The past few years have transformed the property management technology landscape. Employees have been forced to confront new ways of working, which have been challenging for most and led to unpredictable surges in demand for office space. As businesses reevaluate their space usage with the shift to hybrid work and flexible workplaces, the C-suite is requesting more spatial data in order to make good workplace decisions. That's where the latest workplace sensor intelligence comes in.
Today, many employees are looking for flexibility and the ability to sometimes work from home, and sometimes come into an office for collaboration and socialization as part of a hybrid or flexible work model. Attendance in the office has fluctuated, and is less predictable than it was pre-pandemic. Without the right tools powering a flexible office, employees will seek out organizations who have mastered their workplace management strategy in any environment.
What is a workplace sensor?
Workplace sensors include computer vision sensors, infrared sensors, desk sensors, door-counting sensors, and motion sensors, or lighting-integrated sensors. Sensor technology is used in the workplace, often in conjunction with IoT systems, to securely and anonymously track employee behavior and collect data, make building management more efficient, spaces smarter, and the employee experience more seamless.
What are occupancy sensors used for?
Occupancy sensors show workplace strategists how much or how little each space in an office is used. Workplace sensors can gather occupancy data from individual desks up to entire buildings, and they can help reduce costs related to real estate and energy expenditures — which benefits the environment, too.
Why Companies are Investing in Smart Office Sensors
1. Improved employee experience
Companies operating with hybrid policies tend to also have policies around hoteling desks or hot-desking, which means desks no longer have specific owners and anyone can book and use any desk. This booking often happens the day before an employee comes in, and is managed through an online desk-booking system.
But getting to the office and finding that the desk they booked isn’t available, or finding that the office is much busier than they’d felt comfortable with, can be stressful and counterproductive. This can also lead to employees not feeling the benefits of coming in, and preferring to just stay home and lose out on the collaboration and socialization opportunities of the office.
2. Right-sized real estate portfolios leading to increased ROI
When considering right-sizing an office or an entire real estate portfolio, there’s a lot of work that has to be done before, during, and after the process.
Workplace sensors allow employees to vote with their feet. Their behaviors and decisions to use certain spaces over others inform workplace design and right-sizing decisions, which are beneficial to ROI. For example, if workplace data reveals that employees in a satellite office use huddle spaces more, it would be valuable to invest in smaller, flexible spaces. Providing spaces that employees use can reduce overall square footage, improve employee performance and experience, and boost ROI. With strategic space management, companies can improve office utilization and reduce wasted space, impacting the bottom line.
Once you have a few months or a year of workplace utilization sensor data, it’s easy to present the case for reducing the square footage of your real estate portfolio. Cutting down how much rent to pay, or selling some office space, will lead to short- and long-term reductions in real estate costs without reducing how productive your workforce is — therefore increasing your real estate ROI.
3. Sustainability and corporate social responsibility goals
Manual lighting and HVAC systems are no longer the best option for offices looking to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly. These systems weren’t designed for today’s flexible workplaces. Office sensors that integrate with HVAC systems allow for a more accurate information flow— rather than running on preset schedules that lead to immense energy waste, the sensors signal when spaces are in use, which is the only time the HVAC systems will be prompted to start. This follows the same path for smart lighting and other amenities.
This is truly a win-win: your company saves money on unnecessary energy expenditures, and your carbon footprint is significantly reduced, allowing your company to maintain its ESG goals.
The Types of Workplace Sensors Companies Are Investing In Today
1. Intelligent Optical Sensors
Optical sensors are powerful: they intelligently capture movement patterns in all spaces so that your company can find out which spaces are getting tons of use every day, which spaces are empty — and unearth possible causes as to why.
These sensors generate low-resolution imagery on the device, which reduces the cost and keeps employee privacy protected. Additionally, they use sophisticated AI to improve their understanding and perception as time goes on. They can connect to all the software and hardware in your company’s tech stack, like desk and meeting room booking software and tablets and keycard readers.
Passive occupancy is when a person leaves their desk for a period of time but intends to come back and reclaim their spot. It’s when an employee goes to a meeting or a lunch break but leaves their things at their desk because they’ll be back soon. Traditional sensors or cameras might not know that a jacket and a phone on a table indicate that the desk is still occupied, but intelligent optical sensors do.
