Reopening After COVID-19 | Digital Signs for Safety

EPISODE 41 | Guest: Debbie DeWitt, marketing communications manger, Visix, Inc.

As facilities reopen after restrictions are relaxed, it’s vital to communicate any and all new policies to people entering your building or campus. Digital signage can help you reopen safely after COVID-19 by showing restrictions and reminders to returning employees, students and visitors, and can be updated immediately as the situation changes.

Effective messaging on screens can help reduce the risk of infection, ease tensions, create community and help people understand not just the “what” but the “why” of new guidelines. By reinforcing safety and safeguards on digital signs, you can support and encourage people as they return to their lives and their livelihoods. In this episode you’ll:

  • Hear practical examples for reopening messages
  • Take a tour through a facility to find out what to put where
  • Explore messaging for guidelines, reminders and traffic control
  • Understand the need for fun, inspiration and community building
  • Learn how to minimize germ transmission on touchscreens
  • Get free tools to help you reopen safely

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Derek DeWitt: Like the old curse says, “May you live in interesting times.” These are certainly interesting times. Many organizations are now in the process of reopening after various state, county or city mandated closings. And now you are probably in the process of trying to reopen in a smart, safe way.

One of the most powerful tools you have for informing your audience, whether it’s the general public or internal employees or students (depending on what kind of organization you have) is your digital signage. It’s everywhere. It can be updated quickly and keeps everybody informed in an ever-changing situation. We’re going to talk about that today with Debbie DeWitt, marketing communications manager for Visix. Hello, Debbie.

Debbie DeWitt: Hi Derek.

Derek DeWitt: Thank you for talking to me today on the podcast.

Debbie DeWitt: No problem.

Derek DeWitt: And thank you everybody out there for listening.

So, you know, this is a difficult time and there are a lot of changes. Things are different from county to county, city to city, facility to facility. Digital signage can help keep everybody sort of on the right path, literally the right path sometimes.

Debbie DeWitt: Actually, that’s true. Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: So, when thinking about how to use digital signage most effectively to kind of keep everybody safe and minimize their risk and exposure, I thought it might be useful to kind of like take a tour through a facility. Let’s look at an idealized digital signage deployment in a facility that’s reopening after quarantine procedures are being lifted or lightened.

Debbie DeWitt: Great. That sounds good.

Derek DeWitt: All right. So first, you have your employees or your students or visitors or clients or whoever the audience is. They’ve got to come in through the front door,

Debbie DeWitt: Right. So, you’re in your lobby or reception area or whatever. And actually, the first thing I’d suggest to put on your digital signs, isn’t even about safety. It’s about welcoming people back to the facility. Because you know, people probably haven’t been there for a while and this is your chance to start reinforcing the sort of community and culture that we hope you’ve been building with your digital signage all along.

After that, you can use messages to set expectations and let people know what you need them to do in your facility. If there’s, for example, a maximum capacity due to social distancing, you can post that on your screens.

Derek DeWitt: You can put up how many people can be here in this area and this area.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. It could be by area. And some places might even have a maximum capacity for the building. And you can use things like Excel spreadsheets to update stats. So, you could actually say there are 100 people maximum allowed in the building, we currently have 85.

Derek DeWitt: So that group of 16, you’re going to have to wait.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. Well, hopefully you have some sort of employee policy that you’re tracking who’s coming into the building. If you are trying to track capacity.

But some other things are, for example, if visitors or anyone else in your building needs to wear a mask, you can put that reminder up. This is also a good place to remind people about social distancing, especially if there are queues or a seating area in your lobby. Hopefully, you’ve been able to take out chairs perhaps, you know, and so that you’ve distanced them yourself.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Automatic distancing.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. Right. But it’s always good to remind people. And I would say, don’t just rely on your screens for that. Go ahead and if you can remove the chairs or move them so that there’s distance there, that way your people that are coming in don’t have to worry about, “Oh my gosh, is this six feet? Is this not?”

Derek DeWitt: Right. People out there measuring. Plus, I mean, it’s a visual reminder too, “Oh look, there are half as many chairs as the last time I was here. Oh, that’s right: distancing.”

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. I think most of us have probably encountered little tick marks on the carpet or on the ground somewhere when you’re in a queue that just show you “this is six feet”. So, it’s just about convenience and reminders.

Another thing is if visitors need to check in, or aren’t allowed in certain areas, you need to put that up on your screens. Or perhaps they have to call someone if they’re there for a meeting or something, that person needs to come to the lobby and get them. So, you could put up a directory, you know, a call directory if you have a house phone there or something.

