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Badge Data Vs. Optical Sensors— Which Does my Workplace Need?

January 11th, 2023 | 7 min. read

Badge Data Vs. Optical Sensors— Which Does my Workplace Need?

Saanthia Bulchandani

Saanthia loves writing about spatial intelligence and the workplace, with the intention to provide Workplace Leaders with everything they need to create innovative and happy spaces.

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As the purpose of the workplace continues to evolve, occupancy is becoming more and more unpredictable. CRE Leaders and Workplace Experts alike are grappling with the same reality of making high-stakes decisions quickly and confidently in an ever-changing landscape. 

As a result, the demand for understanding workplace occupancy is greater than ever before. 

So, how are businesses gathering this data? 

Today, we will delve into two common methods of occupancy tracking, badge data and optical sensor technology, and compare their respective benefits and drawbacks. 

After perusing this article, you will walk away with an understanding of which of these methods is right for your workplace and unique business needs. 

Badge Data

Badge data is a type of technology that has historically been used to track workplace occupancy. It involves the use of badges or other identifying devices that employees wear or carry, which are then scanned or detected as they enter and exit the workplace. 

The data collected from these badges can be used to track the number of people present in the workplace at any given time, as well as their movements within the building. 

How does a badging system work?

To use a badging system, employees typically swipe or scan their badges at designated points, such as at the entrance to a facility or when clocking in or out. The data collected by the badges is typically stored in a central database and can be accessed and analyzed by leaders or other authorized individuals.

The Benefits of Badge Data

1. Badge data provides insight into employee attendance

Badge data provides real time information on the number of people present in a workplace. This can be used for a variety of purposes, such as optimizing the use of conference rooms or ensuring that there are enough staff on hand to handle customer inquiries. Badge data can also be used to track employee attendance and punctuality, which can be helpful for managing payroll and productivity.

Later in this post we will delve into why tracking attendance does not give you enough information to make decisions around occupancy. 

2. Badging systems are cheap and easy to implement

Because the process of badging in is relatively straightforward, it is an easy system to implement in the workplace, with a short deployment period. By extension, badging systems are a relatively cheaper way (compared to advanced sensor technology) to collect employee attendance data.  

3. Data from these systems are useful in case of emergencies

Badge data can be used to improve safety in the workplace by identifying areas of high traffic or areas where employees are spending a lot of time. This can be especially useful in emergency situations, when it may be necessary to quickly locate and evacuate employees. 

The Drawbacks of Badge Data

1. Badge data is inaccurate and rarely provides the full picture

Badge data measures attendance, not occupancy. The data collected from these badges can be used to track the number of people present in the workplace at any given time, but not how they are using spaces or changes in utilization. 

Prior to the pandemic, when people had dedicated desks and assigned seating was the norm, badge data worked fine to calculate the number of workstations required for employees based on attendance. Today, as flexible seating and hybrid work becomes the norm, you need accurate insight into occupancy, not attendance.

Additionally, gleaning data from a badging system is often challenging. It doesn't provide any advanced analytics, and because of that, it is rarely used to make key business decisions. Because badging systems don't produce enough data, it makes it challenging for workplace leaders to estimate the required number of workstations, meeting spaces, and conference rooms they may need. 

Finally, Badge data does not capture the full picture of workplace occupancy. For example, it may not take into account visitors or contractors who do not have badges, or employees who may be working remotely.

2. It does not provide data on how spaces are occupied

Badge data does not provide information around space usage— when people badge in, you won’t know if they were at a specific space at the same time, or how long they use the space for. You won’t know the space types used, or if all badged employees attended the same or different meetings. As a result, you would be unable to predict how many spaces were needed and what meeting rooms were available. 

The way the workplace is used is continuously changing. Without insight into how employees are occupying various space types, what utilization looks like on specific days of the week, and what spaces are most or least popular, you cannot make right-sizing and workplace design decisions with confidence. 

3. "Piggybacking", or "tailgating," adds to the unreliability of this technology

Ever forgotten your key card and asked a coworker to badge you in on theirs? This is unfortunately a common practice called piggybacking (also known as tailgating), and happens far more often than you can imagine. 

A study found that on any given day, 20% of workers on average don’t badge in. This means, 1/5th of your workplace data is likely inaccurate if you are using a badging system. As a result, badge data is often skewed and can provide a rough estimate of attendance, but not always an accurate representation.

