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Return-to-the-Office: Appreciating the Invisible Hand of Operations

Return-to-the-Office: Appreciating the Invisible Hand of Operations

Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is defined as the unseen forces that propel an economy and benefit the larger community. Smith’s invisible hand was self-interested, but there’s a more altruistic invisible hand at work in the business world: The unnoticed heroes of operations.

Just like Adam Smith’s invisible hand, most of us were barely aware of operational systems and the people who manage them. “If you don’t notice us, we’re doing our job properly,” said the manager of a luxury hotel chain. And it’s true – we only notice when something doesn’t work.

In the pandemic before-times, we had many unconscious expectations. We expected the lights and the HVAC to be on. There would be coffee in the break room. Our workspaces would have furniture. Key cards for doors and lockers would function. We’d have ready access to the data we need for our team to work efficiently and effectively.

We rarely thought about how all that operational support came to be. But the pivot to remote work, and now the return-to-the-office wave, has made us far more aware of the functioning of operations behind the scenes. Unsung heroes stepped up with resources to support remote work, and they continue to support it for hybrid offices:

  • Electronic devices and systems
  • Communications and scheduling apps
  • Databases of digitized documents
  • Facilities “smart building” maintenance systems

As we return to the office, full-time or hybrid, let’s take a moment to thank the facilities managers, the practice managers, the IT/IS managers, the HR managers, the office managers who sweated to keep the wheels turning while the rest of us took zoom meetings in our sweats. Hats off to the heroes.

Photo © ASDF / AdobeStock

Technology Innovation: Can RFID Support Weapons Safety?

Technology Innovation: Can RFID Support Weapons Safety?

RFID technology excels at safety and security applications. First responders around the country use RFID-based personnel and equipment tracking systems. Secure facilities as varied as life-sciences research buildings and movie editing rooms use RFID-controlled locks to manage access. For public safety and military armories, firearms security is a top priority, with RFID badges controlling access to storage rooms and weapons lockers.

Now firearms manufacturers are bringing another RFID application to market. After years of research and testing, several U.S. and European gunmakers have incorporated RFID chips into handguns to reduce unauthorized usage.

One survey found that fewer than 2% of guns used in crimes were purchased from retail sources; some were given to criminals by “straw buyers,” but most were obtained illegally. The new RFID-enabled handguns require the user to unlock the gun with a matching RFID device – a wristband or a fob – before firing the gun. Some manufacturers go so far as to include a fingerprint match as well as an RFID match before the gun will unlock. Users can leave the weapon unlocked as long as they keep the RFID matching device within the chip’s short range.

This innovation presents an opportunity for law enforcement and military facilities to maintain even better control of their weapons inventory. Many of these facilities already have RFID inventory systems in place to issue guns to personnel. These systems do an excellent job of quickly and accurately recording the check-out and check-in of weaponry.

However, hundreds of handguns are stolen each year from police vehicles and from military armories, and a number of them wind up in the wrong hands. With the new RFID chip-matching system, those stolen guns are unusable without the RFID unlocking device.

Of course, the safety system is not fool-proof. It breaks down if a criminal possesses both the gun and the RFID unlocking device. To prevent this, RFID unlocking devices must be stored separately in weapons storage facilities, with controlled access to prevent them from being pilfered along with the matching weapons. Police officers are unlikely to leave RFID wearables or key fobs in their vehicles, but public safety departments must institute policies to ensure this.

RFID is a powerful tool in private sector operations, from manufacturing and supply chain to retail and professional practice management. With this gun-locking innovation, it provides an additional layer of security to police and military operations, and an additional layer of safety to the public.


