Occupancy Sensor Technology, Commonly Used Types, and How to Use Them in Your Office Space
— December 2nd, 2020
The way we interact with shared physical spaces, especially at the office, has completely changed in our COVID-19 driven world. Between social distancing, heightened sanitation practices, and necessary changes in office utilization, businesses face significant challenges in safely reopening the workplace.
Many of our customers with enterprise-scale workforces and global real estate footprints have reached out to us to learn what other businesses are doing to make their offices safer for their employees, more effective from a long-term space management perspective, and more automated to control costs. As a leader in workplace management solutions, we know that collecting real-time occupancy data is key to understanding how your offices are being utilized and ultimately providing both a safe and cost-efficient workplace for your employees.
Whether you’re operating a large-scale enterprise or a small business, occupancy sensor technology can help you improve the employee experience by streamlining reservation and check-in processes and providing space utilization data to optimize real estate investments. Additionally, room occupancy sensors are a key technology to help create return to work plans because they can accurately measure capacity, automate workflows for sanitation schedules, and more. Implementing sensors in conjunction with space management software provides businesses with the technology foundation they need to safely bring their workforce back.
Occupancy Sensor Privacy & Security
We’d be remiss to not address a key concern that is usually brought up when it comes to sensors—security and privacy. Occupancy sensors have become much more common in the workplace, and with the evolution of privacy regulations globally such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), security and privacy concerns have become paramount which is why we only use sensors in our offering which either don’t collect any privacy data or ensure any privacy data that is collected is fully anonymized before any sensor data is consumed by our products and services.
Now that we’ve laid the foundation, let’s get into the different types of sensor technology available, as well as where to best use them to meet the needs of your space and support a smooth transition back to the workplace.
Embedded Analytics (EA) Sensors
EA sensors provide real-time space utilization data including occupants’ locations, count, and movements, as well as precise reading of ambient lighting and motion sensing.
These occupancy sensors can monitor several workstations simultaneously, so they’re typically most effective in larger areas to provide blanket coverage. For offices with an open floorplan, up to four EA sensors can be stitched together to cover an even larger space when the range of one sensor isn’t great enough. EA sensors should be placed at entrance and exit points to create traffic lines that count how many people are entering and exiting the space and set threshold limits to prevent a space from becoming too crowded.
All the information that’s gathered by the sensor is pushed through to your workspace management platform so that you can not only understand how your spaces are being used, but also optimize it to comply with COVID guidelines and make the best use of your real estate. These occupancy sensors are great for all types of spaces, including fixed or flexible workspaces, formal meeting rooms, informal private workspaces, specialized work areas, support areas, conference rooms, and public lobbies.
Passive InfraRed (PIR) Sensors
PIR sensors measure heat movement in the infrared spectrum, similar to the sensors used in home alarm systems. These sensors will detect any change in heat movement across a particular temperature range and report it back to the workspace management platform. Commonly used to measure workstation occupancy, these sensors can be mounted under desks or tables to check for activity every few seconds and report back when a presence is sensed. They can also help to maintain social distancing by using algorithms to count learned shapes and measure the distance between people, then notify our workplace management platform when social distancing guidelines aren’t being followed. This level of granularity allows your facility management team to take a closer look at the areas where social distancing is an issue and adjust floorplans accordingly.
If you’re looking for low power-use and wireless occupancy sensors, PIR sensors are a great option—they are both Wi-Fi enabled and battery powered. These sensors are ideal for workspaces with fixed or flexible desk booking systems, private workspaces, specialized work areas, support areas such as copier rooms and kitchens, public spaces, and meeting spaces when used in conjunction with EA sensors.
If you need a low-maintenance desk occupancy tool that can be implemented quickly, software sensors are an excellent solution. These seat occupancy sensors sit within your IT network and report when an employee connects to a docking station, monitor, or desktop PC, providing a greater level of detail around desk usage than a physical sensor would. The metrics collected by software sensors feed directly into your wayfinding solution to help employees find the location of colleagues in the office, improving collaboration among your workforce. This data helps employees and facilities management teams stay informed of the current state of the office in real-time, which is especially useful now that many companies are operating under a hybrid workforce plan. Plus, these sensors help to reduce your carbon footprint by monitoring check-ins and check-outs and only powering up workstations when they’re required. Since these sensors require employees to be on the network and plugged into hardware in the office, they’re ideal for workspaces with fixed desks, hot desks, or private offices.
Bluetooth Proximity Sensors
Bluetooth proximity sensors, or beacons, pinpoint the exact location of user devices to offer your workforce an improved and more precise wayfinding experience. These proximity sensors use the blue-dot location of BLE-enabled devices to inform employees of their real-time location and allow them to share it with one or more colleagues for a period of time. Bluetooth beacons can also use device locations to trigger proximity-based notifications and actions, such as cancelling a meeting when you aren’t in the space or pushing out a message when a colleague is nearby. This functionality is particularly helpful for businesses with large or complex offices where employees spend a lot of time away from their desks or have flexible workstation arrangements. To accurately detect the location of all employees throughout your building, Bluetooth proximity sensors need to be evenly distributed throughout your space so that their ranges slightly overlap, and the entire area is covered.
Environmental sensors are an up-and-coming sensor technology that detect a variety of different environmental properties including temperature, humidity, CO2 level, the presence of volatile organic compounds, ambient noise, and ambient light. Returning to the workplace can be stressful, and by monitoring these environmental properties in real-time and triggering a response when they exceed a threshold level, you can not only reduce the stress of returning to the office, but also increase employee productivity. The mental and physical wellbeing of your employees should be a top priority in today’s workplace, and implementing environmental monitoring in the office is a great way to show your workforce that their wellbeing is important to you. Plus, the data collected from environmental sensors can uncover lighting, heating, and other system inefficiencies and lead to environmental benefits and significant cost savings. Like Bluetooth beacons, environmental sensors need to be evenly distributed throughout the office so that the whole space is within the range of at least one sensor in order to effectively monitor the entire workplace.
With over 20 billion IoT devices connected across the globe, the occupancy sensor market is rapidly expanding. While sensors provide an immediate solution to return-to-work challenges presented by COVID-19, occupancy sensor technology will remain a key part of workplace management and provide long-term value to your business by optimizing your real estate utilization, generating efficiencies, reducing costs, and transforming the employee experience.