Companies scrambling to learn more about their employees’ work habits – and how to provide the most efficient spaces – have led to a boom in proptech, an industry buzzword for everything from using augmented reality to design offices to managing vast real estate portfolios.
But there are signs that some employers are moving forward so fast that they risk making decisions based on bad data.
“Companies are quickly trying to make their offices more productive and collaborative for employees,” says William Chong, a national director who leads the workplace analytics and Internet of Things practice at JLL. “However, we’re seeing a lot of companies basing their decisions on badly collected or wrong data.”
For example, a major bank recently wanted to understand how their year-old office space was working for their employees. Sensors were installed under chairs to monitor their use.
Unfortunately, employees spent a lot of time standing in meetings around whiteboards. With the chairs appearing empty, the data collected was off by a large margin and could not be used to make decisions.
“Bad data can lead to bad decisions on designing or managing space, which can cost companies millions,” says Chong.
Times are a-changin’
A decade ago most office workers had assigned desks. Now the same employee might work in the morning at a collaborative space with couches, move to a traditional desk after lunch, and finish the day huddled in a designated quiet space. According to the Fifth Biennial Global Benchmarking Study 2018, this trend is growing and extend to all roles including HR and finance.
Employers are attempting to better understand how all those spaces are being used, encouraged by knowing the effort can help bring down costs and increase workers’ productivity.
Occupancy sensors are one way to track how people are using flexible working spaces. But it’s not as simple as just installing the sensors into the workplace.
“When gathering data to support real estate decisions, it is important to dig in to each data source to understand their limitations and error rates,” Chong said. “The data might not always be adequate or accurate enough to drive your decisions.”
Coworking tech needs
It’s not just companies in traditional offices looking to collect space data. Coworking spaces are also increasingly looking at ways to improve their members’ experiences – and ultimately boost revenue.
The Company Singapore, a coworking space in Odeon Towers in Singapore, installed uhoo environmental sensors, CogniPoint high accuracy people counters, and Utilizaiton IQ to gather and analyse data on their space.
The sensors indicated a row of unused work stations and a group meeting area that was virtually always empty. “Collecting data we can trust was just part one,” adds Jethro Quek, General Manager at The Company Singapore.
“We then had to act on the information. We added Dell monitors to the unused workstations to raise their appeal and transformed the group space into a Haworth sound-reducing meeting space. These small changes increased the occupancy of the space and member satisfaction.”
Picking and choosing
There are several emerging solutions and ecosystems pushed by multiple vendors. “Using IoTs to gather data to support decision making is inevitable. It’s important for companies to select the right IoT sensors and solutions to meet their needs. This requires more than just a budget, it requires rigorous evaluation and expertise in understanding what works or not,” added Chong.
In the next three to five years the need for understanding space utilization will only intensify, driven by businesses looking to attract the best talent and landlords competing for revenue. While there is no one perfect IoT solution, there are plenty of wrong ones.
The major bank mentioned above has since introduced the CogniPoint solution used at District6. With this, it can now measure occupancy regardless if workers are standing, sitting or walking, giving it accurate data to make decisions to improve the design and efficiency of their space.
“Selecting the right solution to gather good data can be challenging,” Chong says. “Yet once companies have the right data, it’s an invaluable resource in creating and managing workplaces that fully support their biggest asset: their staff.”