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Using Sensors To Measure Workplace Occupancy

28 June 2019 | Updated 03 July 2019

Workplace design and management is moving away from gut feel and anecdotal information to being more data driven, writes Yodit Stanton.

Site managers are using a combination of occupancy and environmental data to drive conversations around what type of workplaces are best suited to their organisation.

Using sensors to gather data is a cost-effective and convenient way to get a lot of information quickly. It gives facility management teams an objective and realistic view of how buildings and workspaces are utilised.

Having concrete data takes away the guesswork and provides a view of space utilisation as well as:

  • Allowing for easier conversations with department heads and HR.

  • The use historical patterns to forecast future growth.

  • The management of the delicate balance of ‘just right’ utilisation.


Utilisation sensor types

There are a number of different types of utilisation sensors that are used in offices. The sensor choice as well as the number of sensors installed is based on the desired end goal. Desk and meeting room sensors capture real time occupancy data and is one method used to increase workspace utilisation.


Desk and phone booth sensors

Desk and phone booth sensors use passive infrared sensors (PIR) which is triggered by both motion and heat i.e. no personal or health information of an individual is captured. The data is anonymised to illustrate utilisation, enabling real estate and facility teams to understand individual desk occupancy and see aggregate data for departments. Installed under desks they are out of sight and not disruptive to employees.


Meeting room presence

For smaller meeting rooms, sensors using grid eye PIR technology enables facility managers to understand the utilisation of meeting rooms. The main purpose is to understand if common complaints of not enough meeting rooms is due to actual lack of rooms or due to inappropriate use of booking software and meeting no-shows. From this the site manager can understand which types of meeting rooms are the most popular in the portfolio.


Meeting room counting sensors

Meeting room counters are usually used for larger meeting rooms of over 5+ capacity.  These sensors tell the user about not just presence but also the number of people using the meeting room at any given time. These sensors answer the question around whether meeting rooms are right sized or if 1-2 people are regularly using a large boardroom style office.


Footfall counters

Footfall counters allows the site manager to understand the usage of open areas and create zones around a building. Standalone neighbourhoods and zones are a common way to design activity based workplaces with their own facilities including break-out and collaboration areas as well as kitchen facilities. Understanding if you have enough space necessary for each neighbourhood and whether these critical areas are being used, is essential.


Benefits of sensors over manual surveys:

  • Sensors are less disruptive.

  • They are much more cost-effective and efficient.

  • They have lower error rates.

  • They give users a wider scope of occupancy usage.

  • Reports are automatically generated.

With the automation of occupancy data capture, this frees up real estate or facility managers to focus on the value added strategic activities.


Analysing data points

Heat maps and sensors can help determine predictable patterns of usage including peak demand for:

  • Desks – capture real time information of desks that are in use and those that are available.

  • Conference and meeting rooms – have oversight of whether there are the appropriate amount of meeting rooms and whether they are the right size.

  • Break rooms – understand where tenants/employees tend to go and hang out as well as whether they are over or under utilised to help plan future redesigns.

  • Corridors and hallways (footfall monitors) – monitor paths through the office or building to assess trends as to why some are more used than others.

Some of the key metrics to analyse are:

  • Average utilisation rates of desk, meeting rooms or shared spaces.

  • Peak vs. off-peak utilisation rates.

  • The person to desk ratio.

  • Utilisation at the buildings, floors, departments, team level.

Using data enables more accurate planning. By making it available to occupants, you enable them to both change their behaviour and shift conversations from ‘how many desks do you need’ to ‘how can you use your space more productively’.


Why workspace utilisation is important

Buildings are the second largest cost for any organisation. The average workstation in Central London costs £17.5k pa ($22.5k pa) according to Cushman & Wakefield, yet the average desk utilisation rate is 45%. Based on an office space with 500 workstations, businesses could be spending as much as £5 million a year on unused space.

Additionally, buildings contribute a large amount of the world's greenhouse gases and many organisations need to find effective ways to reduce their carbon footprint whilst optimising the current use of their workspace.

The design of the office space has a high amount of impact on:

  • The happiness and productivity of employees.

  • Value and cost for the business.

  • Enabling meeting of sustainability goals.

It is important we get office space design right - facilities and workplace managers are going to be the critical levers in executing on these goals.

The author has designed and built large scale data systems for various sectors and has played a key role in leading development teams to run critical trading and machine learning infrastructure for FTSE500 companies such as Deutsche Bank, Man Investments, Nomura and Lehman Brothers. OpenSensors provides the next generation Smart Building Management Systems.






Article written by Yodit Stanton | Published 28 June 2019


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