Nick Stogdale, Customer Success Director, Irisys
Office buildings are expensive to rent and operate. And while they are designed to enable productive work to happen, their costs need to be balanced against the productivity they deliver.
The assumptions around the importance of office buildings have been challenged during the pandemic. Businesses have seen how encouraging employees to work from home can save office running costs, while realising that their employees can often work very effectively there.
However, they have also been shown the importance of gathering employees together in offices. There is an increasing acceptance that at least some degree of social working is important for employee wellbeing, creativity and team building. The amount of time that employees must spend in an office to maximise their productivity has been questioned.
Getting the right balance between hybrid working practices, the needs of employees and the large costs associated with physical space is tricky. But as Nick Stogdale from Irisys explains, technology can help.
Organisations struggle to understand how their buildings are used. They are constantly asking whether they have too much or too little space. They question whether their space is configured in an optimal way. And they look for ways to manage energy use so that lower costs are combined with a level of employee comfort that encourages maximum productivity.
The pandemic made these questions even more important. Businesses were forced to move to a hybrid workforce with a greatly increased amount of remote working. And when the predicted falls in productivity failed to materialise, many organisations asked: how much office space do we really need?
To answer that, the right data must be available. Without accurate data on how buildings are used, it is impossible to know whether they are currently under-serving or over-serving the business.
Do they provide enough collaborative space? Would more (or fewer) hot desks be useful? Would large conference spaces and meeting rooms be better structured as smaller spaces? And how flexible do office spaces need to be so that they can provide the best environment for employees during a working week where requirements change from day to day?
The biggest expenditure for many organisations is on employees, but this is followed by the cost of office space and the cost of utilities use. It is important for businesses to understand how they can optimise their office spaces both in terms of encouraging employee productivity and reducing running costs such as heating, lighting and air conditioning.
Focus on employees
Buildings don’t just need to work for employers, however. They also need to work for the employees, and many have grown used to working from home. It is often very comfortable and very convenient, with no time taken getting to work and with the ability to manage personal and family tasks during the working day.
How can offices emulate the safe and happy home-working environment? How can they make the office an attractive place to work for employees? How can they meet the demands that employees are increasingly making on their work environments? If these questions are not answered, many employees will simply vote with their feet and move elsewhere.
During the video, Mr Stogdale explains that Irisys has considerable experience measuring the movements of people within buildings. This is done without any impact on privacy by deploying smart IoT sensors that cannot identify individuals.
Sensors are typically placed on the ceiling in key locations, such as the entrances to buildings, floors and rooms. Within rooms, smaller discreet sensors placed underneath desks or tables track occupancy, again without identifying individuals.
This detailed data can then be analysed and used to work out the reality of what’s happening within a building, with 24/7 data available in real-time. Facilities and property managers can make decisions based on evidence rather than assumptions. And, importantly, they can see the effect of any changes they make.
Building a better workplace
Perceptions have changed. Planning office space in the future will not be the same as it was pre-pandemic.
Mr Stogdale gives the example of the National Grid, an organisation with a wide estate. It wanted to understand the reality of how its estate was being used, in part to enable more flexible working. Irisys installed sensors at appropriate points, such as the entrances to floors and rooms. It was quickly realised that many buildings in the estate were not being used as much as had previously been thought. The organisation was able to close two buildings and, as a result, saved $10 million. The low cost of installing sensors delivered a major financial benefit.
Another example is the University of Technology Sydney, where there were plans to build a new lecture theatre. However, after a detailed analysis of footfall, it was clear that the new theatre was unnecessary. The money was freed up to benefit student life in different ways.
Automated people-sensing within buildings has many benefits. Employers can be sure they are not over-investing in office buildings. They can avoid wasting energy on heating areas that are not being used at certain times (becoming more sustainable in the process). And they can optimise building configurations so that collaboration opportunities can be maximised.
There are benefits for employees too. As well as being able to plan meeting times for periods when there will be rooms available or to find places for impromptu team events, they will know when facilities such as gyms and canteens are quiet. All of this will make office life a little less frustrating and a little more pleasant.
Because of the pandemic, the way offices are used is changing radically. It is only by understanding the nature of that change in detail, through the use of appropriate sensor technology, that the demands of a hybrid workforce can be met and the opportunities derived from more flexible working patterns can be realised.
Discover the power of live occupancy data, get a demo of Irisys True Occupancy.