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5 Reasons Why Hybrid Teams Need Real-Time Desk Occupancy Monitoring

Oct 26 2021

In 2017, JLL released an Occupancy Planning Annual Report showing that most executives estimate 20% of available corporate real estate space is being wasted. They posited the use of desk occupancy sensors to monitor and gather office utilization data to address this workplace challenge. 

The benefits of these tools were very real at the time. But they were not as much of a priority as they have been in the last eighteen months of the pandemic. The advantages of workplace analytics like occupancy monitoring include:

  • Energy cost savings
  • Increased team productivity
  • Improved employee retention
  • Improved health, safety, and security
  • Data-driven relocations and expansions

Today, these features have gone from being nice-to-have items to goals that companies and their workplace strategists must achieve soon, in the next nine to 12 months, so that they can continue doing business.

Workplace analytics platforms and AI-powered smart sensor solutions like those provided by VergeSense are designed to support companies in meeting these goals.

VergeSense’s 2021 Workplace Impact Report surveyed 1,000 workplace decision-makers from mutually exclusive enterprises with revenue over $1B across various industries about their approaches to their workplace transformation initiatives. Not surprisingly, most are taking the data-driven route and at the same time championing employee experiences.

The Workplace Impact Report revealed that:

  • 75% of enterprises had safety as their top concern for reopening their workplaces. Productivity and employee experience came in second and third.
  • In terms of technology, 65% are investing in workplace enablement tools for booking meetings and tracking office occupancy density.

What is desk occupancy monitoring in the workplace?

In its broadest sense, a desk utilization monitoring sensor lets workplace and facilities management teams count the number of people at every desk and in any type of room. It can be used for tracking occupancy in a particular work area or meeting room. It is also typically a small device that can easily be installed.

There are different types of sensor technology available and companies can choose the ones that match their new workplace strategy. These include Vision Sensors, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Beacons, Passive Infrared (PIR) Sensors, PIR Desk Sensors, Door-counting Sensors, and Lighting-integrated Sensors.

Combined with updated information from on-demand reservation tools and tools for managing energy consumption, they can be used to offer great employee experiences while avoiding the waste of company space and resources.

However, there are a few myths surrounding desk occupancy sensors. To further illustrate what these tools are and what they can do, let’s review what they are not.

Misconceptions about Occupancy Monitoring in the Workplace

Myth #1: Loss of Data Privacy

One misconception about sensors is that they track the movement and personal identifiable information of individual employees. On the contrary, desk sensor technology like that of VergeSense uses a privacy by design approach that focuses on people counting and tracking. The sensor's computer vision can process ultra-low resolution images that ensure accuracy in terms of the number of people while keeping the people’s identities anonymous.

Myth #2: Bothersome Sensors

Another misconception is that sensors disrupt employees as they go about their day-to-day tasks. In reality, the tools are as inconspicuous as smoke detectors. They can be placed onto ceilings, entryways, or walls and are less cumbersome than manual walk-through contract tracing and logging stations.

Myth #3: Existing Alternatives Being Good Enough

A third misconception is that companies are already covered when they implement walkthroughs, biometric stations, and asking employees to fill up printed or online forms. These are a good start to workplace management to be sure. But they also take up time and physical space and are prone to human error and subjective feedback. 

Hybrid Work and Real-time Desk Occupancy Tracking

As companies offer their employees the flexibility to choose either to report to work remotely at home or physically in the office on a semi-regular basis, spaces are being repurposed to address the implications of a hybrid work model.  

To accommodate this flexibility, workplaces need to:

  • Comply with health and safety protocols
  • Provide autonomous scheduling tools for employees to reserve workspaces
  • Reallocate resources towards or get additional investments in smart building technologies

The desk occupancy monitoring tools that were beneficial in 2017 are even more essential in today’s workplaces.

Benefits of Real-Time Desk Occupancy Monitoring for Hybrid Organizations

1. Energy cost savings

One way companies are saving energy costs is with the use of more sensors that reduce human touch points.  By connecting occupancy sensors with utilities like lighting and heating or air conditioning, companies can reduce energy use and automate temperature and light controls with connected IoT technology.

