Knotel to offer contact tracing in company app

Uber eyes spacing-out employees when it re-opens offices

Amol Sarva and Mike Huaco (Credit: Sarva by Sasha Maslov, Linkedin, iStock)
Knotel's Amol Sarva and Uber's Mike Huaco (Credit: Linkedin, iStock)

The post-Covid office may be a very different place.

Uber’s offices, for example, could reopen at 20 percent capacity with employees sitting six feet apart, the company’s real estate chief Mike Huaco said Friday. And Knotel is updating its app to allow it to track members’ whereabouts through a method called contact tracing, according to founder Amol Sarva.

Their comments came in a webinar Friday hosted by Knotel.

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Contact tracing involves tracking down those who were in proximity to an infected person so they can be isolated and tested. The World Health Organization has said it should be the “backbone of the response” before the coronavirus becomes widespread in a community.

Contact-tracing programs handled by staff involve calling people to ask how close they were to a certain person and monitoring their symptoms. Knotel is proposing using location services in its app, which requires less manpower.

The coworking is not the first to pursue a digital means of contact tracing — other developers include the German government — but privacy concerns abound, as Sarva acknowledged.

“It’s crossing a rubicon in terms of companies and personal privacy, but if your colleagues were on vacation in some place and nobody knows about it and now they’re in the office, suddenly that became a really big thing,” he said.

Sarva said his flex-office company is exploring a number of options that would fit into the “antiviral” post-pandemic office. Possibilities include testing members’ temperatures, less density in its shared offices and different cleaning protocols.

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A Knotel spokesperson later noted that HVAC systems and modular furniture offer other potential strategies.

Huaco, who oversees Uber’s real estate and 600-odd office portfolio, laid out how the ride-hail company would begin reopening locations when local authorities give the go-ahead.

He said opening would have a multi-day lag time because of the steps needed for employees to return, including taping an “X” on every other desk, putting up signage about social distancing and hygiene and stockpiling hand sanitizer.

Huaco also noted that initially only 20 percent of each office’s staff will be allowed in the building on any given day. Who gets to return to the office will be determined by managers, but Huaco noted that the individuals could change every day, so long as it’s not the full workforce.

Asked by Sarva if he expects to redesign many of Uber’s offices, Huaco said, “We’re thinking about it.”

But Huaco said he couldn’t imagine going to back cubicles but has not made any decisions about the company’s office footprint yet. Morgan Stanley’s CEO has already signaled that in the future his firm will have “much less real estate.”

Uber’s operations have been hammered by the pandemic. The company announced Thursday it would no longer forecast its revenue for the year, the New York Times reported. Previously, Uber had expected to reap $16 billion to $17 billion.

“We don’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction,” said Huaco. “We’re not looking at making any long-term bets right now.”

Write to Erin Hudson at