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.

 

Corporations must harness prop tech to adapt to new ways of work – special report

The world of work will continue to evolve in 2019, and corporations must find ways to adapt their office real estate.

That is the conclusion of a new piece of research by flexible workplace specialist Abintra.

Published in a new report, the study highlights how corporations are struggling to manage office space efficiently as the trend towards agile and flexible working gathers momentum.

The publication explores methods for responding through office space utilisation techniques, including the latest tech options.

Compiled by Abintra’s US office, Emerging Trends in Occupancy Management asks if an emerging class of technology services could be the solution to the challenges faced by real estate professionals in 2019.

It sets out the pros and cons of different approaches to managing office space usage, including people counting and tracking, either manually or via WiFi, swipe cards and PIR sensor systems.

Previous research by Abintra has revealed that corporations waste as much as 30 per cent of office space and two thirds of meeting room space because of under-utilisation. The value of that prime real estate in the UK alone tops £10 billion.

The report shows that companies are learning to get by with fewer people and need less space per worker as they allow more employees to work flexible hours, or work at home.

It quotes one US real estate professional as saying: “There is this constant trend to get more productivity and efficiency out of office space.”

But while real estate managers would like to rationalise the amount of space being used, or to make better use of it, the report points out that doing so is increasingly complex. Density can vary significantly due to various factors such as the nature of work, building codes and even the use of space as a reward for more senior personnel.

Calculating how much space is actually required depends on working out how space is currently used and how it could be adapted. Unfortunately, as the report shows, many of the techniques used for measuring usage don’t deliver reliable information. It points out the flaws in many traditional measurement tools and in many of the technological solutions on the market.

Abintra’s own system relies on passive infrared sensors mounted to the underside of work surfaces to detect presence linked to powerful software. It is non-invasive compared with systems that rely on individual workers’ phones or computers to track them. The resulting data is displayed on a live floor plan, available on an app, web browser or a display in the office entrance area so that employees can see where there are available desks within a building and choose where to work.

The report draws on Abintra’s experience in the field as well as publicly-available information from Avison Young, CBRE, Urban Land Institute, Balfour Management Consultants, Harvard Business Review, Deloitte and MarketWatch.

The report is available to download at https://abintra-consulting.co.uk/emerging-trends-in-occupancy-management/

The new rules of meeting room etiquette

Meeting and conference rooms are an essential part of the fabric of most modern office spaces. With many businesses choosing to go open plan, they provide professional spaces for meeting with clients, collaboration hubs for co-workers and private work spaces when confidentiality is required.

As with any shared space, rules need to be applied, but while much common sense meeting room etiquette remains relevant, new technology is set to see some of the old rubrics thrown out.

The first rule today should be for managers to really understand what their people need, says workspace flexibility specialist Abintra. Fortunately, that is something that can now be assessed with precision thanks to advances in office space monitoring technology.

“Workspace consultants can monitor how their clients’ meetings rooms are being used, and use the data to improve flexibility,” says Tony Booty, a director of Abintra, which has worked with more than 100 corporations worldwide to help them make best use of corporate real estate. “For example, we might discover that instead of using space for rigid meeting rooms, we can introduce new kinds of collaborative space and breakout areas.”

“We might discover that instead of using space for rigid meeting rooms, we can introduce new kinds of collaborative space and breakout areas”

So in a world where the nature of work and meetings is changing, what are the new rules of meeting room etiquette?

Do be spontaneous

The old rules would have said think carefully about whether you should have a meeting at all and then to make sure you book well in advance.

Ducking into a vacant room for an impromptu catch-up with colleagues would be a big no-no.

But there’s a reason we’ve all been guilty of doing this… and that’s because we like working this way.  It makes sense to get together to discuss a pressing issue when it is, indeed pressing. Or to take the opportunity of everyone being in the office at the same time to catch up on a project.

Instead of rigid and bureaucratic systems, modern offices should support the way employees need to work.  Flexibility and collaboration can be promoted by creating plenty of bookable and casual meeting spaces whose availability can be monitored by colleagues in real time via screens and Apps.

Don’t waste time managing complex booking systems

How many times have you been in trouble for not booking a meeting room properly;   or irritated colleagues for not cancelling it on the system when you no longer need it? Or trawled through days of bookings to find a clear spot only to find the room sits empty because others haven’t cancelled their bookings?

New sensor based technologies does away with the need for complex booking systems that require lots of proactive intervention from employees by auto detecting when meetings start and finish and releasing space if it is not being used.

If you need a room and one is free, you can just take it. The aim should be to allow people work how they want rather than imposing rules that impede productivity and, frankly, cause high levels of frustration.

And, if you are to avoid awkward encounters with colleagues in the corridor, there are some old rules that still apply:

Do stick to a schedule

Make sure you allow enough time for your meeting, including setting up and clearing away, and make sure it doesn’t overrun.  Even if you don’t cover everything on your agenda, vacate the room as soon as your time slot comes to an end. Your colleagues won’t appreciate having to wait to start their meeting, especially if it’s with important clients.

Don’t hover at the door

“I found myself over-running by barely a minute before someone was knocking on the door. He muttered “I waited” in ill-concealed frustration as we left.  It didn’t look good in front of my clients!”

If you’re early to your meeting, avoid hovering at the door.  It will put unfair pressure on your colleagues to finish up before time and you should also be mindful that the meeting could be confidential.  If the meeting is running late, be careful to bring this to your colleagues’ attention whilst remaining professional and courteous.

Do tidy up

As your mother might say, ‘leave it as you would wish to find it’! Clear away coffee cups, water glasses and food, put away any equipment you have used and be sure to wipe clean whiteboards or clear flipcharts of your notes, plans or doodles!

Don’t use a meeting room as your own private office

“I wouldn’t want to mention any names, but certain, senior members of staff just use our meeting rooms like their private office.”

If you work in an open plan environment, booking a meeting room can be a great way to get some quiet space to make a phone call, write a confidential report or focus on getting a piece of work completed.  But blocking out rooms for days on end and turning the room into your own personal office is a no-no as it removes an important resource for your colleagues.

If you need an office, speak to your boss about getting the right space to meet your needs.