And certainly, if there’s basic information, like you’ve adjusted your hours. Some people aren’t fully reopening. Some people aren’t fully reopening their facility for regular hours. There are, perhaps have things onsite like cafes or gyms.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Yeah. The café closes at three instead of five or something.

Debbie DeWitt: So, if you’ve got limited hours, put that up on your screens.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. That makes sense. Okay. So, you’re in the building. You’ve made it past the lobby. You’re into the facility proper itself. Now what kind of messages do we want?

Debbie DeWitt: Woo-hoo, you made it through the front door. Yay! So, this is where you can start doing things like basic hygiene reminders. You know, we’re all being told, wash your hands, but again, reminders are helpful. Washing your hands frequently, wiping down surfaces, things like that.

Derek DeWitt: Where you can go do that. Where, maybe if you have, like disinfectant bottles and paper towels around, where those stations are.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Some people are putting out hand sanitizer stations, things like that. So, you can do a little wayfinding there to let people know where they can go. Again, social distancing, you’ve already covered queuing and seating, but as people move around your building, they still need to keep six feet apart if you’re doing social distancing.

Derek DeWitt: Mm-hm. I do think you have to be a little bit careful about the way that you present the information. Nobody likes to be told what to do. And suddenly you’re having up all these messages saying, “Do this, don’t do this, do this, don’t do this.” Like, it could seem rather authoritarian.

Debbie DeWitt: That’s true. Yeah. I mean, you can have some fun with this. Like, you don’t have to make your messages, all doom and gloom. We have a message that we’ve been giving away that shows things that are six feet, either tall or wide, and we had fun with it. One of the things is a cow. Visualize a cow; be a cow apart! We do a Christmas tree, a couch, some things that people would certainly be able to relate to spatially.

Derek DeWitt: I saw a sign in Florida that said it’s about the length of an alligator.

Debbie DeWitt: Nice! Yeah. Make sure it’s local – localize your communications. I mean, you want your messages to be seen as important, but not overbearing. Show that you care about people. Don’t just scold them. Don’t just say, “We’re imposing rules.” We care about your health and safety; that’s the point of these messages.

Derek DeWitt: Right. There’s a reason for this.

Debbie DeWitt: And along the lines of social distancing, you might also be controlling traffic patterns to encourage social distancing.

Derek DeWitt: Like what?

Debbie DeWitt: You might have like one-way hallways. A lot of campuses are doing this, and schools, as they bring people back. If you’ve got that kind of real estate.

Derek DeWitt: It’s impossible in a corridor to pass one another going opposite directions and stay six feet apart. You just can’t do it.

Debbie DeWitt: That depends on where you are. Some campuses have quite large hallways; hospitals, things like that. But a lot of people, just because you never know when someone in the crowd is going to waver and lean over, tap, or, you know, you never know how people are going to clump up. So, they’re doing one-way hallways and one-way stairways also, if you have multiple stairways.

So that message is so simple. It’s a big, say, red screen with an arrow that says, “This is a one-way hallway” with the arrow pointing the way people can go. Same thing outside of stairwells. And again, I would say, don’t just rely on your screens. You want to put something on the floors. A lot of people are putting arrows on the floors of hallways. And you know, if you’ve got a door that leads to your stairs, go ahead and put a sign there as well.

Derek DeWitt: In addition. So, it’s a whole comprehensive, I hate to use the word “deployment” again, but yeah, deployment. It’s a whole comprehensive system.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Absolutely. Another thing people are doing is maximum number of people on elevators. You know, if they’re not using the stairs, you can encourage them: use the stairs; don’t use elevators. It’s a small enclosed space with lots of buttons that people touch. So why not take the stairs? It’s healthy.

But you know, if you do have elevators, certainly you can limit the number of people on those. You’ll want to put that on your screens. Same thing goes for meeting rooms, computer labs, anywhere that people are booking. If you want, you could even show a seating chart. Especially with meeting rooms, a lot of people don’t have staff to go around and take out all the chairs that they don’t want people to use.

Derek DeWitt: Plus, where do you store all those chairs?

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. And even if you do, people could move them. You know, once they get in there, everybody, all the chairs are on casters. So maybe show a seating chart. You can X out the chairs you don’t want them to use. Again, just trying to encourage them not to clump up.

And even in some cases you can actually show on your screens, like, “Hey, this room is being cleaned” or “This room needs to be cleaned”, so people don’t go in it before it’s had some sort of cleaning treatment.

Derek DeWitt: Now of course it occurs to me, a lot of facilities now are using touchscreens, which are great because you can really embed huge amounts of information in there and kind of create this personalized way of accessing the information. But, so what, are we supposed to just spray the darn thing down every time we use it? Should you turn off the interactivity?