Photo © moodboard / AdobeStock

Return-To-The-Office Etiquette: Can’t Do These Things Any More

Return-To-The-Office Etiquette: Can’t Do These Things Any More

Some of the rules of office etiquette might have been relaxed while we were all working remotely. Now that we’re returning to the office, we’re discovering that we can no longer do some things in the workplace the way we had done in virtual meetings:

  1. Nosy, overbearing, judge-y colleagues can no longer be banished with a click of the Leave Meeting button.
  2. There is no pleasant background screen to cover up the IRL piles of outdated directories, empty candy wrappers, and collection of used coffee cups in someone’s workspace.
  3. There is no Mute button to silence the co-worker who breaks into your workflow with a monologue about his breakfast cereal.
  4. Pajama bottoms do not meet the “business casual” standard at most workplaces.

There are upsides, however. Hundreds of subtle face-to-face social cues were missing from virtual meetings, things like the duration of gaze or the quiet sigh that told us how people really felt. It was hard to tell if your superior was giving you an encouraging smile or laughing at your idea. Now that we’re starting to spend in-person time with colleagues, all that missing information is coming into play to help us communicate and collaborate better.

However, very few people want to return to full-time in-office work. Sorting out the rules of the hybrid workplace requires a good deal of creativity, patience, and empathy – a new kind of etiquette. Melissa Afton of Potential Project recommends that leaders talk AND listen to employees, often and at length, about the return-to-work plan – a kind of managerial etiquette. Two-way communication and flexibility allow everyone to arrive at clarity, so everyone feels good about returning to the office.

Just as important is ensuring that everyone has the tools needed to function politely (and productively) in the hybrid office:

  • An organization-wide scheduling tool isn’t just for productivity; it supports good etiquette by informing people, in a timely manner, about events at which their presence is requested.
  • Document digitization gives information access to all team members whether they’re in-office or at home. A digital document database avoids the problem of one team member taking paper documents home, when the entire team needs to work on them – a huge breach of hybrid-office etiquette. No one wants to come in to the office for a meeting, only to find that essential paperwork isn’t available.

It is said that etiquette exists to make others comfortable. Working with other people, whether they are nosy, messy, or questionably dressed, requires a willingness to do our best to create enough comfort for work to happen. Good communication and the right tools will go a long way to establishing the new hybrid-workplace etiquette.

Photo © Pixel-Shot / AdobeStock

I’ll Have an RFID Tag and a Beer, Please

I’ll Have an RFID Tag and a Beer, Please

The craft beer business is booming. Small regional brewers and local micro-breweries supply unique local beers to nearby bars and restaurants, accounting for nearly 24% of beer consumption in 2020. Post-covid, many bars and restaurants have been short-staffed and patrons have stayed away rather than endure long waits for service. In response, some creative pub owners have turned to RFID technology to help get beer into patrons’ glasses.

The use of RFID in self-serve beer pubs is not entirely new, but it’s expanding rapidly as a way to help with hospitality staffing challenges. Patrons are issued an RFID wristband that records their driver’s license information and payment card, and the self-serve “beer wall” records their purchases. The benefits include:

  • Reduced liability – The system places automatic limits on patrons’ consumption and prevents underage self-service.
  • Better marketing management – Buying habits are tracked based on age group, day of the week, etc., to match popular products with outreach efforts.
  • Improved inventory management – Real-time inventory reports help avoid shortages and lost sales.

It should be noted that these RFID benefits are not limited to the hospitality industry. Inventory management has been a strength of RFID for decades, but inventive users keep coming up with new ways to use RFID as an operational solution:

  • Life Sciences – Researchers identify and track samples throughout the testing process, preventing errors that could skew results.
  • Healthcare – Equipment and drug inventories are continuously monitored, and personnel are tracked throughout hospital complexes, ensuring adequate numbers of staff and materials.
  • Administrative Offices – Paper documents are tracked as they move from desk to desk, avoiding misplacement or erroneous deliveries.

At its most basic, RFID may be thought of as an inventory management tool, but as these applications show, it is really much more. It frees employees to focus on their primary tasks as it automatically tracks and counts operational items of all kinds. It saves the hours that would otherwise go to correcting errors. And it will even dispense a beer for you at the end of a long workday. Cheers to that!

Photo © WavebreakmediaMicro / AdobeStock