Optical Sensors

Optical sensors are powered by anonymous computer vision technology, which means that these occupancy sensors go beyond just counting people in spaces and actually understand how these spaces are being used. Optical sensors have evolved from simple people counting to providing context of what is happening within spaces, which is what makes them integral in providing occupancy intelligence to businesses. 

How do optical sensors work?

Optical sensors detect when spaces are actively and passively occupied by identifying humans and common objects that are associated with human presence. These sensors generate low-resolution imagery on the device, which is significantly cheaper than camera technology and uses ELS technology (edge-processing, low-res, secure) to keep employee privacy protected. 

Benefits of Optical Sensors

1. Optical sensors are accurate

Optical sensors use sophisticated AI to process the data they capture, which constantly improves their understanding of every space over time. 

They can integrate to all the software and hardware in your company’s tech stack, like your IWMS, CAFM, desk and meeting room booking software,tablets, and keycard readers. This allows for occupancy data captured by the optical sensor to be combined with other space data from the rest of your tech stack. 

They are far more advanced than a badging system, which simply shares attendance data for a specific moment in time. Because these sensors leverage a holistic understanding of the people, objects, characteristics, and interactions happening within workplaces, they can provide contextualized utilization insights unlike any other sensor technology. 

Most importantly, these sensors can measure passive occupancy, which constitutes 50% of space utilization. How does that kind of inaccuracy impact your utilization metrics? It’s the difference between 20% utilization and 40% utilization. 

2. They are private and secure

The optical sensor converts light into an image, which then uses AI to derive information from that image. Optical sensors use E.L.S technology, which stands for Edge processing, Low resolution, and Secure.  This means information gleaned from the low resolution image is automatically anonymized, and no personal information is derived, captured, or stored. 

Most optical sensors and their associated platforms are GDPR CPIA, ISO/IEC 27001 and SoC2 Type II compliant. 

Concerned that optical sensors may violate your company's privacy policies? Learn more here.

Drawbacks of Optical Sensors

1. Longer installation process than a Badging System

Optical sensors are a lot more complex than a Badging System, and therefore the installation process can take a bit longer. This, however, depends on the square footage of space in your portfolio as well as the number of sensors being deployed.

For instance, the VergeSense installation and deployment is typically completed between 60 and 90 days. This is the fastest time to value of any optical sensor technology on the market. 

2. A misconception of the implications of using a camera

Optical sensors can give rise to the misconception that employees are being monitored through cameras in the ceiling. 

This alarming fallacy can dissuade the adoption of optical sensor technology in the workplace. These fears often stem from a lack of knowledge of how these sensors work, and therefore providing transparency when introducing the technology to your company is paramount, whether it is a Badging System or a new sensor technology. 

The reality of smart offices today is that nearly every intelligent device, from Google Home to Alexa, has some form of in-built optical technology that drives accuracy like no other. It is the fear of where the data is going that comes in the way of these investments. 

Should I use a Badging System or Optical Sensors for my office?

Here are some characteristics of enterprises for which a Badging System might be the right fit: 

If you are a small to medium sized enterprise in need of a baseline understanding of workplace attendance, a badge system or PIR sensor technology likely the right choice for you. 

  1. A limited budget for workplace investments
  2. An assigned seating model and dedicated desks for employees
  3. In need of a baseline understanding of attendance and just getting started gathering workplace data
     

Here are the characteristics of enterprises for which optical sensors might be the right fit:

However, if you are handling a global real estate portfolio with a large employee base, you would require a deeper level of understanding and spatial intelligence to glean a true understanding of your space use. In this case, optical sensors are the choice for you.

  1. A global real estate portfolio with multiple space types and thousands of employees
  2. The need to solve for complex problems such as employee experience, portfolio right-sizing, space design and planning, and facilities operations
  3. A hybrid workforce that operates on a flexible work model

Want to have a conversation with a workplace expert about gathering occupancy and utilization data within your spaces?  

VergeSense gives innovative, fiscally-responsible enterprises the occupancy intelligence to understand how their spaces are actually being used so they can:

  • Make workplace decisions with confidence
  • Define their new design and space standards
  • And, bring their employees back faster

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