Workplace occupancy sensors in offices can provide valuable data as a precursor to implementing flexible working or agile working layouts, but how do they work?

Ten years ago, Abintra pioneered the concept of workplace utilisation monitoring, and we developed the WiseNet suite of products and software to deliver it, including our award-winning workplace occupancy sensors. Most of the office installations we’ve managed across the world rely primarily on our PIR (passive infrared) desk sensor, a small, battery-powered device that sits under a desk and detects if anyone is sitting there or not, hence the phrase ‘workplace occupancy sensors’.

Cheap sensors or purpose-built?

While you can buy cheap PIR sensors from online hardware merchants, we strongly advise customers to invest in high quality, purpose-built devices such as our WiseNet workplace occupancy sensors. The reason is simple. It is crucial that you gather accurate data because you are likely to be making some pretty momentous real estate decisions based on the information the sensors deliver. Clearly, inferior sensors may be cheap but if they are not recording occupancy accurately, they are, frankly, worse than useless. Or to put it another way, in that timeworn computer programmer’s phrase, garbage in, garbage out.

One obvious way that our WiseNet workplace occupancy sensor scores over cheaper alternatives is its ability to record accurate data about meeting room usage. Inferior devices often mistakenly record someone sitting at a meeting room table in two places if they happen to stretch a leg out to one side, for example.

Overcoming challenges

The challenge for sensors becomes trickier still in certain environments such as soft seating areas. Here, instead of PIR, we use vibration technology to monitor occupancy levels – how many people are using the space – and utilisation – how they are using it (e.g. which sofa is popular and which chairs aren’t).

All the sensors are battery-powered so require no wiring. They stream their data over a dedicated wireless network to ceiling-mounted routers which pass it on to a server running our WiseNet software. Having a dedicated wireless network means the system isn’t taking resources from the office WiFi network. Nor does it represent it a security risk since it’s not connected to the customer’s network. That’s particularly important for the large financial institutions and public sector users that make up a significant amount of our customer base.

Wiring free

Like the sensors, our routers are purpose designed and built, and they too are battery powered so require no wiring. Because there is no wiring for occupancy sensors or routers, this also means the whole system is portable as and when our customers want to move to new offices. That’s a stark contrast to some installations we’ve heard about. When expensive hardware is wired in, it ties the user to those office premises until such time that they feel they have had a return on the investment and can leave the kit behind. It also limits their ability to change the layout of the office. Our sensors move with the desk so there are no such restraints with a WiseNet installation.

The final piece in the workplace utilisation sensor jigsaw is the software that pulls all the data together. The WiseNet software took years to design and build. Its great strength is its ability to capture and manipulate huge amounts of data. Imagine a large corporation with have hundreds of desks as well as dozens of meeting rooms and casual areas being monitored. Those sensors are pumping out huge amounts of office usage data via the routers every second. Inferior systems can fall down because they don’t have software that is powerful enough to deal with all that data. So even if they aren’t using inadequate sensors, they are still can’t deliver the reports that customers need. WiseNet delivers the information our customers need, when they need it and in as much detail as they want.

What the software does

The software performs two vital functions.

Firstly, it provides reports that enable managers to make informed real estate decisions. This might be from one of our popular four-week surveys or for ongoing management of office usage so that layouts can evolve as people’s use of them changes over time.

Secondly, the software allows users of flexible office space to find a desk or other kind of work area in whichever office they are planning to work in on any given day. The workplace occupancy sensors report on which desks, meeting rooms and soft spaces are available. Staff can see this information in real time on a screen in reception, by logging on to the system via the web or by using our app.

A new world of work

Workplace occupancy sensors are the most accurate way to monitor and manage office usage, and WiseNet’s purpose built hardware and software provides unrivalled levels of accurate data. All of which makes the new world of flexible working and agile work spaces run smoothly.

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