Accurate data about office use is key to flexible working

Abintra News Release

Firms are failing to implement flexible working because of poor data about how they use their office space, warns a leading workplace specialist.

Abintra, which pioneered the use of sensors to measure office use, says many managers still rely on gut feeling or flawed systems to make important real estate decisions.

The rising popularity of agile working has seen many firms reorganise their workplaces to attract and retain the best people. Flexible working can also save money by cutting the amount of expensive real estate that firms own or rent.

Abintra, which has helped hundreds of major corporations worldwide to introduce flexible working, warns that one of the reasons firms are falling at the first hurdle is that they are failing to understand how they currently use their office space. That leads to “flexible” solutions that don’t work because they don’t offer enough of the right kinds of spaces or because they inflate or deflate the amount of real estate that an organisation actually needs.

The company recently published a report on emerging trends in occupancy management in 2019 listing unreliable methods being used to assess usage statistics. These included manual “clipboard” studies and video tracking of people coming into or leaving an office space. The former doesn’t allow for detailed analysis of work patterns while the latter doesn’t deliver data on individual desk use.

Abintra favours the use of infrared sensors mounted to the underside of work surfaces to detect presence. It offers fast-track surveys using the technology to give managers in-depth data in four weeks.

Find out more about surveys

Tony Booty, a Director of the company, says: “Unlike sensors attached to individuals or systems that rely on using employees’ phones, it is a non-invasive solution, making it easier to win staff approval.”

The company provides number crunching software enabling managers to see how office space is being used via their web browser. The data can be interrogated to give an accurate view of office use over different time periods.

Once flexible working is implemented, the same technology can be used to generate a live floor plan. This allows staff to work flexibly by seeing where space to work is available and choosing different places to work within the office depending on what they are working on or just the mood that they are in.

With the launch of a new combined sensor, Abintra can also provide data on key environmental metrics as well as space utilisation, such as temperature and air quality. That allows facilities managers to deliver high levels of comfort for office users while helping to reduce energy waste. For example, by collecting data on the environmental conditions at each workstation, systems can be adjusted to provide improved levels of temperature and humidity control.

Time for businesses to future proof office real estate

News Release

Businesses should be investing in future-proofing their office real estate for smart building technology or pay the price down the line, warns a leading specialist.

Workspace flexibility specialist Abintra says it is seeing a drift among some corporations towards buying low-cost, basic sensors to monitor desk usage when they could be investing in technology with greater capabilities and future-proofing systems for advances in smart buildings and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Big businesses are increasingly using sensors to look at how their office real estate is being used and to make decisions about downsizing or moving, but Abintra warns that some inferior tech is not only not up to the job but will be unable to plug into the smart buildings of the future. The firm forecasts that corporations which don’t think about the big picture will be faced with a stark choice: Scrap their existing space management technology and reinvest with all the associated disruption to operations or lose out to competitors on the technological advantages in HR and facilities management, such as improved productivity and energy efficiency.

Tony Booty, a Director of Abintra, which has offices in London, UK, and Boston, USA, said: “We would like to see more businesses asking themselves: Where are we going with this investment? Our advice would be don’t just buy the cheapest sensor that you think can do the job. Look to future proof yourself for IoT and smart building technology.”

He explained: “For most office-based businesses, real estate is their second biggest overhead after their people, so naturally they are looking at space utilisation. When it comes to technology to monitor usage, management should be thinking about going one better. Advanced space utilisation monitors and the software behind them naturally lend themselves to connecting with the building’s environmental systems. Bringing together data and automated control of lighting, air quality and heating in one system joins up the information.”

Rather than mount a myriad of sensors and wiring throughout an office space, Abintra has developed a wireless sensor with multiple capabilities. It can be mounted in ceiling voids or flush with ceiling, and can even serve as a warning light outside a meeting room to show that it is occupied or not, based on information it gets from sensors inside the room.

“It is about using a component that has to be there and leveraging it,” said Mr Booty, who sees a future where desks, chairs and office components each have their own IP address and can identify themselves for digital building design and management, systems that will be increasingly powerful as buildings become ever smarter.

“There is an environmental benefit as well as a cost one,” said Mr Booty. “I think many facilities managers probably think there aren’t any further savings to be made in lighting after the introduction of LED, but there are, and although they are relatively small, taken together with all of the other environmental efficiencies that are possible, it is definitely worth investigating.”

