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How Your Lobby Should Look Post-COVID

January 25, 2021
Office building entrance

The lobby is usually the main entrance to most commercial and executive office buildings where staff, employees, visitors, vendors and the general public enter the facility. A poorly designed lobby may not only challenge the access control technologies that are deployed, but can also increase operational costs when additional security staff are required to augment lobby security protocols. As the coronavirus renews its surge across the globe, lobby design flaws will have an even greater impact on a building’s security and safety.

With office buildings being singled out as prime COVID-19 breeding grounds due to the large number of people coming and going, plus shared entry points like lobbies where germ transfer between people is more likely, the onus has fallen upon organizations to adopt new procedures that prioritize both workplace health and safety and security when considering an access control technology solution. 

While a plan to reopen business may be unique for every organization based on the number of employees and foot traffic from visitors and the vertical market sector it serves, the common design requirements that support the basics of social distancing, touchless entry, capacity management, health and screening verification, and remote management are more than just temporary remedies. 

Tailgating at an entrance
Poorly designed lobbies challenge access control technologies and increase operational costs. 

Post-Pandemic Lobby Design 

A prerequisite discussion on new lobby design with increased safety and security in the post-pandemic world is why it’s critical for organizations to control access. What would happen if an unauthorized person were to gain access through a building’s lobby? The risks and liabilities include everything from basic theft of property and loss of productivity to potential violence from social unrest and civil liability for failure to ensure “duty of care,” and may also extend to regulatory fines for compliance breaches.

When it comes to potential changes in lobby design for a post-pandemic landscape, there are two key design elements to consider: 

1. Assessing the building population and creating separate entry and exit points 

2. Supporting and reinforcing social distancing by design

Some lobbies are only open to employees, while others are open to outside vendors and visitors. While traditional security strategies endorse a single, secured entry point for controlling access, the “new lobby” requires multiple entry and exit points as a means of reducing lobby traffic congestion and spreading the traffic out across larger areas to increase social distancing and lessen the risk of direct human contact.

The first step to creating separate entry and exit points is to identify and categorize the building population, followed by a determination as to where and how each set of users should enter the building. Employees can be funneled to separate employee-only entrances, while the lobby can be reserved for visitors and packages only. The design could be taken a step further if there is an opportunity to direct employees through different entrances around the building—for example, having office workers enter through the left-wing entrance and factory workers through the right-wing entrance. The same protocol can be applied when deciding how packages should be received—either at the back of the building or the front lobby.

[Related: Tips to Eliminate Tailgating Risks in Your Building]

Secure Touchless Options

The new approach to business operations and security driven by COVID-19 goes beyond increased employee safety issues that are mandating social distancing, staggered operating shifts and temperature readers. Facility managers are working in tandem with security to migrate every door in their building’s envelope to a touchless solution to reduce every possible transmission path for pathogens. 

The shift to a contactless entryway may be viewed as a two-step process that would address the migration to touchless entries and at the same time address the new issue of potential compromised security. With organizations scrambling to make all entrances across their buildings touchless, the quick fix of retrofitting existing swinging doors with automatic, low-energy, electric operators may create other security issues. 

When someone uses a manual swing door, they typically start by using their credentials to unlock the door—either a card reader or keypad. Once the door unlocks, the user pulls the door open far enough to enter, but typically not farther—perhaps only 45 to 60 degrees. As the user enters the building, the door has already begun the closing process and will typically re-latch in a few seconds. In many cases, the door never reaches its fully open, 90-degree position and, thus, it is harder for another person to tailgate inside without collusion. If facility managers begin to upgrade their manual doors with automatic, low-energy electric operators, the typical way of entering changes.

While the employee will still badge or use a hand-wave sensor to enter the building through the swing door, the door will unlock and open slowly using a low-energy drive (originally designed for ADA entry). However, now the door will proceed to open a full 90 degrees and remain open for a few additional seconds before closing. This increased automatic swing door opening time and distance will have a significant impact on security. The door simply won’t close two seconds after someone steps in. It could remain open for up to 10 seconds in some cases and will become an easy way for an unauthorized person to gain access to the building.

[Related: Top 10 Considerations for Assessing Cybersecurity Risks]

The dilemma is that while automating the existing swing doors seems to alleviate one health and safety issue, it creates a new problem of potential unauthorized people in the building. The risks and liabilities that are associated with tailgating at swing door entries could be theft, employee safety, regulatory fines and human resource issues.

However, these downstream security issues can be solved by implementing a tailgating detection or prevention strategy using automatic optical barrier turnstiles or security revolving doors to help organizations realize a touchless and secure entry experience for all users. If the deployment of security entrances across their entire facility or campus may not be realistic or financially feasible for some organizations, security revolving doors and optical barrier turnstiles may provide a solid option as part of a layered security strategy.

As organizations consider the new design or redesign of lobby spaces in conjunction with their building entrances, it is important to remember that the concept of reduced human-to-human contact, as well as touchless access control options, is not a passing fad. In a post-pandemic world, these will be design prerequisites.

About the Author:

JC Powell is the vice president of sales for Boon Edam.

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