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Workplace Occupancy Sensors: 8 Questions To Ask

July 7th, 2021 | 8 min. read

Workplace Occupancy Sensors: 8 Questions To Ask


VergeSense is the industry leader in providing enterprises with a true understanding of their occupancy and how their offices are actually being used.

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So, you’re considering implementing the use of occupancy sensors into your workspace. Where do you start? According to our Workplace Impact Report, 65% of enterprises are investing in workplace enablement tools, and a quarter of surveyed companies are specifically investing in occupancy sensors. Making the decision to adopt the use of sensors allows companies to gain detailed insights into how their workers are using office space, then take action based on that data.

However, before you dive right into purchasing sensors for your workplace take a moment to ask these eight questions to ensure you are making the right choice for your organization.

Question #1: How do occupancy sensors work?

First and foremost, there are a few types of occupancy sensors:

  • Type: Passive Infrared Sensors
    Primary Use Case: Passive infrared sensors use infrared light to provide basic data on if a space is occupied or unoccupied. They are used for high level space occupancy metrics by room or floor.
  • Type: Time of Flight Infrared Sensors
    Primary Use Case: Time of flight infrared sensors use infrared light to detect highly accurate changes in their surroundings, occupancy levels, and space utilization. 
  • Type: Ultrasonic Sensors
    Primary Use Case: Ultrasonic sensors use high-frequency sound waves to detect the presence of people. 
  • Type: Visual Sensors
    Primary Use Case: Visual sensors paired with artificial intelligence, like those that power the VergeSense platform, are used to capture highly accurate people and asset counting to drive business growth.
  • Type: Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Sensors
    Primary Use Case: BLE sensors are used to track customers or devices and can be used to target customers based on location.

Occupancy sensors are often discreet devices that can be easily installed on the ceiling, wall, or doorway of rooms and workspaces that you would like to monitor the use of. They work by detecting movement, people, and changes in their environment then communicate that collected data to a cloud-based platform that calculates occupancy levels. 

Depending on how your organization plans to use this data, it can be integrated into lighting, HVAC, and room booking systems, VergeSense clients find great benefit in using the occupancy data to make educated decisions regarding the restructuring or remodeling of workspaces. 

Question #2: What are occupancy sensors used for?

Depending on your specific needs for occupancy sensors, there are a variety of different ways they can be used to optimize their existence in your workspaces. Such as:

  • Automatically turning on and off lights based on employee movement
  • Adjusting thermostats based on workspace temperature
  • Managing capacity limits in any given room or area
  • Determining the distance between two people or groups, to assist with social distancing best practices
  • Integrating the sensors with your room booking software
  • Guiding real estate and office design decisions

Once you have used your occupancy sensors to conduct these practices and gather data on the behavior and movement of your employees you can begin using those insights to make more informed decisions about your workspaces moving forward. For example, if you notice that your huddle rooms are consistently occupied throughout the day and your larger conference rooms are only used on special occasions and primarily sit empty, you may consider restructuring your space so that some of your conference rooms become huddle rooms to better fit the needs of your employees.

Question #3: What is the difference between an occupancy sensor and a motion sensor?

Simply put, the main difference between occupancy sensors and motion sensors is that motion sensors respond to moving objects only whereas occupancy sensors detect the presence of people. While some occupancy sensors and motion sensors use similar technology, the primary feature that sets the two apart is that occupancy sensors can detect stationary people based on properties of the human body (like heat, body weight, or sounds) and motion sensors only detect motion.

Motion sensors or detectors can still be useful tools in the workplace. For example, they can be used to automate doors and/or lights, but to reap the full benefits that sensors have to offer, occupancy sensors are the way to go.

Question #4: How do occupancy sensors maintain employee privacy?

It is a common misconception that occupancy sensors invade the privacy of employees by monitoring their individual behavior. However, occupancy sensors are not designed to track specific individuals, they are designed to monitor the behavior of groups occupying specific spaces. Sure, if an employee were to sit at the same desk everyday and move about the building on the same exact pattern each day, it would be possible to track this individual's behavior. However, because occupancy sensors do not detect faces or other distinguishing human features, it is otherwise not possible to use occupancy sensors to invade an employee’s privacy. Choose a sensor provider with anonymous-at-the-source design. Unlike other AI vision-based occupancy sensors, VergeSense never collects personal identifying information (PII). 

