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Is Your Phone the Answer to Pandemic-Proofing the Office, or a Logistical Nightmare?

Smartphone access to door locks is not a new concept by any means, in fact we talked about smartphones usurping key cards back in 2019. Though whooshing your phone near a sleek little sensor may feel like another techy “ooh and ahh” gimmick, opting to go key (or badge) free does make a lot of sense in the context of 2021. As businesses across the globe crack their doors open, the distress over catching and spreading the coronavirus, even with increasingly stringent vaccine mandates, continues to loom. Property managers are constantly looking for new ways to limit points of contact, track occupancy, and provide a better experience to tenants that may be on the fence about returning to their desks. The biggest challenge involves replacing old-school locks and keys and designing an access control system that will not need to be replaced again soon.

The most obvious reason to make the switch to mobile first access control systems are the cost-savings. Mobile access can save building teams a lot of time since they don’t have to manually update credentials. The cost and aggravating process of re-keying a whole building is no longer an issue, not to mention the cost of reputational damage done to a business or building manager in losing a master key. Some of the smart lock vendors also include monitoring in their service which can take some of the workload off a buildings management and security teams. 

The ease of using a smart lock is an attractive sell for companies looking to lure workers back to the office with a better occupant experience. For occupants, not having to carry around a key is one less thing to worry about. For visitors, it’s a breath of fresh air to skirt the strenuous process of checking in with security. For companies, requiring employees to use an app to get access to the office is a great way to onboard them onto a platform that they can use to book desks or participate in social activities.

For landlords, the juiciest perk of going digital on your door lies in the data. Smart access control offers administrators remote insight into seeing who, exactly, is in their office in real time. When it comes to pandemic-proofing, and the possibility of having to oblige the CDC’s limited-capacity mandates once more, access to those numbers is a valuable tool. 

As enticing as going badgeless may be on the surface, choosing a programmable lock system doesn’t absolve you of risk. Regular door locks don’t require a WiFi connection or a software update, but some smart locks do. Although many new companies are pivoting to operate via bluetooth (like the Kwikset Kevo) or Z-Wave (like the Schlage Encode), many popular locks need a steady stream of internet access in order to function.

Additionally, the keycard reader is the most vulnerable point in a building’s security setup. Smart locks, like many tech products, have a dangerous susceptibility to hacking. Though there are the typical measures of things like proper AES encryption or two-factor authentication to offset those risks, hacking methods become more sophisticated by the day. Even ADT, the supposed leader of home security, can’t give a straight answer about smart locks’ resistance to spyware—expect some very reassuring apples-and-oranges platitudes instead. 

“Like most other digital devices, smart locks can be hacked. In fact, most smart locks have more than one vulnerability that puts them at risk for hacking, including plain text passwords, decompiling APK files, device spoofing, and replay attacks.”

Even avid proponents of office smart locks can’t stop themselves from mentioning the safety pitfalls. Smart Locks Guide, a review site founded by ‘highly passionate’ smart home enthusiasts, said this just recently: “Like most other digital devices, smart locks can be hacked. In fact, most smart locks have more than one vulnerability that puts them at risk for hacking, including plain text passwords, decompiling APK files, device spoofing, and replay attacks.”

All flashy tech aside, a smart lock customarily works with an existing deadbolt, which means that smart locks essentially have the same level of security as traditional locks. This becomes more apparent with the head-scratching safeguards that come with using a smart lock. Because your phone is required in order to gain entry wherever a smart lock is installed, the next logical question is to ask what to do if your phone gets lost or stolen. Well in that case you would simply whip your handy dandy…backup key card. 

So if smart locks are just regular locks with extra steps, and you would still need a physical key just in case the smart lock fails, is the switch even worth it? The answer to this question, based on the number of offices that are installing smart locks, is a resounding yes. Knowing who is in the building and when is not only logistically important for day-to-day operations, it’s crucial in managing the spread of an infectious disease and streamlines contact tracing in the event of an outbreak. Even taking COVID-19 out of the equation, data analytics from door locks have an important role in the future. Property managers will know more about tenants, businesses will learn more about employees, and occupants will hopefully enjoy the ease of returning to an office. So whether or not they may be worth the effort for now, smart locks are transforming the office, from the outside in.

Staff Writer
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