Space & Occupancy Planning Using Technology

Office space is becoming more and more precious. Going by the increase in rentals around the world in commercial business and industrial districts, it is clear that there is growing demand for office spaces. Increase in rentals, electricity usage and general cost of maintaining office spaces, it is becoming imperative to maximize the usage of the space that is already available. Today management is taking a hard look at their space investments and asking increasingly complex questions on how to better use the space that is given while increasing efficiency and complying with regulations.

Questions such as,  are we using our space efficiently?  Can we reduce electricity consumption? Can we increase utilization rate of our space while increasing our headcount? 

To answer these questions,  facilities management need hard data. It is becoming increasingly important to monitor space usage on an ongoing basis and finding ways to optimize usage. With modern tool and technologies, this has become possible.

Space Planning


Space Usage and Planning is the answer to the questions that management ask.  Space Planning can be loosely defined as the science of optimizing the design of a given space to maximize usage while considering various human, environmental and regulatory factors. Traditional space planning was done at the outset where facilities and human resources come together with the architects  to plan out the layout considering various factors. Once planned, the final design is provided to the contractor to execute. At the end of the day, it was a one and done exercise with no room for improvement unless a major overhaul was to be done to the office. This was partly due to the fact that offices during the early days were siloed by departments and cubicles, making them very hard to change. Occasional space usage exercises included engaging independent  auditing teams to track and monitor the flow of people and objects across the office over a specific period of time – a tediously manual process. Once this was done, a report was created and that was it. There was no notion of continuous monitoring of space usage.

Today, things have changed. Offices are designed to be minimalist, open concept with flexible seating arrangements. Combine minimalist design with portable features such as pre-built work pods,  meeting spaces and flexi-desks and you have a very dynamic work place. More over, technology that can track usage, occupany and presence detection in real-time has become affordable that implementing them has become easier. From cloud based software-as-a-service, sensor networks and big data processing to robust analytics have given space owners the capability to track, monitor, analyze and respond to changing usage conditions. While implementing these new technologies seem attractive,  there is a key question of how beneficial these implementations will be. 

Benefits


The benefits are tremendous. Imagine being able to identify and isolate areas where usage is non-existent, where flow of people and objects are minimal. These spaces can be converted to meeting rooms or more desks can be added to place staff thereby increasing the occupany rates. Or being able to identify spaces where there is too much bottleneck in terms of traffic flow so that those spaces can be streamlined and redesigned to make it more convenient to navigate around the office. Usage patterns can also be analyzed to understand human interaction patterns so that teams that work together regularly are grouped together to make work more efficient and productive. The possibilities are infinite and the tools are available today. 

Methods


So, how do we track usage and occupany information? There are several technologies that are currently available that can help. Here, we look briefly at some of them.

Room Booking System


The room booking system provides insights into the usage of rooms. Meetings take up a large amount of office time and analysis of room usage can provide insights into how they can be better managed. For example, if a large room of 20 pax is usually used for meetings with smaller team numbers, then it would be good to break the room into two meeting rooms, providing more opportunity for meetings and eliminating conflicts. Occupancy variance in rooms due to factors such as lack of projectors or video conferencing equipment can be addressed easily without having to overhaul the entire office space.

Hot Desk Booking


Hot Desk Booking systems provide information on seating patterns. Seats that are less preferred due to various factors such as direct sunlight or directly under the air-conditioning vents can cause poor usage. These can be analyzed and corrected by making minor alternations rather than having to overhaul the entire layout. Group based seating can increase usage efficiency by making people sit together. Usage patterns of staff working remotely or field-agents can help in scheduling and planning of spaces so that efficiency can be greatly increased. 

One of the key advantages of a room or a hot desk booking system is it’s ability to accurately estimate future demand. Unlike sensor networks or electricity usage, which track current usage, room and hot desking allows management to trend future demand and make decisions on how best to use the space given.

Sensors Networks


Sensor networks such as beacons, Passive-Infrared (PIR) sensors and other detection mechanisms can help to track people flow across the space. Sensors provide real time information in a format that can be tracked,  stored and analyzed over a period of time.  While sensors like beacons provide individual person granularity, PIR sensors provide presence without the granularity offered by beacons. These devices can provide insights into less visited areas that can be either converted to desks, meeting rooms or huddle spaces. Motion sensors can provide valuable information on occupancy and traffic flow. 

Unlike room booking or hot desk booking, sensors provide real-time traffic flow. Combined with the room and hot desk booking solution, sensors can augment usage pattern information through time-series based analysis of flow.

Presence Tags By People


Smart tags, worn on people’s wrist connect either to the wireless network or to a third-party subscription service through a mobile data plan (4G/5G network). They provide real-time tracking of people movement that can provide insights into the way people flow across the space. Designing of walk-ways and re-arrangement of desks can help maximize the flow without having bottlenecks. While there may be privacy concerns related to these technologies, they provide a powerful source of data to help in space planning.

Electricity Usage


Today’s Internet Of Things (IoT) devices can tap on electricity usage in zones to see usage patterns. Analyzing patterns of electricity usage can provide deep insights into the usage across regions without having to invest in large scale sensor network deployments. Electrical usage monitoring, perhaps, provides to most direct insight into the occupancy of the given region. Disproportionate usage across regions provides clear justification to spread out your staff or redesign the layout so that usage is more optimized.

When all these data are overlayed on top of the floor plan, management can get deep insights into the occupancy of the space over time.  This provides rich information to answer key questions and help to make informed decisions on space planning. 

Concluding


Today, there are a variety of tools and technologies that can help organizations adopt space planning and occupancy detection. From software such as room booking systems to sensor networks, the amount of data that can be gathered and analyzed is tremendous. With this information, management can easily learn, plan and adapt their spaces to maximum usage. 

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