Office space is typically the second biggest overhead for organisations after their people. Increasingly, offices are designed to promote wellbeing and more effective ways of cooperative working, so losing all or part of your office space may have an impact beyond the obvious ones of disruption and relocation costs, spilling over into longer-term productivity losses and even people leaving the organisation. So, it is a crucial factor in business risk contingency planning.
One novel approach to risk management in office buildings is the use of use desk sensors, more usually employed to manage and monitor the use of office space
Tony Booty, a director of Abintra, says organisations are increasingly interested in using the technology for other purposes, including modelling “what if” scenarios, business continuity and energy management.
Abintra’s Wisenet system has been deployed by more than 100 corporations worldwide to provide real-time and historical data on the use of desk space, meeting rooms and other office areas. “That is incredibly useful information for scenario planning,” says Mr Booty. “If you are considering what would happen if you lost the fifth floor of your office building, it is one thing to know there are 100 desks and two meeting rooms up there but having accurate data about how many people would actually be affected, in what way and when, makes disaster planning a much more scientific process.”
If the worst happens, the Wisenet system allows organisations to manage space to accommodate displaced personnel. “That’s much more efficient than having redundant swing space,” explains Mr Booty. “We frequently see cases where companies keep space they are not using for contingency purposes, and yet we often find that they could find 30 per cent more space that they could be using by working flexibly. This could be their contingency instead. We say use all the space you can see, and then use the sensors to find the hidden space if you need it.”
He gives the example of a company with 300 desks on a dual power system so that if one circuit goes down, there will still be power to the other half of the desks. With information about the circuitry in its database, Wisenet’s real-time display would be able to show which desks without power were in use and which desks with power were available, allowing staff to be relocated.
Two other cases, both involving vending machines, affected a major bank and a global insurance company. In one instance, a leaking vending machine took out the electrics and shut down an entire trading floor. The second saw a fire in a vending machine extinguished with the sprinklers with the same effect on the building’s electricity. “In cases of this sort, knowing in real time which people have been displaced and where there is spare capacity allows building managers to prioritise the use of available desking and other office areas,” says Mr Booty.
The cases of the faulty vending machines give a clue to where the technology is going next, as Mr Booty explains: “Ultimately, space utilisation systems will be paired with CAFM (Computer Aided Facility Management) and BIM (Building Information Management) to understand the risks of a given activity such as adding a vending machine, create recovery plans and pre-emptively cover any potential displacement should the worst happen.”