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How Can I Use Occupancy Data to Optimize My Spaces?

March 2nd, 2023 | 10 min. read

How Can I Use Occupancy Data to Optimize My Spaces?

Erin Snider

Erin Snider is a product expert at VergeSense. She has a degree in communication technology management from The Ohio State University and aims to use writing as a means of breaking down walls and creating transparency for customers.

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Today’s world is one where occupancy is inconsistent, unpredictable, and dynamic. Last year, global occupancy increased by 257%, but was still only at 58% of pre-pandemic levels, and even with this increase, it still remains inconsistent from company to company, building to building, and day to day. Even as of June 2023, occupancy is significantly lower than it was prepandemic, with global levels only around 12%

As a result, optimizing for cost and employee experience has never been harder and the effects of this inconsistency are being felt in every building as workplace and facilities leaders are left with uncertainty about how to best optimize their spaces. 

So how do we address these unprecedented challenges? It starts with a shift in mindset.

The old way of optimizing your spaces doesn’t work anymore

In the past, space optimization was simpler. 

Space planning was based on capacity. If a company had 10,000 employees, they needed to have enough desks, meeting rooms, and chairs to account for every single one of them, everyday.

Every space was cleaned nearly every day. When the vast majority of your employees were in-office every day and actively using all the spaces, this consistent cleaning schedule made sense.

Space design was primarily driven by two specific sources: trends and surveys.  From high cube walls to low cube walls to no cubes at all, to collaborative spaces with bean bag chairs, to fewer conference rooms, design trends combined with manual observations and survey responses determined what kinds of changes designers would make to the office. 

Abandoned meeting rooms were less of a norm, because employees were consistently in the office. Searching around the office for open space was just another part of the employees’ day-to-day, making it so much easier to accept. 

All of these expectations changed with COVID-19. The post-pandemic workplace became overwhelmingly hybrid, with varying and inconsistent days of in-office work. It also marked a new era of employee experience expectations. The frictionless work experience that employees felt when working at home needed to be mirrored in-office in order to encourage a return to the office.

The equation changed when occupancy became inconsistent

In today’s landscape of workplace unpredictability, where occupancy is dynamic, ever-changing, and inconsistent, the old ways of measuring occupancy just don’t work anymore. Badge data, WiFi tracking, and PIR sensors have been heavily relied upon by enterprises for years. But how can we expect that the old ways of doing things, when occupancy was consistent, will continue to work?

Badge data is inherently flawed by human behavior, with, on average, 20% of employees not badging in and tailgating behind fellow coworkers, so the workplace has been missing out on ⅕ of their data set. Badge data also only measures attendance, not people count, active occupancy, or passive occupancy, all of which are necessary to optimize the workplace with confidence. Badge data can be used in coordination with occupancy data though to provide a holistic view of attendance, occupancy, and how they overlap.

WiFi tracking, while newer to the workplace industry, is not built for measuring occupancy, it’s built for tracking devices. This means that when someone comes into the office with a cell phone and a laptop, they’re often double-counted. Depending on the strength and location of access points, there are times they aren’t counted at all. The accuracy of the location triangulation from WiFi tracking’ can be off up to 10m (33 feet). This inaccuracy can lead to devices appearing to be in totally different locations than they actually are.

PIR sensors are only able to sense that there’s something in the room; they cannot accurately detect how many people are in a room or show where a person is. PIR sensors can also struggle to detect a person’s presence if they’ve been seated for a long time, making them less accurate for determining workplace occupancy patterns.  And let’s be honest:  people find them intrusive and your facilities team isn’t thrilled every time they fall off the desk.  

But what about manual observations? They are accurate but there are two major drawbacks. First, they only measure data at a specific point in time. This means that as employees dynamically change patterns of space usage and attendance, the data gets outdated fast. Second, it’s inherently unscalable. 

All of these old methods do not (and cannot) address the one true need of workplace and facilities leaders as they tackle today’s ever-changing workplace: occupancy.

The new way to optimize your spaces

In a world where occupancy is inconsistent, you need more than just assumptions. You need occupancy intelligence. 

Occupancy intelligence is how workplace and facilities leaders, like you, gain a true understanding of how and when their spaces are actually used so you don’t have to compromise between reducing cost and improving employee experience in a world where occupancy is increasingly dynamic. 