Debbie DeWitt: Those are both options, but I’m going to take a moment out for a shameless plug for VIsix.

Derek DeWitt: Ooooh, good!

Debbie DeWitt: No. Our software (and there are other people out there that are working on this), our software actually has a widget that lets you use a voice user interface for any screen, even if it’s not a touchscreen. So that’s one way to avoid the touching is to offer them the option to talk to the screen.

Derek DeWitt: It’s still interactive, but you’re not using your fingers.

Debbie DeWitt: Correct. But if you’re not using that, there are a few things you can do. If you’ve got touchscreens. You know, basic hygiene, keep some hand sanitizer next to the screen and put up a sign asking people to use it before and after they touch the display.

Derek DeWitt: Right. As a message that comes up, like “once you’re done with your session” or physical signs or both?

Debbie DeWitt: I think both are best. And in some cases, if someone’s got a touchscreen, a lot of people go out and get a custom wayfinding design or something. They don’t have the ability to put that on there. Certainly, if you do have that ability, build it into the screen, have your timeout screen say, “Wipe this down”.

But if not, yes. I hate to say it as a digital signage person, but put a piece of paper up there that says, “Please wipe this down”. And have some screen wipes handy. And ask people to wipe it down; not only their own hands, but the screen itself.

Derek DeWitt: And make sure that whatever you’re using doesn’t damage the actual screen itself. I mean, some screens, you can’t use certain kinds of alcohol or something like that.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: You can damage the screen. Like, “Yeah, we kept everybody safe. Destroyed our screens, however.”

Debbie DeWitt: Please check the manufacturer’s specifications.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Right. Yeah. I mean, is this true? Like I think about a healthcare facility or a hospital.

Debbie DeWitt: For somewhere that’s high risk, and I’ll say not every hospital is high risk and sometimes they’ve got different wards handling different things, but if you’re in the middle of a breakout cluster…?

Derek DeWitt: Of cases.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Or in a hospital or anything that you would consider a high-risk area, maybe it’s something that has very small children, or elderly or at-risk people, you might just consider disabling those touchscreens for now. Especially if you’ve got other static displays, put the information up there instead.

Derek DeWitt: Again, though, I’ve got to say this all seems very, uh, serious. You know? I mean, it’s really like careful it’s invisible and it can get you. I mean, because digital signage seems to me to be an amplification tool for communications in many ways. And I can’t help but think that it will amplify people’s worry or paranoia.

Debbie DeWitt: Let’s face it, this is serious. You don’t want to minimize that. And at the same time, you don’t want to be a bummer. I know what you’re saying. We get that from every direction right now in our public and private life. And reopening is actually a very positive step for most people.

But I would say that’s one of the reasons you might want to mix in some inspirational or funny messages along with the reopening messages. And of course, don’t forget, you’re also going to have your other standard content going up, your event schedules and news and pictures and weather. But throw a few things in there that say “We’re all in this together” or some inspirational quotes or funny memes. Just lighten the mood so that you’re not just showing here’s an event schedule, here’s a rule.

Derek DeWitt: It reminds people that this is about people. That, yes, it’s a screen and so that seems very “the computer is talking to me”, but it is the organization, which is made up of people, communicating to the audience, which has made up of people, using these technological screens as the medium.

Debbie DeWitt: Yes. And designing these messages, we’ve actually seen some of our clients who’ve done things like created a little tagline, whether it be “the COVID-19 reopening team message” or something like that. But some people have been very clever and said something like, “Because we care about you” or “A message from the COVID recovery team” or “From us to you”, or, you know, “Divided, we stand united”. I’ve seen a lot of these types of things. If you add something like that it not only brands the message so that they know this is part of the recovery messaging system, but it also personalizes it.

Derek DeWitt: Or “humanizes” maybe is the better word.

Debbie DeWitt: Yes. It shows that these are people asking you to do this; not telling you to do this, but asking you to do this.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Okay. I mean, that all seems pretty clear. I mean, is there anything else, any other kinds of messages that might be useful in a reopening scenario.

Debbie DeWitt: Again on the topic of reminders, with everyone really eager to get back to work, get back to school, get back to life, I think it’s important to keep reminding people about the little things like, cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze.

An important one, because everyone is so eager to get back to their lives, is “Please don’t show up if you feel ill”, or “If you’ve been exposed to someone that possibly has symptoms or has felt ill, please don’t come in. Let us know.” Because everyone’s eager to be there.

Derek DeWitt: Did you see this message. Is it true? Turn around and leave, please.

