Considering Occupancy Sensors? 7 Questions to Ask

Neha Sharma
September 18, 2018

In a world where new workplace technology seems to emerge every day, we’re empathetic to the frustrations of workplace strategists and real estate leaders trying to make sense of it all. If the goal is to create a unified workplace experience—one in which both physical and digital systems work seamlessly together to deliver more satisfied building occupants and significant operational savings that boost the bottom-line—how do you sort through all the possible tech solutions and choose a provider who can actually deliver the most value?

We get it. We’ve been there, too.

As a vendor-agnostic platform, Comfy has the privilege of working with our clients to integrate with many market leaders in workplace tech, including building automation, connected lighting, occupancy sensing, indoor positioning, and calendaring systems. We use many of these technologies in our own office and we’re also privileged to call many of them Works with Comfy partners.

Of all the tech Comfy integrates with, we (and many of our clients) have found occupancy sensors particularly beneficial when it comes to their ability to provide better data, greater workplace satisfaction, and improve operational efficiency. We get especially excited when sensors are paired with employee-facing workplace app technology like Comfy, because—like coffee and donuts—they are simply better together.

So, before we dive into how you can find the best vendor, here’s why your workplace management strategy will benefit from incorporating occupancy sensor technology (particularly when connected to workplace experience apps).

Benefits of Sensors + Workplace Apps

Improved employee productivity.  It turns out that four in ten office workers spend as much as 60 minutes every week trying to find a desk, meeting room, or colleague, while 40% of workers waste up to 30 minutes a day searching for space to collaborate (Steelcase Workplace Survey). Sensors can help by collecting information on occupancy, but employees experience more benefit when sensors are integrated with a workplace app, like Comfy. The two technologies together enable employees to have a simple, real-time view of what desks and rooms are available. That means more time actually working, and less time looking for a place to work.

Increased space utilization. All too often, valuable real estate is tied up by meetings that are canceled, rescheduled, or conducted virtually instead. By combining occupancy sensors with workplace apps, employees can easily see and book unoccupied spaces that are technically still “reserved.” Costly conference rooms or other meeting spaces are then more likely to be actually used when needed, instead of sitting empty.

Better insight into how the space is being used. Historically, workplace teams look at calendar data to determine whether they need more conference room space. However, this information offers at best an incomplete (and at worst an inaccurate) picture of how the space is really being used. Instead, by including data from multiple sources—calendar bookings, occupancy sensors, and in-app bookings—products like Comfy help provide workplace teams with a richer, and more realistic, view of how their facility is being used. For example, real estate teams can now immediately see how often bookings are made on-the-go, common no-show meetings, and even which rooms tend to get used the most (or the least).

Now, if you’re already on board with why occupancy sensors are key to a successful workplace management strategy, you’re ready for the next challenge: how do you figure out which vendors will make the cut? Having looked at a number of occupancy sensor technologies ourselves, we’ve learned a thing or two on how to evaluate them.

Here are 7 key questions to ask yourself as you navigate this brave new world.

1. What am I really trying to accomplish?

Ok, this one seems basic, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the sexy new tech on the market. Most people are familiar with simple motion detectors. Today’s sensors use sound waves and heat signatures. Ultrasonic sensors send out sound waves and measure the speed at which they return to determine occupancy. Passive infrared (PIR) sensors sense the difference between heat emitted by moving people and background heat. Point being: today, there are a lot of different ways of measuring (and also displaying) occupancy data.

We recommend starting with the “why” and identifying the goals and the business objectives as the very first step.

As an example, I was recently speaking to a Comfy client whose company (like the majority of businesses today) is dramatically reducing square footage allocated to each employee. She was tasked with offering recommendations to repurpose assigned seating, conference rooms, and huddle areas, and knew she would need strong data to support her proposal and justify her choices. As a result, she focused her search on sensors with a strong analytics backbone that can provide an accurate analysis on usage and trends over time.

2. Who are my key internal stakeholders and champions, and what metrics do they care about?

You will need the cooperation of multiple parties internally to successfully deploy sensors in your workplace. So, get ahead of potential roadblocks by showing how you can add value to others’ work.

If your CFO is like most, they care about keeping operational costs low. So imagine what they think every time they walk past a costly, empty conference room. Or maybe you or your real estate team is already under pressure to lower the square foot to employee ratio. Chances are your recruiting team wants to “wow” job applicants, and your business development and sales team want to make a good impression on visiting partners and clients. IT wants a simplified tech stack. And ultimately the majority of leaders in your office want a workplace that encourages employee satisfaction and engagement.

It comes down to understanding the relevant performance indicators and demonstrating ROI. Show that you can lower the square foot to employee ratio AND improve employee satisfaction, and you’ll win support from all sides.

3. Do I need a real-time snapshot of occupancy in the moment? Do I need processed analytics for future planning purposes?

Once you’ve identified your goals, use them to guide other decisions, like the type of information you need to collect and how you want it displayed.

For example, if you’re rolling out a hot desking initiative and your primary concern is helping employees find an available desk in the moment, it’s incredibly important that your occupancy sensor is able to stream live data and present an accurate picture of occupancy in the moment. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in long-term space utilization planning, the accuracy of in-the-moment readings may be less important and you would be better served by sensors that are capable of processing data and identifying usage trends over time.

4. What type of occupancy information do I need to collect (and how granular do I want to get)?

Most occupancy sensors can tell if a room is occupied or not. Often this type of binary occupancy information is useful for energy savings. For example, when an occupancy sensor is connected to a lighting system, the lights can turn off when a room is not occupied. But today’s sensors can get more detailed and also tell you how many people are in a room and how long it has been occupied. This type of quantitative and temporal information can better inform planning for future spaces and improvements in your current space. Be very clear with yourself and with vendors on what you are trying to measure in each space, so that they can help you decide what type of sensor is best for collecting the type of information you need.

5. Will the sensors connect with other systems across my real estate portfolio?

No two buildings are exactly alike. Chances are that across your portfolio, you work with a lot of different systems and vendors. We know firsthand that it can be challenging to integrate new technology with legacy systems. Our Works with Comfy partner ecosystem enables our solution to work with a wide range of systems and vendors, so that you can get the most value out of your investments. When you’re considering occupancy sensors, or really any type of new technical solution, don’t forget to find out how it will integrate with your existing systems and infrastructure. Strong existing relationships between the different solution providers will smooth the implementation process and make your life easier.

6. What does the installation process look like?

Correct positioning of sensors is incredibly important. For example, readings from a PIR sensor may be thrown off if it is placed too close to a vent or in direct sunlight. Sometimes the vendor sends a field specialist to install the sensors in your space. Sometimes you may install the sensor yourself. Be sure to clarify what’s included in your contract and obtain detailed instructions if you’re implementing yourself.

7. What can the vendor deliver in my required timeline?

Remember this is hardware, which means the vendor will require a certain amount of lead time to fulfill your order. The vendor may require additional manufacturing time, especially if you have an especially large portfolio. Be sure to clarify available stock and manufacturing timelines with the vendor and plan accordingly.

Yup, there are a lot of workplace technologies out on the market these days and a lot of considerations. But don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by uncertainty. Taking a proactive approach now to future-proof your hardware investments will certainly pay off. Rest assured that Comfy is at the forefront of these developments and we’ve seen firsthand that the value gained is definitely worth it.

If you’d like to learn more about how Comfy can help you get more out of your occupancy sensors, chat with us today.

Contact us

The brightest way to operate, orchestrate, and optimize everyday spaces.

Get in touch with an Enlighted expert