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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought strong demand for occupancy measurement systems — an emerging technology that, prior to the pandemic, seemed limited by privacy concerns. Privacy is a legitimate concern and one that calls for careful governance. Furthermore, as the concern may relate more to the perception of these systems, it calls for transparent communication and the maintenance of trust in the organization. Many leading occupancy sensor vendors have now removed or enabled users to opt out of facial recognition capture mechanisms, preventing the collection of Personal Identifiable Information (PII) and, in the European Union, adhering to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
In general, the desire to safely bring employees back to the office seems to have cleared the privacy hurdle in the minds of many organizations. Some companies remain skeptical, however, of a major technology investment geared to a temporary (let us hope) situation. In fact, TEECOM believed occupancy measurement would soon become a standard feature of commercial real estate before COVID was on the radar. Our R&D team conducted a two-year study evaluating 35 different occupancy measurement technologies to understand where the industry was going, and we now have relationships with leading manufacturers.
The long-term value of occupancy measurement is its ability to drive digital workplace management, offering benefits for owners and users of buildings. This article will discuss these long-term benefits, the immediate benefits in the COVID scenario, and how TEECOM fits into the picture of implementing these systems.
It’s not just about counting the number of people who enter a space and indicating that the space has reached maximum capacity. Integrated occupancy management systems can detect when individuals are too close to one another, notify them immediately, and log the occurrence for long-term analytics.
Wayfinding is a particularly important function as staff return to reconfigured office spaces that have changed dramatically or become disoriented as they seek out an available workstation, a restroom, or a source of PPE and sanitizer.
The costs of sanitizing products and custodial services have skyrocketed. Occupancy measurement can indicate which spaces have actually been used and therefore require sanitizing at which times, saving money without compromising safety.
Space optimization is the primary, direct benefit owners will receive from digital workplace management. Knowing how people are using spaces enables an owner to both re-educate staff to make the best use of spaces — holding meetings in rooms appropriately sized for the number of in-person participants — and consider re-positioning spaces according to demand. Unused space is a wasted investment.
Integrating occupancy measurement systems with building management systems (BMS) can enable them to do things like turn on the lights, adjust the temperature, and start a videoconference when users enter a room, automatically book a room in a reservation system when someone walks in, or return a room to available status when meeting participants do not show up. Integrating occupancy measurement systems with audiovisual (AV) systems or pushing information directly to personal devices can assist users with wayfinding. Direct benefits to users become indirect benefits to owners, as they increase productivity for workers and brand experiences for visitors.
Systems integrations also enable a building to save energy, as compared with passive infrared sensors that may turn lights off and on based on a 20-minute timer. Those extra minutes multiplied over a number of conference rooms over the course of a year can constitute thousands of wasted dollars.
Occupancy measurement has become one of the systems we design and help implement as part of an integrated network of building technology systems. While various manufacturers provide and install occupancy sensors, we design the system, determining where they should be placed. We integrate the occupancy system with the building’s other systems (AV, Wi-Fi, Network, BMS, or Physical Security) to activate not just an occupancy measurement system but a full digital workplace management system. We commission the system as well, making sure it functions as intended after installation.
TEECOM is one of the first consultants to have professionals certified with Density, one of the leading manufacturers of occupancy sensors.
Properly designed and implemented, an occupancy measurement system can drive digital workplace management that provides significant value to building owners and users during and beyond COVID-19.
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