You’re likely feeling pressure to control costs while creating an incredible and competitive employee experience for your team, yet you lack the framework, the hard data, and the technology to guide these big decisions. So, what steps can you take? 

Step 1: Capture the activity within your spaces

To get a true understanding of your space use, you need deep insights into person count, active occupancy, and passive occupancy. 

  1. People count: the number of people in a space
  2. Active occupancy: the state of a space when it is occupied by a person
  3. Passive occupancy: the state of a space when there are indications of use, such as a laptop, jacket, or bag, but without a person present at that moment

Passive occupancy is extremely difficult to measure and it constitutes up to 50% of space use and is often untracked. 

In today’s workplace, occupancy that is unpredictable has become the standard. This means that employees are more likely to move around throughout the day while passively claiming a desk by leaving belongings there. This is known as passive occupancy. This allows employees to move between different spaces with different purposes while still having an individual workspace claimed for them to return to. 

If you walk into a coffee shop and see a briefcase and coat at a table, you know not to sit there. Someone probably just stepped away to go to the bathroom or get some sugar. We all do that same thing in the office.

By using a platform that can monitor passive occupancy, you are able to grasp a true understanding of your workplace's usage, ensuring that your decisions are made on accurate and holistic data. Otherwise, decisions are made on incomplete data, potentially leading to incorrect conclusions and wasted investments.

So, before purchasing a solution that can capture occupancy in your spaces ask them if they are able to measure passive occupancy. This will be the difference between 20% and 40% utilization. 

Step 2: Analyze the data you’ve captured

Once you have insights about your people count, active occupancy, and passive occupancy, organize your data points by use case. For example, ask yourself…

Space planning:

  • What is the mix of space types across the spaces I’m looking to optimize?

  • What are the most popular spaces in my building?

  • What are the least popular spaces in my building?

  • Do my spaces serve multiple purposes?

  • How do I want my teams to work? 

  • How do different departments occupy space?

Space design:

  • What are the most popular spaces in my building?

  • What are the least popular spaces in my building?

  • How many spaces do I have per space type?

Space cleaning:

  • How much do I spend on facilities contracts per year? 

  • How has the cost of facilities contracts changed in relation to occupancy levels?

  • Do my facilities run on preset schedules? 

  • Are my lighting and HVAC systems automated?

Space availability: 

  • How many meeting rooms are booked per week?

  • What percentage of these reservations are unused?

  • What percentage of these reservations end early or run late?

With answers to these questions, you can begin making data-driven decisions to optimize your spaces and boost employee experience.

Leverage occupancy intelligence to optimize your spaces

When it comes to your workplace, you deserve the best. VergeSense is company behind the world’s first and only Occupancy Intelligence Platform that helps you gain a true understanding of how your spaces are actually used, so you don't have to compromise between reducing cost and improving employee experience.

With the Occupancy Intelligence for Space Optimization solution, workplace and facilities leaders can improve employee experience by using real-time occupancy data to adapt their most valuable spaces with confidence. Capture what’s happening in every workspace and use AI to generate insights around people count, active occupancy, and passive occupancy so you can create cost-efficient workspaces that enhance your teams’ experiences. 

Space-planning-hero-min (1) Product-Space-min (1)

Unlike sensor companies, VergeSense offers a complete, flexible Occupancy Intelligence Platform with wireless and wired options so you can  seamlessly optimize any space. 

VergeSense captures people count with 95% accuracy and motion tracking with 97% accuracy, so you will have data you can rely on from proven technology that is hardened and future-proofed. VergeSense area sensors are also outfitted with computer vision that accurately identifies the shapes and coordinates of human beings entering and exiting spaces. 

Through computer vision, our solution is the only solution on the market that has the ability to recognize and capture the difference between human beings and common objects.

With VergeSense AI, you gain a true understanding of how your spaces are actually being used by evaluating your data and generating contextual insights. This means that you can reduce the amount of time spent trying to make sense of data and spend more time using actionable insights to optimize your workplace for cost savings and improved employee experience.

VergeSense AI is an artificial intelligence engine that analyzes the data captured from our capture layer and third-party sources to generate actionable insights through a cloud-based application and developer tool kit. VergeSense AI helps you find the truth within your data. VergeSense AI can also utilize ChatGPT to help workplace leaders better analyze their data and get answers to their most critical questions, just by asking.