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  • Writer's pictureLauren Pollack

Strategic Uses for Sensor Data


Photo by Headway on Unsplash

In an age where data is more available than ever, measuring does not guarantee understanding.


The path from measuring workplace usage to implementing a successful flexible or hybrid workplace is not a straight line. Whereas companies may have relied on badge swipe or occupancy sensor data to influence traditional office designs, human-centered and dynamic working spaces benefit from qualitative data. Data from technology that senses occupancy can provide evidence to support the needs of your workplace most effectively when the sensing devices are placed strategically, and the data is used in combination with qualitative business intelligence captured through employee engagement.


Sensor Technology

Many organizations have made investments in technology that senses occupancy and utilization to measure how spaces are being accessed in the workplace. These small devices are placed in locations within the office, from conference rooms and open work settings to individual desks. Sensing devices collect information which is then synthesized into proprietary dashboards allowing companies to see utilization patterns and occupancy rates of the monitored spaces. Data collated from sensor technology can be used to clarify actual use patterns from intended and anecdotal use patterns.

If you are unsure of how to get the most out of your sensor data, you are not alone. Linear methods of analyzing data create an incomplete view when forecasting future needs of flexible workplaces. Many of our clients are unsure of how to interpret and apply their data to hybrid workplaces. When paired with behavioral context from employee engagement activities, we get holistic information that can more accurately inform both the workplace and real estate strategy.


Context Matters

Contextualizing sensor data with qualitative business intelligence gained through interviews, engagement, and collaboration mapping provides a robust view of space usage. Engaging with occupiers allows you to understand what might be missing from their workplace or work settings that need to be replaced. Hidden impacts like technology mismatches, perceived lack of permission, or expected behaviors can surface during these interactions. Engagement reveals factors enabling employees to work better and provides an opportunity for employees to share insights on improvements to business processes and key adjacencies.


For example, with “frequency of use” sensors, you might see your 10-person meeting rooms are popular, which alone might mislead you into thinking you need more rooms of this size and configuration. With “quantifying sensors” you might find that these rooms are most frequently used by groups of three.


Layering on employee engagement, you might learn that those groups of three choose the larger conference room because they carry a lot of bags with them to the office. With this knowledge, we know more about beneficial conference room sizes, and we’ve identified a need for personal storage that has avoided a costly mistake.


Learning from employees regardless of their current utilization provides a more accurate view of future occupancy.


Workplace sensor technology is only able to track the usage of your office by employees who are choosing or mandated to be there. For the employees who are not currently using the office, the data will not show who would come in if the space had a design that better suit their needs. Gaining insights from these employees can also draw out ideas for policies that might support their office participation. When combined with employee engagement, sensor data can shed light on behaviors and needs of different departments, inclusive of people who are not using the space regularly.



Here are three strategic ways to use sensors and subsequent data on your projects.


PILOT PROJECTS | Workplace sensing technology can be a present observer, creating a view into how people are interacting with your pilot(s). This is especially beneficial when experimenting with new work settings, as it gives an indication of employee preference and can identify where undesirable usage behaviors emerge. Providing evidence of usage within your pilot can inform tweaks and corrections to be made prior to a roll out of solutions across the company.


OCCUPANCY WITHIN ROOMS | Some types of sensor technology can quantify how many people are accessing a space, allowing you to collect the size of user groups and discover new use cases. With this level of specificity, a solo pacer in your training room will register differently than group collaboration, which might otherwise have created a misleading data point.


CHANGES IN OCCUPANCY | Monitoring usage styles and occupancy trends during periods of time can forecast spatial needs and inform workplace experience. Periods of time can include days of the week, business cycles, employee engagement campaigns, trainings, and meetings. This is particularly useful if part of your challenge is to optimize occupancy and potentially rationalize real estate. As an example, changes in occupancy revealing peak days during the week can be identified and resolved using Team Agreements (agreed working arrangements).


Taking Action

Below are some steps for designing your sensing project:


  1. Begin with a question, ie: Based on research, what types of collaboration spaces will be the most desirable?

  2. Select the type of device that will provide the information you seek, ie: Access, Quantifying, Heat Mapping, etc..

  3. Identify sensor placements based on your question, ie: Conference Rooms, Desks, Pilot Areas

  4. Ensure the provided dashboard collates the information in a meaningful way. If not, work with the manufacturer to customize the dashboard or design your own template for synthesizing the raw data.

  5. Engage with employees to understand and contextualize the findings and initial hypotheses.


Putting it Together

Workplace sensing technology is becoming a growing part of facilities management. By providing evidence of the spaces that are being accessed we can bypass information that might reflect intended usage patterns. Workplace sensing technology is most effective when combined with qualitative employee insights.


Overlaying and translating data sources can be performed by workplace consultants. These specialists can support you in placing your sensing devices strategically and creating a context for the information through exercises to engage your workforce.


Workplace consultants guide clients in utilizing their existing data, making recommendations on new ways to collect, model, and view information. With their deep understanding of your data, they turn insights into a workplace strategy that ensures the future relevance of the office.


Intentional usage of measurement tools such as occupancy sensing technology combined with engagement activities ensure the generated data is relevant to the questions and needs of your organization.


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