Authored by Bryn Sadler, VP, essensys Labs

The future of the office is yet to be defined but we have adopted a hybrid working model that sees people spread their time between the office, home and other remote locations.

As landlords and operators figure out this new norm, there are some key factors in ensuring office space is used efficiently and profitably. One of these factors is occupancy tracking.

The reason why occupancy tracking is important is not only that it allows you to know how many people use your spaces but gives you a better understanding of how your spaces are being used

You can answer questions such as “how many people are at my site?” and “how are the different areas of my site occupied at different times?”.

This helps identify patterns and trends which is vital for efficient management and optimisation of your spaces. If you know this, you can make better decisions on things like – how to charge for or monetise your spaces on certain days of the week, how to organise your spaces, staffing requirements, best days for events/community building, and so on.

You can also go beyond just ‘how many’ to ‘who,’ which can be valuable to see how many locations an individual user visits across your portfolio.

How does occupancy tracking work?

Essentially, occupancy tracking counts how many people have entered or exited a building. In the past, or perhaps still in some spaces, this has been done manually by the reception team but there are now less laborious and more accurate ways to do this.

Today, the four main methods to gather occupancy insights are IoT sensors, access control, apps and WiFi data.

IoT: sensors that measure motion

This provides real-time data collection on how many people walk past in a certain direction so you can understand whether they are coming in or going out. Some IoT sensor options include:

  • PIR – very cheap but only indicates if an area is occupied or not; there is no people count.
  • Time-of-Flight/Laser – can be used to count in/out, but can be fooled by differing heights; people walking together or pushing trollies etc. Must be one above every ingress/egress.
  • Camera w/motion sense – this is expensive and there are privacy concerns.
  • Thermal – accurate but expensive.

Installing sensors can be difficult and there is an extra cost for the software that is needed to collect and analyse the data. A lot of sensors are also required throughout the building to provide useful insights.

Access control: users swipe keycard to enter the building

Keycard swipes is an easy way to measure how many people are coming in vs how many are going out. However, this only provides a basic representation of occupancy and may be inaccurate in cases where someone holds the door for another which then affects the data that gets recorded. There is also the factor of guest and temporary passes to consider which may skew the insights.

Having said this, there is an opportunity to improve the understanding of ‘how many people are at my site?’ through access control insights. To gain accurate data, operators of the space need to be very strict in their implementation – turnstiles to prevent tailgating, mechanisms to avoid credential sharing, ensuring users must scan out as well as scan in, to name a few. For many operators, this level of rigidity isn’t something they want to implement though.

Apps: detects devices via Bluetooth and WiFi

Cloud-based apps can help measure occupancy by using geo-location services or beacons that detect people’s smartphones or other devices using Bluetooth or WiFi.

However, accuracy is not guaranteed as a person may have more than one device detected, someone may not have Bluetooth or WiFi enabled or even have the app running on their device. There can also be privacy concerns when using this method.

WiFi data: counts how many people are connected to the WiFi

WiFi data is the lesser known and utilised way to measure occupancy data. Most WiFi systems report on how many devices are connected but a “smart” tracking system will associate multiple devices with a single person. No matter how many devices that user has connected (watch, phone, laptop) it will only be measured as one person so no double (or triple) counting.

This data is captured through the WiFi access points that you have throughout the building so no new, expensive hardware is required to gain these insights.

You can also see which access points people are connected to, showing you which areas are busier or quieter than others. This is great to help form how you can manage and optimise your portfolio. For example, how to charge for or monetise your spaces, how to organize your spaces, staffing requirements, best days for events/community building, etc.

Having looked at the four methods of occupancy tracking, we would recommend WiFi tracking. This option requires the least effort to set up and provides the most valuable insights that go beyond ‘how many’ to ‘who and where’ which is fundamental in understanding how to run a flexible workspace more efficiently.

Read more insights from Bryn Sadler on the benefits of automation in commercial real estate.