2. PIR Occupancy Sensors
When looking to analyze how an entire room is being utilized, passive infrared (PIR) sensors can be a good option. These sensors are mounted on a ceiling and have a wide outlook of the room. Using passive infrared technology, PIR sensors detect heat and movement and have a very high accuracy rate of about 92 percent.
This accuracy rate, however, is decreased when people are stationary for extended periods. That means that while these sensors are great for determining how to optimize the office, they can struggle to detect the specific amount of people in a particular space in real time.
Therefore PIR sensors may not be a great help when it comes to ensuring worker safety during office emergencies or with analyzing specific conference room usage. Compared with vision sensors, PIR occupancy sensors are much less accurate for the coverage area.
Keep in mind that the placement of PIR occupancy sensors is very particular. If you do go the route of using PIR you need to make sure you don’t place the sensors too close to a vent or in direct sunlight because it might misread the heat and movement you’re trying to detect.
3. PIR Desk Sensors
Desk sensors are used to keep track of how often a desk is being utilized. These sensors typically fall under the PIR technology umbrella and are placed underneath desks to monitor if a person is at the desk through body heat and motion. Desk sensors are linked to Wi-Fi and work in real time, which helps employers to gain valuable information quickly.
The main benefit of these sensors is that they can measure occupancy for such a precise location, whereas occupancy sensors track the entire room. While this can help optimize office spaces, research has shown that some employees are a bit anxious with these sensors under their desks. It’s important to explain to employees what the sensors are used for to try and increase employee comfort.
4. Lighting- Integrated Sensors
Lighting-integrated sensors control lights based on movement. These are great when it comes to reducing energy costs and increasing sustainability as lights only turn on when there’s movement in the room.
While this doesn’t matter as much for open office spaces, this works amazingly well for conference rooms and executive offices that are not always utilized. These sensors are fantastic for energy savings, but they don’t track the number of people in a space very accurately, which doesn’t help with efforts to optimize office utilization.
5. Door- Counting Sensors
Door-counting sensors are very similar to desk sensors, except that they track movement through a specific doorway. These are typically used to see how many people are in a room with a single entry and exit point, such as conference rooms.
While these types of sensors work great for say an auditorium where you are tracking the number of people entering or exiting through a single door, they don’t work very well in the modern office given the growing reliance on open concepts that limit the number of doorways.
These sensors can typically be installed overhead or horizontally within door areas and also typically offer both battery powered and wired options. First generation door counting sensors may only track all activity at the door, while most door counting sensors today can monitor both entry and exit to give a real-time count of people in a room (assuming they are tracking each entry/exit point).
Errors are also relatively common, which can be quite frustrating when sifting through the records. Door-counting sensors work best for rooms that have one doorway and are used pretty infrequently.
6. BLE Beacons
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons aren’t to be confused with the original Bluetooth beacon. When you typically think of Bluetooth, you may picture your AirPods syncing with your iPhone or connecting your cellular device to your automobile. Those instances use the classic Bluetooth beacon, and it uses a lot of power to transmit over long ranges.
BLE beacons don’t use as much power as the classic use case because they only transmit a small amount of data over a short range.
So, how does it work? BLE beacons transmit a universally unique identifier to nearby devices with a compatible application. The connection can be used to track customers, pinpoint where a device is, or even send across push notifications based on location. BLE beacons can help businesses strategize in regards to marketing and help convert potential buyers to actual customers.
What’s extremely important to note here is that the devices being sent the unique identifier have to have a specific application downloaded on it. The functionality is in place for security reasons, so the beacon can’t access everyone’s device with Bluetooth on it.
Considerations for Using Sensors in the Workplace
Adding sensors to your workplace tech stack can feel daunting, but the data they provide is unmatched. Sensors can help calculate the ideal employee to seat ratio for your business, save your company time and money on real estate and maintenance costs, and they can help you show your employees you’re moving with the times and aim to provide a flexible work environment that lets them work however and wherever they work best.
VergeSense’s sensors collect highly accurate occupancy data all around your office, providing spatial intelligence better than ever before. Its AI-driven platform includes an Optical Sensor Network that collects real-time data, dashboards, and insights that drive workplace strategy, and integrations with the leading workplace technologies.
Today VergeSense analyzes over 40 million square feet and supports customers across 34 countries, including 29 of the Fortune 500. Companies leverage VergeSense to reduce or reinvest real estate, improve building operations, and create spaces where employees can thrive. The impact is reduced costs, higher productivity, improved culture and employee retention, and better sustainability. For more information, visit http://www.vergesense.com.