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Real-Time Occupancy Management: The Future of Space Optimization

The normalization of remote work and the rise of the dynamic workplace  has created a unique challenge for modern employers: you have a fixed supply of space, but variable demand.

As employees switch between working from home and coming into the office, vacancy and occupancy can fluctuate widely from day-to-day and space-to-space. Businesses need space utilization models and practices that account for both the static limitations of their available real estate and the changing needs of their workforce.

You don’t want to waste space and have unusually high vacancy rates, and you also don’t want to run out of room when employees need it.

Some businesses navigate the hybrid workplace by simply assigning employees to specific days and times they need to be in the office, essentially fixing the demand for space so that it never exceeds supply. Others allocate ample space for hoteling and closely monitor their workspace optimization metrics as employees select the days they want to come in and reserve their workstations as needed.

Restricting when and how employees work obviously inhibits flexibility, which is increasingly becoming an expectation for highly qualified employees in many fields. And giving employees complete freedom to decide when to come to campus can impede collaboration because employees wind up grouped randomly.

But some organizations have found a more innovative method to optimize their office space: real-time occupancy management.

Real-time occupancy management is a process for determining when employees come in and where they sit based on how your space is being used in real time and what your employees need. Leveraging artificial intelligence and drawing from real-time space utilization metrics, organizations can use Integrated Workplace Management Systems software to automatically recommend employees come in on particular days or dayparts and reserve specific workspaces based on who they usually work with, what their team or department is doing, and forecasted changes in demand.

This dynamic occupancy planning empowers you to meet the variable demand for space at any given moment. In this guide to real-time occupancy management, we’ll explore how real-time occupancy management is changing space utilization and what it takes to pull it off.

How real-time occupancy management changes space utilization

Traditionally, occupancy management has been about forecasting future needs and opportunities based on past utilization data and trends. This is largely due to more consistent day-to-day space utilization and a lack of visibility into how rooms and workspaces are being used. Today’s hybrid workplace has a wide array of spaces and must navigate a dynamic workforce.

According to JLL, in the wake of COVID-19, 72% of employees are willing to work from home, but only 10% want to work solely from home. At the same time, 74% want to work in the office, and 24% want to work exclusively in the office. Additionally, 40% want the freedom to work in “third-party spaces” like cafes, coworking spaces, and hotels.

To accommodate the needs of a modern workforce, organizations need to leave behind the space planning practices of the past and adopt a model that can keep up.

Here’s how real-time occupancy management is changing space utilization.

Live floor plans

With real-time data, employers can visualize and react to how space is currently being used at any given time. By creating a live floor plan, you can explore occupancy data for each type of space you have, including:

  • Dedicated office units and workstations
  • Dedicated flexible space, often referred to as “neighborhoods”
  • Reservable spaces like conference rooms, training rooms, and hoteling areas

This high-level view of what’s currently available and what’s in use allows you to anticipate needs, identify immediate pain points, and reallocate space as demand changes throughout the day. You can see when orphaned or canceled reservations have created vacancies, and drawing from your reservation system and utilization patterns, you can forecast how this floor plan will likely change throughout the day or week.

Interactive workspace reservations

Employees don’t need to know the exact space they need to reserve each day or which alternatives to check when their desired space is unavailable. Real-time occupancy management enables employees to find their ideal workspace and time to come to the office based on criteria they control, like the type of space they want to use and who they work best with.

Advanced IWMS software like Tango empowers employees to find their team or, if the employer allows, even find specific colleagues to coordinate schedules and work together.

Automated space recommendations

As utilization patterns emerge, artificial intelligence can make recommendations to employees based on their preferences and how your space is currently being used. Perhaps three of someone’s teammates are all planning to work in the same neighborhood on campus two days from now. When the employee opens the reservation system to find a space, it can suggest they reserve a workstation in the area, recommend an available space nearby, or simply encourage them to come in at that time.

This can all happen automatically for every employee, dynamically responding to reservation and utilization data to optimize your available space according to who’s in the office and who they frequently collaborate with.

Crowd detection

When a space gets too crowded, it’s harder for employees to be productive, it decreases employee satisfaction, and some workers occupying the space won’t be able to use it.

An overcrowded meeting room could mean some people have to stand against the wall to participate in an important discussion—which some employees simply can’t do for a 30-plus minute meeting. Too many people in a neighborhood could make it harder for employees who reserved the space to work effectively. And if walkways, bathrooms, and intersections become congested, it may discourage employees from accessing the spaces they need or from coming to campus altogether.

Traditional occupancy management can’t respond to overcrowding until after the fact. But using geospatial technology like Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and IoT sensors, organizations can identify spaces that have too many occupants in the moment and even trigger alerts when rooms and areas are in danger of overcrowding.

