Workplace Tech & Software

The Key to Adopting Sensor Tech in the Workplace

Patrick Cwiklinski
December 18th, 2017

Neil Steele, OccupEye

OccupEye’s Neil Steele talks to us about sensor technology and how workplace dynamics play a critical role in its success.

As an emerging technology that has seen a recent surge in workplace practice, sensors have become an exciting new addition to the facilities management arsenal and something that will likely continue to grow as part of everyday FM duties in the digital age.

OccupEye is a UK-based company specializing in automated workspace sensor technology that is helping FMs make the most out of their workspace with its passive sensors. This technology is rapidly becoming an important tool in understanding how a particular workspace is being utilized. OccupEye’s Head of Sales and Marketing Neil Steele tells us more.

What are some of the biggest challenges that OccupEye aims to solve for organizations with a desire for sensor technology?

Steele: Invariably, the ultimate objective is to improve efficiency. Whether that be reducing the overall amount of occupied floor space, bringing more people into the same or less space, or looking at agile working strategies. Our clients are looking for reliable, factual, objective data annd, increasingly, a means for staff to identify available worspaces in real-time.

Quite often what sensor technology will do is actually corroborate what the eye already tells us, but how do we prove that? It’s about answering this question in a very factual, reliable manner and taking away some of the traditional political arguments that come around through human inspection.

workstation passive sensors for office efficiency

How do you think sensor technology can specifically create cost savings for FMs who are faced with budget crunches?

Steele: The simple fact is, after salaries and staff costs, real estate costs are the biggest cost to an organization. If we can occupy space better,  reduce the amount of space we occupy or assist organizations to grow within the existing area then the linked cost savings for that can be huge.

One of our global financial services clients was recently in the news where a report confirmed that they had freed up a property on Canary Wharf here in London and subleased that space to the UK government at a stated cost benefit of £35 million pounds (US$45 million dollars) per annum. While that isn’t solely down to the use of sensor technology, the type of intelligence that our systems provide to the business is key to objectively identifying opportunity and  informing and assisting the change process.

In terms of workplace cost, globally, generally we’re looking at tens of thousands of pounds or dollars per annum. Every individual workspace and the cost of that workspace needs to be treated with the utmost respect, so understanding the demand for workspace and the patterns of usage of the staff occupying those areas is seen an absolute must-have — certainly to the largest occupiers, whose occpancy costs for a single city HQ regularly run into the hundreds-of-millions of dollars each year.

cost per workstation sensor technology for facility management

We were curious to know why FMs should consider installing sensors and what they can do with the data that is gathered from it?

Steele: Ultimately what our clients are looking to achieve is to make the most efficient use of their real estate, whilst simultaneously enhancing the user experience. Reliable workspace intelligence enables organizations to not only assign the most appropriate number of desks based on demand, but also unlock potential for further efficiency by way of achieving linked environmental savings. If we know when and where a space is being occupied, we can control how often we need to recirculate the air, the lighting, staffing levels, etc.

There are a vast array of ways in which the data is being implemented, but the ultimate objective is to deliver a connected smart-building that provides space occupiers with effective allocations that they can identify in real-time, whilst delivering on-going efficiency-based savings through reliable, empirical data.

data gathering from sensor technology in the workplace

In 2016, OccupEye did an install at The Daily Telegraph that was quickly removed due to staff pushback. From your perspective, what were some of the mistakes that The Telegraph made that other facility teams can avoid when implementing sensor technology? What could have been done differently to avoid this situation?

Steele: Firstly, I think it is important to set some context. Obviously this was an issue that was widely reported, not least because The Daily Telegraph is an organization full of journalists, but it actually represents an isolated and very easily avoidable situation.

Quite simply, communication is the key.

In this instance, a very genuine but crucial mistake was made within the client organisation that meant a pre-agreed communication memorandum had not reached all staff in advance of the install. OccupEye, as a rule, advices all of its clients as to the importance of communication ahead sensor technology deployments.

Ultimately with the technology we deploy, which are typically passive infrared sensors (PIR sensors), the devices monitor only for the presence of an anonymous human being. They do not identify individuals, there’s no way of assessing what that person is doing, for example. In actual fact, PIR sensors are the least intrusive way of monitoring space utilization available  – far less intrusive than people physically monitoring with eyes and ears, or tracking people’s usage of PCs or Telephones.

The increasing number of clients now using our technology to assist staff with live wayfinding and identification of available workspace has been a huge positive to perceptions; the visual connection to the data, and the very obvious benefits staff are able to derive from technology deployed in this way really assists space users to ‘get it’ and see what OccupEye is about – creating smart and efficient buildings.

If staff are engaged and communicated with in advance then there is never an issue and the reason for that is the sensors technically provide no type of intrusion. It’s a very simple, benign and unintrusive technology, but one that provides huge benefits to occupiers and FMs alike.

installing workplace sensor technology in facilties management

What are some of the biggest concerns and misconceptions about implementing sensor technology that you’ve seen from from different organizations?

Steele: At a management level, we don’t tend to hear those types of questions anymore. I think generally most facilities professionals are becoming increasingly aware of sensor technology use, and the many great success stories, and accept that as we move into 2018, deployment of smart-building technology very much  represents best practice.

In the early days, some professionals were a little skeptical and would regularly ask us if the sensors could be intrusive, but ultimately our evolution and the results our clients have achieved speak volumes. The ever-increasing use of OccupEye as a live space availability and wayfinding tool, linked to on premise and often front-of-house digital signage, has really opened the eyes of both occupiers and building visitors as to the very obvious benefits of a live sensor-connected environment.  

From a staff perception perspective, explanation and reassurance is a good thing in dispelling any misconceptions or fears which may be present through lack of knowledge or misunderstanding. OccupEye is all about smart and efficient use of real estate, and not at all focussed on individuals or productivity.

There has been enough good media coverage as to the positives of this type of technology that people are catching on in a big way.

To learn more about how OccupEye can help your organization enhance its workspace utilization, visit their website.

Intrusion or innovation? Tell us your thoughts on sensor technology in the workplace in the comments section below.

Photos: Pixabay, Pixabay, Lukas, Juhasz Imre