When it comes to business success, cash is king. Smart business owners minimize overhead costs wherever possible and keep a close eye on cash flow.
But there’s a common cash flow killer that often goes ignored by business owners: The cost of office space. Rent and lease costs, plus related utility costs, are usually one of a business’ top expenses each month.
The crazy thing is that despite those significant costs, much of an office space is actually empty at any given time.
That’s why a growing number of tools employ sophisticated sensors to gather real-time data about an office’s day-to-day use. With this data, businesses can analyze where their space could be more efficient.
Bonus: By analyzing how employees use their workspaces, companies can also gain valuable insights into improving work environments to maximize employee productivity.
Workplace Utilization Technology
Programs that use technology to track employees’ locations and movement patterns are generally referred to as “workplace utilization technology.” Sometimes these programs stand alone, and others may come rolled into comprehensive building management programs.
Here are a few ways these tools can give companies insights into how their space is used each day:
Office sensors have come a long way from the motion-activated lights that used to leave you sitting in the office bathroom in the dark.
New office sensors can measure desk and office activity in detail, and they may also measure things like temperature, energy use and more. The software’s administrators can leverage lots of detailed reports on this data, including dashboards and heatmaps that explain how the office is used — often updated in real time.
Some programs can also track individual people or pieces of equipment as they move throughout the building.
For example, the company Infsoft has “locator nodules” that can sense and track the bluetooth energy coming from your employees’ devices. With Infsoft’s indoor positioning system, users can also opt to install a companion app on their phones that help them navigate buildings internally. The app reports on the anonymous location data it collected, giving office administrators even more insights into how the space is used.
Another way companies are tracking their space use is with wearable devices.
Security badges aren’t uncommon at certain kind of businesses, and those may provide data about which employees access any given part of the building throughout the day.
However, some badges are taking it much further and measuring everything from employee location to speech patterns.
In particular, the company Humanyze has developed what they call a “sociometric ID badge.”
As TechCrunch explains, these badges leverage many of the same tools that a smartphone does (a microphone, an accelerometer for gauging things like movement, speed and body position, bluetooth connection) to measure “things like how people moved through the day, who they interacted with, what their tone of voice was like, if they leaned into listen and other types of interactions that happen at every company every day.
This data is all anonymized, so employees don’t have to worry about their personal habits and attributes being scrutinized. Meanwhile, employers can use the data to delve much further into how employees are using space. More than just room occupancy, they can get a feel for how that space ties in to different activities, times of day and any other variable that they want to test.
Scheduling and Access Management Software
We mentioned a few of these tablet-centered software tools in our post on Modern Tools for The High-Tech Office, but they certainly bear mentioning here, too.
Room scheduling software programs allow office admins and room users to manually schedule room use, often with tablets installed outside conference room doors that visitors can access. Visitor management software prompts visitors to sign in via tablet in the reception area and to monitor who has been to the office.
Both programs come with plenty of office use data, including dashboards and reports about who comes into your office each day and how rooms are being used.
These programs aren’t quite as automated as the sensor-driven tools. They’re limited in their scope in comparison. But in many cases that makes these tools a little simpler, more affordable, and less of an adjustment for employees who might not love the idea of their every move being monitored.
How to Use the Data
Analyzing the human traffic flow within a building can be helpful to people in many industries, such as retailers (who want to see how visitors flow through the store and which displays catch their attention), event producers (to gauge which events, spaces and booths are the most popular) and manufacturing facilities (to spot inefficient routes and routines for their workers).
For white-collar offices, this data often pays off big time by helping maximize space efficiency and worker productivity.
Sometimes getting more efficient with office space is as simple as identifying individual instances of over-scheduling (such as a certain group booking meeting rooms for longer than they need them).
However, the biggest wins from workplace utilization data usually come from redesigning common work areas to be more space-efficient — or even completely rethinking the standard desk-to-worker ratio all together.
As we mentioned in our article on “third spaces” in the office, companies are increasingly opting to add flexible, unscheduled workspaces that encourage workers to relax and collaborate outside of the traditional office environment. These spaces can accommodate a wide variety of work needs. Smart use of individual breakout spaces may be a great replacement for some of the larger, formal conference rooms that tend to stay empty.
For the ultimate commitment to space efficiency, companies are moving to “activity-based” office models. Employees use lockers instead of assigned desks and choose their workspaces based on the type of work they’re doing at any given time.
Thanks to sensors that transmit desk occupancy data in real time, workers can easily see which spaces are available, and may even get directions on how to get to an open desk. Plus, if companies opt in to track individual workers within the space, it’s easy for workers to locate one another in the office (fixing one potential pitfall of the activity-based office model).
Workplace utilization programs can give employers clues about which spaces employees really enjoy. Employers can analyze which spaces are the most popular, figure out why, and then try to replicate it. After all, happy employees are more productive and more likely to stay with your company longer.
In particular, wearable devices whose data can connect certain behaviors or spaces to various body language and tones of voice can help employers discover how to make employees happier and more productive. That’s because they can draw connections between how certain activities, areas of the office, or times of day affect their employees’ moods and morale. (For a few examples, check out this TechCrunch piece.)
Reduced Energy Use
Of course, an office redesign that uses less space saves energy on its own. But sensors can also save energy in other ways.
For example, if they’re integrated with the electrical system, they may be able to adjust temperature and light settings automatically. And some sensors may even track when other resources like paper towels and water are used to give administrators a better understanding of how to use less.
Office admins may even pass data about which office areas got the most use along to the cleaning staff, who can then focus on the areas of the building where people congregate.
Proceed with Caution
Are you considering implementing workplace utilization technology? Take your time to compare options and figure out which system works for you. You’ll also need to give your employees lots of notice so they can get used to the idea of being monitored.
In many cases, these devices don’t track individuals. Data is sent anonymously and steps are taken to keep personal information private. However, employees need to be told why sensors are being installed and specifically which data will be collected.
If you’re considering other ways to cut down on office costs, consider looking into a turnkey office space. These types of offices often have shared common areas and allow businesses to quickly expand and shrink as necessary. They also come pre-furnished and ready to use, which can help companies settle in quickly. Start your search here.