As businesses continue to adapt to the new reality of hybrid work, many are facing the challenge of reducing office space while still providing employees with the best possible experience. With office space becoming scarce in popular areas, and the cost of real estate on the rise, finding the right balance between reducing costs and maintaining employee satisfaction can be difficult. One way to achieve this balance is by implementing an effective occupancy data and monitoring system.
By understanding how and when employees use different areas of the office, businesses can make informed decisions about which spaces to keep and which to eliminate, ultimately reducing costs without sacrificing employee satisfaction.
In this article, we take a look at the best occupancy monitoring solution for rightsizing offices in the new world of hybrid working, considering the importance of accuracy, scalability, and security.
The evolving real estate environment
The way office buildings are used is evolving fast. Hybrid working has come to stay, providing the perfect compromise of the freedom of working from home as well as the needed face-to-face time of visiting the office. We’re most likely never returning to the pre-pandemic office occupancy rates, so why keep huge office spaces empty?
How do you know if you have the wrong-sized office?
Space optimization can often be seen as downsizing and minimizing office space, and it does make sense if your office is just sitting there empty and unused. However, if your goal is to get people back to the office at least some part of the week, it’s important to know what size of office you need. Having a wrong-sized office can harm both employees and the company’s bottom line. When employees are cramped in a small space, they may feel uncomfortable and unhappy, which can lead to decreased productivity and job dissatisfaction. In a wrong-sized office, there aren’t correct activity areas available and the users need to make unwanted compromises and, for example, use collaboration spaces for focus work and the other way around. In addition, if space has been reduced too much, people will not have enough room or the needed equipment to perform their tasks, which can further decrease productivity and efficiency, and soon no one wants to visit the office.
Businesses are looking into how to use space in the most efficient way while still creating working environments that lure people to the office.
With this difficult balance between wanting to reduce office space, and creating the best possible, versatile offices, it has become vital for employees and facility managers to understand what scalable occupancy solutions bring to the table. Enter, rightsizing.
What is rightsizing?
Rightsizing is about having the exact amount of space you need. Rightsizing is not about endless optimization and minimization of space; it’s about finding out what different kinds of workspaces your office needs and how much of each type is required. A right-sized office is also one that allows continuous design improvement and space modification. If the pandemic and the amazing surge of hybrid work have thought us something, it’s that work-life changes all the time, and offices need to keep up.
When it comes the rightsizing your office and making space design, there is no one-size fits all solution. Every office and company is different and the only way to make a useful office design and decisions over the needed office size is by gathering accurate usage and occupancy data on a workspace level.
Accuracy of the occupancy data is key for rightsizing your office
There are many levels of getting occupancy data for offices. First, we have the building-level occupancy monitoring. Building level monitoring can usually be done with existing technology, like access level control using keycards or simple people counters. Building level occupancy monitoring is the simplest way to get an idea of how many people are inside a building, but it is not very accurate, nor does it help with making any office design decisions.
The second level is monitoring occupancy on a floor level. At this level, you can also use existing technology, but as with the building level monitoring, it only gives an approximation of the number of people on the floor, and no data on what workspaces the people have used. In other words, while floor-level monitoring might be useful for shopping malls and canteens, it does not help with rightsizing offices.
The third level of occupancy monitoring is open area monitoring, which is most often done using a camera, or laser-based occupancy monitoring solutions. With several use cases, open area occupancy monitoring is best suited for spaces like large canteens. With open area occupancy monitoring, the biggest downsides are the inaccuracy of the solutions and the security concerns of using camera-based solutions.
The fourth level of occupancy monitoring is monitoring at the room level. This kind of occupancy monitoring is usually done with either PIR sensors or camera-based solutions. Getting occupancy data on a room level helps with office design decisions, as it shows which rooms are the most popular and at which times they are used. However, the fourth level still does not give insights into the workspace level over what kind of work practices your office has.
Getting inaccurate data is no longer plausible when your target is to rightsize and create office spaces that can be continuously modified according to changing needs.
What you need is the fifth level of occupancy monitoring: accurate and real-time monitoring on a workspace level.
Compared to, for example, open area technology PIR sensors give factual data on a workspace level, be it a desk, room, or phone booth. With occupancy data on a workspace level, not only do you know how many people use the office, but also which spaces desks, and areas they use and at which times.
With this type of occupancy monitoring, you no longer need to rely on guesswork when deciding if you need more focus workspaces or perhaps more meeting rooms. All space design decisions can be data-driven, and you’ll always have the right amount of space for each task. In addition to continuous space design, occupancy data helps manage desk-sharing practices as real-time occupancy data can be shared with employees for ad-hoc booking and space finding.
What kind of occupancy monitoring solutions are out there?
You can find many different kinds of occupancy monitoring solutions in the market, each having a bit different use case. Here are a few of the shortly:
1. PIR (passive infrared) sensors
PIR, or passive infrared sensors, are small sensors aimed to monitor the usage and occupancy of a room or desk. PIR desk sensors are triggered by motion and movement.
2. Infrared Time of flight (TOF) sensors
Infrared time-of-flight sensors work by emitting a pulse of infrared light and measuring the subsequent “echo” as the pulse reflects off the environment and travels back to the sensor.
3. Thermal sensors
Thermal sensors are ceiling-mounted sensors that detect body heat in the area and then use computer algorithms to determine the number of people in a specified space. These sensors together create a grid of the monitored area and visualize the occupancy in a heatmap-style image.
4. People recognition cameras
Accuracy is a key concern when it comes to camera-based occupancy monitoring. Several factors can impact the accuracy of these systems, including lighting conditions, camera placement, and angle, and the presence of obstacles or other objects that can block or obscure the camera’s view. Additionally, the algorithms used to analyze the video footage and detect occupancy can also affect the system’s accuracy. Some systems may use facial recognition or other biometric data to identify individuals, which can also impact accuracy.
We have gathered an excellent resource for more detailed information on different office sensors.
Think about the scale
Scalability is one of the most important features to consider with any office occupancy monitoring solution for large real estate portfolios and evolving office needs. Scalability ensures that the solution can adapt and grow as the needs of the company change.
Scalability allows a system to be easily expanded or reduced depending on the size of the office or the number of employees. For example, as a company grows and hires more employees, a scalable PIR office occupancy monitoring solution can easily be expanded to cover additional areas of the office, without requiring a complete replacement of the system.
Ease of installation plays a big role in scalability as well, as you often need to install hundreds of sensors at once.
Scalability also allows for easy integration with other systems, which makes the occupancy solution incredibly flexible for different use cases and spaces. For example, a scalable PIR office occupancy monitoring solution can be used in both open-plan and private office environments, making it versatile and cost-effective.
Maintenance and connectivity are also factors that impact the scalability of gathering occupancy data. Wireless devices with ultra-long battery life, and no need for on-site configuration guarantee that you can easily change and update your solution without major issues to the everyday work of your customers and employees.
There are several security concerns with camera-based occupancy solutions and open area occupancy monitoring. These include privacy concerns related to the collection and use of personal data, the potential for hacking or unauthorized access to the cameras and the occupancy data they collect, and the risk of data breaches or leaks.
PIR technology detects movement only, which means that it is always 100% anonymous and causes no GDPR issues or concerns for the office security manager.
Conclusion – the time for rightsizing with occupancy data is now
With flexible working styles and hybrid work here to stay, constant office design and rightsizing are not just fleeing trends, but something every company should take as their facility management practice. The future of office design relies heavily on getting accurate and real-time occupancy data not just on a floor or room level, but on the workspace level.
The most important features to consider with any occupancy monitoring solution are your particular use case, accuracy, and scalability.