Mr Booty is a passionate advocate for thinking beyond using the technology for cost savings, however: “Understanding how space is used and being able to monitor and respond to that in real-time creates a better working environment, not just in the traditional desk space, but by freeing up space to create new kinds of individual and collaborative areas, essential for flexible working and flexible environments. That creates a competitive advantage when it comes to recruitment and retention, and since people are an even larger overhead than real estate, it is an opportunity that businesses should be seizing.”

How a growing prop-tech company is helping big business save space and deliver new ways of working

Feature Article

A growing workplace technology specialist is making an impact in sensor-based office space management, as firms seek better returns on real estate and new ways of working and retaining staff.

Hundreds of corporations worldwide have introduced Abintra’s WiseNet system to monitor and manage the use of desks, meeting rooms and other office spaces.

The patented system, two years in the making, relies on industry-leading sensors that detect if anyone is occupying a desk or a seat in a meeting room. The Wisenet software then delivers a real-time visual display of space usage floor by floor. Crucially, it gathers statistics over time that can be used to make space saving decisions such as implementing desk sharing, how many desks are required and rationalisation of office space. This in turn creates opportunities to introduce new ways of working with wellbeing spaces, such as break out and cafe areas.

Once a desk sharing system has been implemented, the system delivers information on communal screens so that employees can locate free desks, meeting rooms and other spaces.

Meanwhile, for managers, it allows for ongoing review of space usage and for dealing with that trickiest of tasks, managing use and abuse of meeting rooms. It displays information about how many people, if any, are in a meeting room against booking information for a better understanding of space requirement.

Abintra says Wisenet sets the standard in space utilisation systems. Unlike competing solutions, it doesn’t rely on employees to log on to a computer, upload an app to a phone or carry a sensor around with them to sense that someone is using a space. Methods like these have obvious drawbacks because they fall down if the employee accidentally or on purposes fails to use them. They also raise the spectre of employers spying on employees whereas the Wisenet sensors effectively record that someone is in a space without reporting on what he or she is doing or his or her identity.

Wisenet also scores against systems using off-the-shelf sensors, because its purpose-built devices are more precise and more discreet because they can be mounted underneath and at the back of a desk rather than close to the edge. That precision is important because it enables monitoring of other kinds of spaces than desks, notably individual meeting room seats. Wisenet says other systems can’t match its reliability in those areas and often amazed how companies get talked out of this most important requirement.

Tony Booty, director at Abintra, says: “Most organisations know they could reuse some space, probably a lot of it, but fear staff won’t understand how that can happen without them being cramped together. We can help. Instead of corporate real estate managers being seen as the enemy by building users, we give you a way to prove what will best support the requirement. Once people understand the statistics, they will understand the solution, which can be a better environment with a variety of spaces, better suited to the changing world of work.”

Wisenet maintains that any organisation can benefit from reviewing its space utilisation, but the company is typically called in when a corporation is going through a reorganisation, restructure or merger, or when it is considering moving offices.

“Once you have the data, you might discover you do not need to move to bigger premises, after all, but if you do, you will have a much better understanding of how much space you need in the new location,” says Tony Booty.

Banks, insurance companies and local authorities are among those who have used Wisenet to inform decisions about real estate, sometimes making huge savings in space usage and associated costs. Another significant benefit that Abintra points to is staff retention and reduced HR costs, by allowing customers to reconfigure floors for agile working with collaborative spaces and even coffee shops.

When the system was used to reconfigure one floor of an insurance company’s building, it opened the door to staff welcoming a move to new offices where they knew all floors would be configured that way.

There are other uses for the data, including risk management, providing information on how much space would be needed if an operation has to relocate because of an emergency such as a flood. It can be used to plan efficient security routes and to reduce energy costs and carbon footprint by managing heating and air conditioning based on utilisation. The sensors record temperature as well as occupancy.

Perhaps the feature that resonates most loudly with customers is accurate meeting room scheduling. Unlike button systems or paper trails, the system reports on how many people, if any, are in a meeting room at any time without those people being required to do anything. One customer discovered a senior executive was routinely using a large meeting room as an annex to his office. Another found that staff were regularly booking pricey hotel meeting rooms in Belgravia when, contrary to what their Intranet was telling them, there was meeting space free in the office.