How to transform the workplace during Covid-19. Startup UMA teams up with the NHS.

When the pandemic hit, UK proptech startup UMA adapted their tech to help keep people safe at work. A few months on, they’ve now signed a contract with The UK’s National Health Service to help make safe workspaces a reality despite the pandemic. Read how here.

What’s behind UMA?

If there’s one team that knows what the future of the workplace looks like, it’s UK proptech startup, UMA.

UMA is developing technology for the “new normal” of work. They may be experts in tech, but their focus goes beyond that.

Their goal is to make workplaces smarter by improving meeting culture and delivering business intelligence from audio visual and sensor technologies. And behind all of this? A human-centered approach.

After taking part in Buildings4people, Bridge’s open innovation program with Optima, we caught up with Founders Karen McWhirter and Gavin Fletcher to learn more about UMA’s journey through the pandemic.

How did the Pandemic change things for UMA?

As workplaces began to shut across the country, the UMA team spotted an opportunity not only to develop as a business but to have a positive impact in the process.

The team were quick to understand the shift in facility management caused by the pandemic. Founder Karen explains that they “saw the challenges on FMs due to Covid-19 were greater than they have ever faced before and they shoulder the responsibility of making their real estate safe.”

They realized the potential of one particular UMA product to make a difference to workspace safety during the crisis. That product was UMA Sense, a booking management system for workspaces which also counts how many people are in a set space at a given time.

Founder Gavin says, “Our UMA Sense product includes occupancy and people counting to monitor utilization…the team adapted our tech to deliver a simple safe-occupancy solution to create a clear visual display of occupancy levels to ensure employees felt safe at work.”

Teaming up with the Uk’s National Health Service

Thanks to their quick thinking and dedication, the team are reaching new heights. They have recently signed a contract with the NHS to incorporate UMA Sense in hospital buildings nationwide.

The solution is flexible and doesn’t touch the existing IT network. It uses sonic frequency and 4G to capture data and users are able to use a chatbot or their voice to book meeting rooms or hotdesks from their mobile phones.

Founder Karen says that the team “are really proud to be supporting our first NHS Trust with a software and IoT sensor solution to manage and monitor workspace and desk booking and providing real-time analytics and reporting.

The early feedback is really positive and gives the trust the information they need to make decisions off the back of challenging and ever changing circumstances.”

Advice for entrepreneurs looking to develop “new normal” products

In changing times, both Karen and Gavin stress the importance of understanding the user: “Good entrepreneurs keep close to their customers and seize opportunities to enhance and simplify solutions.

Human-centered design drives the products we create. We would recommend that every product innovation idea should keep the end user front of mind and involve them early in the development-cycle.”

So what does the future of work look like?…And UMA?

The team say that while they acknowledge the significantly negative impact of the pandemic they also see the possibilities to reimagine the workplace.

Many organizations are taking the opportunity to drive innovation and redesign, meaning their teams are returning to an improved workplace that meets the needs of their workforce.

Despite the fact we’ve seen a lot of remote working technology improve during the pandemic, Karen believes “the workplace will remain an essential part of the majority of businesses but the days of long commutes into the office to keyboard-bash are over.”

Explaining that she “expects the workplace to provide a social space to allow face-to-face collaboration and provide team working environments and activity focused spaces.”

As for UMA, this is just the beginning of the journey. The team says  that they’re excited to extend their range of sensors and APIs to help make the workplace smarter, reduce operational costs and carbon footprint.

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