2. Increased team productivity

With an understanding of what working behaviors employees are engaging in, both collaborative and individual, and what spaces, like conference rooms and huddle rooms, are being used for, along with occupancy data tells workplace managers the demand for specific types of rooms and work areas. This can help workplace strategists to predict what will bring employees into the office and help them to engage with colleagues and use spaces effectively.

They can then continue to iterate the office layout to include open space for social hubs, more quiet areas, spaces for printing and copying, or even maker spaces for creative work

3. Improved employee retention

As a response to the pandemic, many employers have increased the focus on employees' health and well-being. Employees that return to the office whether full-time or on a hybrid work model, now have these considerations at top of mind:

  • Whether adequate workplace health and safety measures are being implemented.
  • Whether these measures reduce their stress and improve employee comfort.
  • How the office’s logistics and technology offerings like desk-booking or meeting room reservation software support employees’ individual circumstances. For example, caregiver or parental obligations can create tight schedules that don’t allow for office space to not be guaranteed.

With tools like data occupancy sensors, workplace managers can assist companies in addressing these factors. As a consequence, they can improve team member experiences and increase retention rates.

4. Improved health, safety, and security

In addition to reducing surface touch points, desk reservation technology paired with real-time occupancy data can monitor body temperature and do non-intrusive contact tracing. Some sensors can be linked to smart cleaning devices to ensure that spills are addressed immediately and accidents are prevented. 

They can also show real-time floorplan visualization, which can be useful for identifying which areas are available for reservation and which are open for meetings or individual calls. In some cases, they are used for limiting and staggering capacity in enclosed spaces, and for enforcing social distancing between people in hallways or at their workstations.

5. Data-driven relocations and expansions

Beyond addressing pain points, granular utilization data provided by desk occupancy sensors supports senior management in high-level decision-making on the expansion, contraction, or diversification of real estate assets. 

Powering Hybrid Collaboration with Desk Utilization Data

With the real-time desk occupancy monitoring technology becoming more accessible, workplace strategists can add more value to the company. And when occupancy solutions are used in collaboration with other programs, the value that workplace managers can bring expands. They can support different departments like finance, human resources, and operations with insights and automated notifications. 

These are some of the integrations offered by VergeSense technology partners:

1. Cloudbooking

A cloud-based workplace reservation system. When combined with data on office occupancy density, it can help employees find and book real-time available space that fits their size and type of work requirements. It can book meeting rooms, big or small. It can be used to reserve work desks. It can also manage access for office guests.

2. iOFFICE + SpaceIQ Archibus Occupancy

A web-based application that links information on the company's resources. It combines desk occupancy data with employee headcount and cost information on spaces and occupants. This enables workplace strategists to create predictive forecasts office requirements.

3. Smarten Spaces

An end-to-end SAAS solution for the digital workplace. Smarten Spaces aims to make hybrid work easy for both companies and employees. Its AI-powered suite of tools includes a hybrid scheduler that lets individual employees set their own schedules, compare schedules with colleagues and match availability with desk reservation systems. You can even integrate its contact tracing and health check capabilities with occupancy monitoring sensors.

4. Modo Workplace

An agile, low-code mobile app builder. This tool lets you customize your company's own branded tool for engaging employees whether they're working from home or the office. In addition to desk reservations, it offers your team tools for physically navigating and virtually touring the redesigned office. When combined with occupancy data, it can provide employees with localized alerts on spaces that are at full capacity spaces. These alerts can be triggered by beacons and geofencing.

Data from desk occupancy sensors along with building management and employee engagement tools are a potent combination for workplace strategy teams. 

They provide a real-time understanding of office space utilization in terms of energy consumption and carbon footprint, and in terms of employee health. 

This allows companies to increase profitability by reducing overhead costs and downtime for unused space. It can make workplace management teams proactively support employees' work from office requirements. And it can offer valuable support to the leadership team with decisions on the organization's real estate portfolio and physical space assets.

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