Debbie DeWitt: Right? Maybe that’s a lobby one. Like you can’t get through the door.

Derek DeWitt: How you’re feeling? Not so good? Turn around and get back in your car.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Because, and I think you and I have probably experienced this as well, that feeling of normalcy returns really, really quickly. You finally get to go out to dinner or out with friends and suddenly you’re like, you’ve forgotten that there was ever a pandemic and you’re shaking hands and you’re hugging. So, it comes on very fast.

Derek DeWitt: Not me. I don’t like hugging.

Debbie DeWitt: You’re a non-hugger.

Derek DeWitt: I’m not a hugger, yeah.

Debbie DeWitt: And it’s great. It’s great. Because normalcy is the goal, right? But it means that you can very quickly forget how to behave in the situation. So, reminding them of the basics is great. That’s quite frankly, anybody who’s using health and safety reminders outside of the pandemic; manufacturing plants, and a lot of just corporations put up health and safety things all the time.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Yeah. It’s not that unusual.

Debbie DeWitt: And they’re basic, “Please wear safety eyewear”.

Derek DeWitt: Right. “Wear a helmet”.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. These guys do this (or gals) do this every day. They know that. But the reminders are there for the time that you just happened to walk in and forgot. So, it’s no different with these reminders.

Derek DeWitt: What about using things like QR codes or short URLs or something to…? Because sometimes the information that the people need to be exposed to is way more than you can comfortably fit onto a single digital signage message.

Debbie DeWitt: Absolutely. Yeah. I always encourage you to have some sort of call to action or a reference for more information and so QR codes are an awesome way to do that. You can also just do a short URL, especially if it’s like your intranet. If it’s (that’s not ours, but)….

Derek DeWitt: Nice try, hackers!

Debbie DeWitt: So, you can just put that on there because that way… I always encourage people, like, roll up all of these things. This is a policy. Most businesses and schools are going to have this. If you don’t have your own and say you’re following the CDC guidelines, then link out to that.

Because remember, you do have a mobile group of people, especially somewhere like a college campus. They’re not standing still looking at your screens. They didn’t see all of them. They saw one or two. Hey, what else are they doing here? Go out. Find all that information on the web, see what we’re doing, see why we’re doing it, which is another great thing. Go ahead and build in your reasoning behind it. Again, reinforcing that community. So that’s the other thing I’d say is definitely put your policies somewhere.

Derek DeWitt: Should you be in the situation where you have interactive screens and you feel that it’s perhaps wisest to turn off that interactivity and make them static screens again, something like a QR code is actually a form of interactivity.

Debbie DeWitt: It is. And it’s touchless, in terms of public touching. It is your own phone. You are touching your own phone all the time. So, it’s a way of minimizing germ transmission, but still letting people interact because they’re interacting on their own device.

Derek DeWitt: Right. That makes absolute sense. And I understand…again, we’re going to just plug it…. Why not? It’s the Visix podcast, so Visix can talk about Visix, nyah! You guys have created some free messages for people to use as they see fit.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah! Actually, the tips that I’ve talked about today, we have an infographic. There’ll be a link in the description of this podcast, so you can grab those with some ideas of what you could put on screens. We also have a blog talking about this.

But we have over 200 free messages that you can use for any digital signage system. It doesn’t have to be ours. If you’re not reopening yet, you can put them on your social media. You can put them on your intranet. And it’s a variety of topics. We have about 20, I think it is, new designs that are specific to reopening. Things that we’ve talked about here: one-way hallways and reminders.

But there’s also things on there like inspirational quotes, productivity, tips, trivia, email tips and etiquette. So, there are a lot of different things on there that are fun and useful. And we’re basically just putting them out there, because we figure right now while everyone’s reopening digital signage managers probably have a lot on their minds that’s not creating content. So, we thought we’d give you something to use until you’re back on your feet.

Derek DeWitt: Plug and play, plug and play. And where do I find all this stuff?

Debbie DeWitt: If you go to, right in the top menu bar you’ll see a resources section and you can read the blog, you can grab the infographic and you can get the free messages there.

Derek DeWitt: All right. So, everybody out there, uh, have fun reopening? I don’t know that it’s necessarily fun, but reopen smart, reopen safe, let people know what you’d like them to do, and use your digital signage to create the sense that the organization is watching out for them. It has thought of all these things and all this stuff. They’re not just making it up as they go. They have a plan, and the plan is to keep everybody as healthy as possible.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: All right. Well thank you for talking to me today, Debbie.

Debbie DeWitt: You’re welcome.

Derek DeWitt: And thank you everybody out there for listening.