Validating Workspace Occupancy in 2024: Beyond the Bag and Coat

Written by Sandra Panara, Director of Workspace Insights

In the ever-evolving landscape of modern workplaces, the concept of “Signs of Life” has persisted for ages, describing those who seem present but aren’t truly there. They casually leave their belongings, like a bag or coat, at a desk and then disappear, only to reappear briefly to work. The question that looms large is whether merely “seeing” a bag or coat truly matters in the grand scheme of things. Let’s delve into this intriguing topic.

Traditional camera-based sensors have the ability to identify the presence of objects such as bags, coats, or coffee cups on a desk, often signaling that the workspace is occupied, albeit in a passive state. It’s only when these sensors detect the presence of a human that they transition into an active state. However, is this assumption always accurate? People often leave their coffee mugs on desks or their sweaters on chairs overnight. While algorithms can discern whether these items have moved within a 24-hour period, the results are not foolproof just because these sensors can “see” items that suggest passive occupancy.

Non-camera-based sensors, which rely on detecting motion and heat, yield similar results with a surprising level of accuracy, even without optical vision. How does this work?

When an individual approaches a desk and falls within the sensor’s required range, it detects motion and registers the desk as occupied. Subsequently, the heat sensor is activated to measure the duration of occupancy. The crucial metric here is the time spent at the desk, as it distinguishes between an active or passive occupant. Passive occupants may briefly use a desk but don’t linger. Whether or not they leave an item on the desk becomes inconsequential. What truly matters is discerning the presence of a person. The combination of heat and motion data provides valuable dwell information. Multiple instances of dwell signal a churn in desk usage. For instance, if someone briefly occupies a desk, leaves, and returns 20 minutes later, this pattern can be monitored to identify active desk usage and its duration, and help establish minimum time thresholds before making it available to others.

Real-time visibility of occupancy provides a similar understanding, allowing you to spot a coat or bag, but its significance primarily pertains to supporting free-address space use, where individuals don’t book desks in advance.

But here’s the kicker: modern sensors also offer an unprecedented level of customization. Companies can tweak these sensors to define what constitutes “passive” occupancy to suit their specific needs. For example, one company might find it acceptable for a workspace to remain idle for up to 30 minutes before deeming it unoccupied, while another company may extend this threshold to 2 or 3 hours. This adaptability underscores the flexibility and precision that modern technology offers in understanding and optimizing workspace utilization.

In conclusion, the notion of “Signs of Life” in the workplace is undergoing a transformation. Beyond the superficial presence of objects, we now have advanced sensors that can accurately gauge true occupancy, helping organizations optimize their workspace utilization efficiently. The bag and coat may still be there, but there’s much more to the story when it comes to redefining workspace dynamics.

About the Author

Sandra Panara, Director of Workspace Insights

Sandra has both a deep and wide understanding of Corporate Real Estate and Technology. With over 25 years hands-on experience she is able to apply non-traditional approaches to extract deep learning from the most unsuspecting places in order to drive strategy. She has developed an appreciation for always challenging the status quo to provoke and encourage new ways of thinking that drive continuous improvement and innovation. Sandra believes square pegs can fit into round holes and that the real ‘misfits’ are those environments that fail to adapt. Her expertise ranges broadly from CRE Portfolio Research, Analytics & Insights, Workforce Planning, Space & Occupancy Planning & Workplace Strategy.