If you look close enough in today's office spaces, you might spot something new and different — high-tech sensors and many of them. More and more workplaces are integrating sensor technology to optimize space and improve efficiency.

Gone are the days when sensors were simply used to trigger lights and automate temperatures—today, they’re in place to track everything from figuring out effective spaces to amenity utilization.

“Ten years ago, we saw furniture manufacturers providing seat sensors as a way of understanding whether or not people were using seats in a space,” says Nina Charnotskaia, senior director, Workplace at CBRE. “And while adoption had some challenges, it showed the value of understanding the utilization of work environments.”

But that was just scratching the surface.

Now the technologies are more sophisticated and advanced than ever before. Made of microwave, ultrasonic, infrared, and other similar technology, office sensors foster efficiency and collaboration.

“The technology is very much evolving,” says Charnotskaia. “The idea of really understanding where people are in a space isn’t just about seat allocation. Organizations are using this data to identify the right mix of spaces, establish seat sharing ratios, and inform adjacencies. Opening up the data to occupiers helps them make the best use of their space.”

Collecting key data from sensors and similar detection devices to evaluate and assess office space can be a valuable asset to a company by providing crucial information that could impact efficiency.

In fact, 83 percent of executives consider space utilization as the premier metric for understanding and influencing significant workplace decisions, according to a Gensler research study. For example, office managers are increasingly using data collected from workplace sensors when deciding whether to reconfigure and repurpose spaces that are perhaps going to waste or are overcrowded.

“Sensors give us the tools to make data-informed decisions for all of our products,” says Peter Feytser, product manager at Industrious, a premium coworking space with locations around the country. “They have allowed us to bring that iterative, experimental, design-centered approach to our physical spaces. Measuring design and effectiveness through analytics has been a core practice for tech companies for some time, and there is a large variety of great reporting tools in this space.”

While sensors may seem invasive and pose privacy concerns for employees, information obtained is safeguarded.

“The data we gather is aggregated and completely anonymous,” says Feytser. “The sensors we use simply do not have the ability to pick up on personally identifiable information.”

While the tech sector is known to be at the forefront of adopting cutting-edge office innovations, it’s not the only industry where sensors are becoming prominent.

“It’s not just tech companies that embrace sensor technology,” says Charnotskaia. “Companies across all industries are using the data to optimize their real estate – both through improved utilization, but also through improved performance in supporting their end-users.”

For example, a leading consumer product and engineering company is leveraging the use of sensors to gauge its space needs. “They’re looking at their occupancy from more than an efficiency standpoint,” says Charnotskaia. “The data helps them evaluate the use of different space settings by their teams, defining preferences by team work style, and fine-tuning their global workplace standards.”

In a similar example, a U.S. restaurant foods supplier recently leveraged sensor technology in piloting a new workplace strategy.

“The sensors were only used for the duration of the piloting period.” says Charnotskaia. “The resulting information provided feedback about space use, which in combination with direct user feedback allowed the project team to adjust the standards prior to deploying across the wider portfolio.”

All of these data-collecting sensors empower workplace decision-makers with the knowledge and technology they need to quickly size up their office space capacity and usage overall.

“We analyzed room occupancy against capacity, then layered amenity utilization on top of that,” says Feytser. “It’s allowing us to create a more efficient mix of meeting spaces per location and make sure they have everything members need to be productive.”

As workplace sensors evolve and improve over time, they’ll keep occupiers and their employees connected in ways never before imagined. Perhaps those sensors will strike the perfect balance between personalization and privacy.

“I'm most excited about the day-to-day applications that sensors of all types can do to make for a more enjoyable workplace experience,” says Feytser. “In five years, it will be considered crazy if your conference room doesn’t recognize you and makes you manually connect to a meeting.”


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