StrongArm has fielded inquiries from white-collar managers, but Petterson said the firm is focused for now on its current industrial clients.
A long list of companies are developing technologies to meet demand in offices, however. New apps host employee surveys to monitor possible exposure. Bluetooth-enabled wristbands provide warnings when employees come too close, similar to the device StrongArm provides.
At Industrious, a flexible-workspace competitor to WeWork, E-Z Pass–style scanners check workers for fever as they enter. Newlab has a similar system, developed by Brooklyn startup Norbert Health. The scanners use a mix of radar and infrared technology to instantly scan workers’ vital signs, including heart and breathing rates.
Norbert launched last year out of Newlab with a focus on developing vital-sign-monitoring technology that would allow families to more easily check on elderly relatives.
“But that needs to be the second step, because returning-to-work applications are what the world most dramatically needs right now,” said Alex Winter, the company’s CEO and co-founder.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all office buildings check temperatures at the door each day. An executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo gives landlords the right to deny entry to people who refuse a fever scan.
The rules for technologies that monitor social distancing are less established. Risa Boerner, a partner at the Fisher Phillips law firm, said employers are increasingly asking for advice on wearables and other devices that can track Covid-19 exposure.
“They are trying to find the solution that protects their workforce but is also safest from a privacy standpoint,” said Boerner, who is chairwoman of the firm’s data security and workplace privacy practice group.
Companies need to consider how much data the devices are collecting on employees, where that data is stored and who has access to it, she said. Under a state law passed last year, employers are required to develop a data-security program for any information they store about their workers and visitors.
About 82% of people working in Newlab—who are not direct employees but members—have opted to wear the sensors. Some have declined out of privacy concerns, Stewart said.
StrongArm says employers can’t access the data for punitive purposes. Managers receive reports only on incidents that could have created exposure to the virus.
“I need to know your proximity to risk from front door to back door,” Petterson said. “I do not need to know how long you took for your smoke break.”
Surveillance is hardly new to the workplace. Cameras and monitors are common in offices and on factory floors. Personalized RFID key cards open doors and security gates in most Manhattan office towers, creating trackable data.
Manhattan startup Actuate uses the closed-circuit cameras already installed in buildings for its social-distancing technology. The firm launched two years ago with an artificial intelligence platform that can detect through surveillance video when someone is carrying a firearm. The same technology can detect and catalog instances when employees stand closer than 6 feet apart.
The company uses the data to build a heat map of where employees are likely to make close contact.
“We don’t think employers or employees want instant alerts when people get too close,” said Ben Ziomek, co-founder and chief product officer. “But we can tell them the areas where employees are having trouble keeping apart, and they can adjust staff or furniture to make it easier.”