disruptive online business models.

These pressures are now making it vital for organisations operate more safely, more hygienically and less wastefully than in the past.

But as well as external pressures there are also opportunities emerging that are positive drivers to change. One of the most interesting, and perhaps less well understood, is the role being played by access control technology that is addressing challenges and inefficient process many businesses have ignored or struggled along with for well over decade.

The latest generation of access control and visitor management solutions can simply and affordably solve these common challenges and enable important benefits and operational savings. Here are the top five ways smart businesses are now capitalising:

  • Allowing buildings to be used in totally new ways

Businesses say that space optimization is becoming an urgent priority as they race to identify more cost-effective ways to use their premises. According to a recent Gartner survey, cutting overheads by shifting more staff to permanent home working is high up the agenda for many CFO’s, with organisations moving to ‘hub and spoke’ models, reconfiguring their workspaces to allow infection-safe working, or downsizing their physical footprints while maintaining their operational reach. All this depends on being able to move staff around easily and securely from location to location, including working from home. Today’s access control solutions, which integrate seamlessly with staff databases, rostering, and calendar systems (Active Directory, Outlook, and widely used scheduling apps) make this possible.

  • Ensuring a positive employee experience

This benefit should not be underestimated. For many businesses, improved employee welfare is one of the biggest potential gains from today’s integrated access solutions. A recent YouGov poll reported ThisWeekinFM found that 44% of office workers are worried about hygiene, cleaning standards and maintaining social distancing. And supporting flexible working and healthy lifestyles has a positive impact on staff engagement and retention, according to the Families & Work Institute in the United States. Organisations rely on their people, and in fragmented operating environments it is more important than ever to maintain positive corporate cultures. Team members may be working from home or moving between locations more often, so it is all the more important that when they do arrive on site, their experience is a positive one. With the newest generation of access systems, staff no longer need to carry access cards or key fobs: they can automatically receive secure one-time QR codes via email or mobile apps which allow them to securely access the areas they need to using two-factor authentication. It doesn’t matter if they’ve never been to a particular location before, they don’t need to feel out of place. They can receive everything the need before they arrive, including site health & safety instructions and any information they need to make their visit smooth and hassle-free. So, they can expect complete, or part-frictionless, access through main entrances and gates – from car parks with allocated parking space, through to elevators and meeting rooms.

  • Reducing physical and data security risks

With more mobile, transient staffing also comes increased risk – to corporate networks and sensitive data as well as to physical assets. With faces changing more often, it’s harder for security staff and colleagues generally to identify suspicious or higher risk behaviour. This threat is reduced by access control solutions that can cope with the new flexible way of working, with authorisations closely matched to each person’s role, location, time of work, and permissions – and that means not just granting or denying access to physical spaces, but to digital infrastructure too.

  • Cutting waste and improving productivity

Businesses are recognising that access control has a big new role to play in making operations run more efficiently – from reducing pressure on reception and security staff to minimizing confusion over meeting rooms. Put simply, inefficiency wastes time and has a cost, while the benefits of ensuring that things run smoothly quickly add up. Whether it’s helping people get to where they need to be, or giving them the resources they need – such as access to meeting rooms, data systems, tools and equipment – today’s access control solutions allow these things to be automated and streamlined. There’s no longer any need for access cards to be collected in person, stored or replaced when lost. And the new access solutions save time not only at set up, but continually thereafter. For example, visitors no longer need to queue up to sign in when they arrive at a site. Hardware options, such as tablets or kiosks, can be deployed in reception areas for contactless check-in, provided directions and instructions or to alert hosting staff when guests have arrived and are ready to be escorted.

  • Operational flexibility built-in

Unison, the UK’s largest trade union, presents a compelling business case for offering employees more flexible hours across a range of roles to improve work-life-balance and wellbeing, and some major public sector organisations have started to respond. Yet it’s harder than ever for businesses to predict exactly how their operations will need to change, even in the short and medium term. Helping to meet this challenge, today’s access control solutions allow then to build flexibility in. For example, because there is no longer any need for staff to visit security offices in person to obtain ID or access badges – remote self-enrolment allows it all to be done seamlessly  – it’s now practical to stagger shifts, regularly change working locations and pivot operations to meet whatever new operational priorities arise. In fact, access control is now an enabler of change.

So far from being what it once was – just a basic security function – access control technology has evolved and we are seeing powerful platforms that encompass security, visitor management, safety, and wider operational services.  Integrated with Active Directory, they are also becoming essential business systems and are being embedded at the very heart of operations, enabling workforces to be managed in more responsive, secure, and efficient ways.

And combined with network devices – door controllers, cameras and other components – today’s access solutions are still straightforward to install and maintain, but now offer exceptional processing power enabling unprecedented levels of operational sophistication and control for businesses of any size.