Optimizing the use of office space and the office environment may be the most surprising, yet rewarding, application for sensors and IoT technology.

Sensors “see” things that humans often can’t when it comes to tracking office utilization and occupancy. The data they provide, when paired with intelligent analytics systems, can deliver comprehensive insights into space usage in an office or a building.

For instance, many offices are too large for a company’s needs, or the space isn’t well allocated. Especially when it comes to conference rooms, where the amount of space in these rooms rarely aligns with the number of people meeting there.

With solid data derived from indoor space sensing, a company can better evaluate its office space needs. This can yield significant savings in rental costs and facility operations. That’s where sensors come in. Rather than relying on anecdotal information (“all our conference rooms seem too big/small”), building managers can leverage sensors to provide clear data about how often a room is used and how many people are in it when it is occupied.

In co-working environments, for instance, where tenants both large and small have more flexibility in their office leases, better data about how spaces are used may enable landlords to provide more flexible lease terms. By automating the tracking of space with a booking system, you could even find that office space might be leased by the day or week, as opposed to months and years.

This data also could enhance the leasing process by providing better information to potential tenants, thanks to validated data about occupancy, traffic flows, and usage patterns. Sensors clearly pave the way for smart buildings.

Types of sensors

The types of sensors vary. Among the most common are lighting-integrated motion sensors, which reduce energy consumption by turning lighting down or off when there is no one around who needs it.

Passive infrared sensors can help sense not only occupancy, but the numbers of individuals using a given space. They can help a company create office “heat maps,” to get a more comprehensive view of occupancy and utilization.

There are also furniture-integrated sensors, which provide data about the utilization of desks so that overall utilization patterns can be established, and door sensors, which help track movement through a doorway and can provide data about occupancy in conference rooms.

The most sophisticated are video sensors, which leverage a network of security cameras and combine the video feeds with smart video analytics to accomplish a number of objectives:

  • Determine how many people are occupying a particular space at any one time, and tracking that data over time to establish usage patterns.
  • Find empty conference rooms that may be available even though the booking system says all rooms are booked.
  • Know who is in the building to be sure that those individuals actually belong there.
  • Spot objects that are out of place or doors that may be blocked and aren’t closing.

Customizing our space

Space sensing technology could even change the way we interact with our office environments. Employees who have specific needs as to the type and style of space they need to be productive could be directed to the right location, or even quickly modify a given space to best meet their needs.

This could be particularly important in open office environments, where some workers thrive while others struggle with noise issues or other distractions. The ability to tailor a space to their needs would be a positive for any employee.

A sensor-based system also offers advantages beyond the utilization of space, improving the way space is heated and cooled, maintained, and secured.

Not too cool or too warm

Sensors that detect where people are working can allow heating and cooling systems to adjust dynamically based on real-time usage patterns. If no one is in an area, the environmental controls can go into sleep mode to save energy, and then immediately reactivate when employees are present.

That is a big improvement over the traditional methods of basing temperatures on time of year or best guesses about the necessary comfort levels in various parts of the office or building. The combination of real-time monitoring and response and the learning of typical usage patterns through an artificial intelligence system can result in significant energy and cost savings even as comfort is improved.

People-centric maintenance

The routine tasks associated with managing a facility can be enhanced through the availability of sensor data. Cleaning bathrooms, picking up trash, and maintaining the heating and cooling systems, are all examples of tasks that usually are performed according to a schedule. What could actually be done every other day might be performed daily, just because it’s time for that task. And if bathrooms run out of paper towels or other supplies due to an afternoon’s high usage, it could be a problem if the maintenance crew isn’t due for a visit until the next day.

Good data allows such tasks to be condition-based rather than schedule-based. The janitorial staffs in some smart buildings, for example, can access apps that provide specific data about how the various spaces were used each day. That allows them to focus on only the areas that require cleaning, not devote time to cleaning areas that might not even have been used that day.

And from a security standpoint, in the event of a building emergency, it is paramount that first responders know how many people are in the building and where. Motion and video sensors can provide that specific information instantly, aiding the emergency response.

It’s easy to see why so many companies are embracing the idea of indoor space sensing, made possible through sensors and IoT technology.