Sensors are critical to understanding unpredictable and highly varied workplace movement and behavior, which is especially common when companies use unassigned seating, agile seating, or an activity-based workplace environment.

Question #5: How do occupancy sensors make more efficient use of space?

As more and more companies transform their offices into spaces better equipped to support hybrid work, there has arisen a more potent need for these organizations to make data-driven decisions regarding their space utilization. One way to ensure all workspace modifications are necessary and efficient is to make these modifications based on insights you gain from analyzing the data collected by occupancy sensors.

As soon as you implement the use of occupancy sensors you will be able to gain a more thorough understanding of how employees use your workspaces. For organizations returning to the office after a year and a half of remote work mandates, these insights are even more valuable.

The biggest mistake organizations can make right now is to assume that their facilities will be used in the same way that they were before March 2020. Instead, the best way to support the return of employees to the office in any capacity is to approach the return with a more flexible mindset. 

Build an office design strategy based on employee behavior along with wants and needs to guide your decision-making process on any remodeling, rewiring, or transforming of office space. For example, instead of assuming that your co-working spaces and recreational areas will be just as popular in your office as before, you may find that upon their return to office your team members are more keen on spending the majority of their time in more solo-spaces like your focus rooms or at a spot at one of your laptop bars. The key is, you’ll never know how to make the most efficient use of space until you take the time to study employee behavior during the return to office.

Question #6: How do occupancy sensors better serve employees?

Speaking of the return to office, just as occupancy sensors provide organizations with a better understanding of how their employees utilize space, these sensors integrate with room booking software to provide employees with the information they need to find open workspaces. For companies that utilize agile seating or activity-based working, occupancy sensors that integrate with room booking and desk booking software are a necessary tool to ensure employees working on-site are able to easily and quickly find an unoccupied workspace on any given day.

AI-powered occupancy sensors— like the VergeSense next generation wireless occupancy sensor— are constantly monitoring movement and vacancies, allowing your booking software to update in real-time. VergeSense’s Signs of LifeTM technology has the ability to detect recently vacated areas, a proprietary software unavailable from any other sensor provider. 

With smart sensor technology, employees don’t have to struggle to find the best place for them to work from in the office. Instead, they are able to easily find an available space.

Question #7: How do sensors help with real estate portfolio optimization?

When you have a network of sensors across your real estate portfolio, you gain access to data and insights about the use of spaces. When you have accurate data that tells a story about where and how your employees work, you can optimize your real estate portfolio based on real numbers. If your employees in a certain region are overflowing and outgrowing spaces faster than you can hire, but your main office has been seeing trends of coming into the office less frequently, it may be time to invest in satellite hubs to address your newly distributed workforce.

“We could see a surplus of space before the pandemic even started. Now, we’re well-positioned to examine how best to move forward with a more flexible workplace strategy and tangible data to back up our planning.” Rich Bettina, Senior Director, Real Estate Portfolio, North America

Question #8: How can sensors help me increase my company’s profitability?

Real estate and office spaces are a strong backbone of company culture, but they can be costly if left unanalyzed for years on end. With a rapidly changing general work culture worldwide, organizations are beginning to understand the value of employee and occupancy data. With an accurate view of what your workforce is using, or more importantly, not using, you can invest in the areas that employees care about, and cut costs in areas that used to be a priority and are no longer as valuable to today’s employee.

Reducing downtime like unused meeting rooms and unused space, companies can diversify their real estate portfolio, operate with a lean mindset, and turn their workplace into a competitive advantage. 

Did we answer all of your occupancy sensor questions? If there are any that we missed or if you’d like to get started using sensors to optimize your workspaces today, request a demo to learn more about how the use of occupancy sensors can be your first step toward transforming your workspace to better support the return to office.