IoT Case Study: How Are Office Hot Desks Used?

Co-working spaces like WeWork use hot desks to optimize the office - this Thingsquare-based project uses IoT to optimize the hot desks

Adam Dunkels, Thingsquare CEOBy Adam Dunkels, Thingsquare CEO – September 16, 2019

Co-working spaces like WeWork use hot desks – where individuals can rent a single desk space without having to rent an entire office – to make more money from their office space, but the dynamic nature of hot desks makes it difficult to understand their usage. This leads both to potential over-spending on the amount of space allocated to hot desks, and potential loss of revenue.

In this project we track hot desk utilization with passive IR sensors under each desk that detect the presence of a person at that desk. This lets the office manager get instantaneous feedback on office planning decisions and the resulting hot desk utilization.

The system does not use cameras, so there is no identifying information the people at the desks and therefore does not compromise the privacy of the tenants.

For most organizations, office space is the second largest cost after salaries
source

The Problem

Hot desks and activity-based offices are a reaction to the fact that office space is the second largest cost for organizations (source) and research suggests that only some 50% of that office space is utilized at any given time (source).

Hot desks allow tenants to rent a single desk space, without having to rent a full office. This lets tenants to pay less and for office space providers to increase the value of their office space with better utilization.

But the dynamic nature of hot desks make the utilization difficult to measure, which leads to missed revenue for office space providers and potential underutilization of the existing space. And lack of utilization data makes it difficult to even estimate the scale of the problem. Existing solutions that allow utilization estimates include booking systems that require tenants to pre-book their desk for the day, and logging systems where tenants need to log in with their phones to the desk that they are using. This reduces the flexibility and customers feel that this reduces the dynamic upsides of a hot desk approach, and many also feel that this reduces the feeling of privacy.

The Solution

We designed an IoT solution with a set of wireless sensors that are attached underneath each desk, a web site that collects the data from the sensors, and a smartphone app that is used during installation by the office manager.

The office provider installs the sensors at the appropriate locations and notes the location of each installed sensor with the installation app. The installation app uses Bluetooth beacons to ensure that the location of each sensor is correctly attributed on a map of the floor plan.

Each sensor detects the presence of a person at the desk at which it is installed and periodically reports this data, so that the presence data is available in real-time.

Wireless IoT hot desk occupancy sensor

Desk occupancy sensor

Wireless IoT hot desk occupancy sensor attached to a desk

A sensor is attached underneath each desk

Wireless IoT hot desk occupancy sensor installed at a desk in an office setting

A desk occupancy sensor, installed

The data from the sensors are collected and analyzed to detect daily and weekly trends, and is displayed on top of the map of the office floor plan.

The hot desk utilization data is presented in real-time, and is updated as the real-time sensor data is collected, which on average happens every 10 minutes. The office space manager can also drill down into the usage patterns of each individual place, as well as different areas of the office.

Technical Details

Software The Thingsquare IoT stack
Custom web frontend
Custom installation app
Custom backend application
Hardware Custom sensor hardware
Wireless IoT technology 868 / 915 MHz IPv6 / 6lowpan mesh
Network size 100+ sensors in each deployment
Wireless range 100+ meters
Deployment type Indoor
Device power Battery powered

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