With real-time data, businesses can even monitor when a group of people have been in close proximity for an extended duration, whether occupants are just passing through an area, or simply track how many people are present in a given zone or room in relation to its capacity.

Simplified reporting

Your employees are your company’s eyes and ears, physically observing and interacting with your space throughout the day. When equipment breaks or malfunctions, supplies run out, or spills or other accidents inhibit the use of a space, you need to resolve the issue quickly and find alternative solutions for anyone who needs that space in the meantime.

Real-time occupancy management incorporates simple, streamlined reporting so employees can conveniently notify the right people when an issue arises—without creating additional disruptions to their workday. Tango’s IWMS software  facilitates this process through an app—the same app your employees use to reserve space and respond to surveys about their needs.

Reduced occupancy costs

Real-time occupancy data empowers businesses to identify cost savings that would otherwise live in the gaps. Why clean a space that hasn’t been used since the last time it was cleaned? Why pay to heat or cool an office full time that isn’t being reserved all day? And if a space isn’t being utilized enough to justify its existence, why not reconfigure it for another purpose your business has a greater need for? Or, if you have the option, you may simply seize the opportunity to reduce your real estate portfolio.

You may also find that while your reservable space is booked for most of the day, it’s actually occupied for significantly less time. Instead of simply increasing the amount of reservable space you offer, you could change the reservation system to accommodate these usage patterns or create new parameters that eliminate this waste of space.

Space optimization constantly provides opportunities for businesses to reduce their occupancy costs. But these opportunities are all based on space utilization measures that show how your real estate is being used. If your occupancy data is more current, has fewer gaps, and gets organized in intuitive, meaningful ways, you’ll find more opportunities to lower costs and make better use of the space you have.

What businesses need to manage occupancy in real time

In order to transition to real-time occupancy management, businesses need to adopt new technology and collect regular input from employees. There’s only so much you can learn from badge in / badge out data points, and there’s only so much you can observe through manual processes. Any gap in your occupancy data could cause you to miss opportunities or misunderstand how your space is actually being used.

The exact combination of solutions varies from one organization to another, but companies need to find tech that provides granular insights into space utilization and platforms that pull all the relevant data together in useful ways.

Here are some of the main solutions organizations are using to facilitate this cutting-edge space optimization system.

IoT sensors

There are many different types of sensors organizations can use to learn about real-time space utilization. Different kinds of sensors provide different types of data like the number of bodies in a room, their proximity to each other, their direction, or even the location of a specific person. These individual data points add up to a fuller picture of how employees are using your space.

Some of the most common IoT inputs businesses use are Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), which uses lasers to map a space and record the distance between its occupants, and blurred image cameras, which track movement and help measure the number of bodies in a room. Some companies may also use sensors in chairs or on workstations to record when employees are using a space in specific ways. Or they may track individual badges as they move throughout the building.

Each sensor illuminates a piece of the puzzle, giving your company greater insight into your space utilization and areas where there’s room for improvement. With any tracking technology, it’s important to clearly communicate the intent to employees. Highly qualified talent may not stick around if they feel like this technology is rooted in a lack of trust, and this can be an opportunity to create buy-in by helping employees see this as part of a larger effort to solve occupancy-related problems they’re familiar with and improve their workplace experience.

Sensors in Real Time Occupancy Management

Employee surveys

A vital component of real-time occupancy management involves direct input from your employees. The needs and desires of your unique employee population determine your demand for space and shape the best ways to configure your facilities.

Through regular employee surveys about how often employees would like to come in, what kinds of space they would need, and who they’d like to work with, you can get a baseline of demand and maintain a feedback loop to learn about what’s working and how your decisions impact your workforce.

It’s also important to consider your employees’ privacy concerns and evaluate how they feel about various aspects of your real-time occupancy management, including the technology you’re using and the visibility employees may have into one another’s schedules. While it’s certainly valuable to enable employees to select the groups of people they’re most effective with, you don’t want that transparency to force individuals into situations that make them uncomfortable.

Robust Space Management

It doesn’t matter how many occupancy-related inputs you can collect if you can’t analyze them in relevant ways. Advanced IWMS software collates your space utilization data and allows you to apply it to your floor plan.

Tango Space enables you to visualize all of this data in real-time, dynamically updating your floor plan to reflect actual space usage. It also facilitates the reservation and hoteling process, so your employees can conveniently reserve the space they need—and receive recommendations based on their past usage—through an intuitive mobile app. This same app lets you push important surveys to your employees’ devices, so the results feed directly into your space management software.

Using machine learning and artificial intelligence, Tango’s IWMS software identifies patterns in your space utilization, helping you explore trends and recognize both pain points and opportunities. Instead of simply collecting and presenting data, Tango Space turns all your occupancy information into actionable insights.

Want to see what real-time occupancy management could do for your organization?

Schedule a demo today