Are you still click-counting?

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

You’re finally seated and the fasten-your-seatbelt sign is switched on. While people are installing themselves for a flight, two flight attendants pass through the plane. One from front to back, the other from back to front. Both have a click counter in hand to verify the number of passengers on board, with a cross check of two people counting. If they get the same number, the plane can leave, provided that number is also equal to the number of passengers that should be on board. If not, they have to count again and verify.

It’s a bothersome process that you see surprisingly often. But it’s also a critical process, especially in times of people suing companies and, quite bluntly, terrorism. One passenger with check-in luggage but not on board can mean a whole lot of different, alarming things.

In many offices, the way occupancy rates are calculated is reminiscent of the experience on planes. Of course you can calculate attendance if you have an access-control system that forces people to swipe a badge. But how do you then account for movement in the building, having a day of meetings in the cafetaria and so on. Another way is to hire a student, and let her count people and their use of space (desk +1, meeting room + 2) a couple of times per day for a week or two. If you have a small office, that might be doable. But the larger the office, the more labor intensive and the bigger the chance of miscounts and other mistakes. 

Blue Led, Red Led, Green Led

Now compare that to the parking space led indicators you see increasingly in car parks. Sensors notice a car in the parking space, and switch the light to red. Or they don’t notice a car and turn the light green. And you could use other colors as well, like blue for spaces reserved for disabled people or families with small children. It’s much easier to find a parking space in this way. And to manage occupancy. You have real time data on which parking space is available, in stead of a formula involving the number of available spaces, minus the number of cars that entered, plus the number of cars that exited, and then a margin taking into account that some spaces are reserved, not used because they’re deemed to small, or, or, or.

Well, you get the point: sensors that accurately measure occupancy and record their findings continuously and consistently are not only a lot more practical, they also produce data from which you can derive a wealth of valuable information.

And that’s all about one single building. Imagine the data on availability of all these car parks combined in a navigation system. People can see in their cars where there’s a space available, and all the data on usage can inform important decisions about building more parking spaces, traffic flow, visitor preference and so on. But this is not a story about parking your car. This is about workspace management. How do you know whether you have sufficient workspace in a city or region. Do you need more? Can you make do with less?

Getting the full picture and good info

Surely you can download a dataset from the access-control systems. Or hire a small army of students. If we  go back to the airplane example, this would be like counting the passengers on board with the doors still open, and people can still get on, or off, the plane. It already was a cumbersome exercise, do you really believe this will yield good information?

What if you could install some sensors, like in those car parks? Wouldn’t that be great? In fact, it is exactly what you can do. It’s a great first step of understanding the usage of your workspace, and whether you have enough or need more. It starts with installing sensors that measure, anonymously, the presence of people in rooms. During the day. In fact, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. More precisely, every 5 minutes, the sensor measures occupancy. In 3 months, that means 13,000 data points are collected. With these, you can get real insight on the usage of your work space, and take well informed decisions about making it flexible with the right amount of floorspace and work stations. Not too much, costing you too much rent or inflated real estate prices. But also not too little, which would certainly decrease your employee satisfaction.

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