Of all building spaces, the quality of washrooms typically generates the most complaints, and can even lead to departures from tenants who expect a comfortable restroom experience. While toilets may not always be the glamorous side of facilities management, the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) is fundamentally transforming the way washroom services are managed.

Through the use of sensors that can track bathroom usage, occupancy and the stock levels of restroom amenities, facilities managers now have access to huge amounts of data that can be used to improve the both the washroom experience and workplace productivity.
The challenge for many facilities managers, however, is to learn about the capabilities and the limitations of these new technologies, and deciding how, when, and where to implement IoT strategies. Ultimately organisations will need to leverage IoT to solve real business issues, and washroom related benefits could often appear in a variety of unexpected areas.

Improving cleaning efficiencies

Activities that are involved in managing and cleaning workplace washrooms may initially seem straightforward, but there are a number of opportunities that can be used to streamline the washroom process.
The typical “signed sheets” on the toilet wall that indicate when they were last cleaned is a relatively routine approach to maintenance, but the process often ignores actual usage. This sort of manual monitoring is most likely to be conducted periodically, and the data analysed after the event in order establish new working routines.
By using inexpensive and relatively easy to install sensors that track usage and footfall, facilities managers can dynamically act upon usage data in real time. If no one has used the toilets, then the cleaning schedule can be adjusted accordingly; but if traffic suddenly increases, cleaning operatives can be alerted that action is needed.
Additional sensors can also be used to check the use of toilet paper and soap dispensers, with routine checks also scaled back until supplies are actually needed. The use of IoT empowers facilities managers to make evidence based decisions in order to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction, while reducing the regularity of customer or staff complaints.
It might not seem important to those not directly involved, but in low margin services where much of the cost is associated with people, the improvements in efficiency and productivity can make a significant difference.

Increasing user adoption

If new washroom technologies are to be accepted, its important that employee satisfaction and user adoption plays a key role in the wider application and deployment of IoT devices. Any employee resistance can put even the best strategies on ice before they’ve even started.
A great example of an organisation that increased the acceptance of its IoT strategy by listening to its staff is Futurice, a Finnish company specialising in digital innovation. After moving into a new open plan office, the company discovered that the new amenities were causing some logistical problems, particularly with the men’s bathrooms being frequently occupied.
In an attempt to improve the working life of their employees (while also improving productivity) they created an app that used a live data overlaid on a virtual map to inform employees which bathrooms were being used, and which ones were available.
Using “red” for occupied, and “green” for vacant, sensors tracked the usage of the toilets and displayed real-time data to their staff. The challenge was that the idea was welcomed by some employees, but rejected by others. With more sensors, data and heat maps, the use of IoT devices raised understandable employee concerns around privacy and data.
Feedback from a number of staff highlighted that the bathroom was often viewed as a private space, and staff didn’t want spaceship-looking sensors tracking their every move. The simple solution was to ensure that every staff member had a choice whether they wanted to use the app or not. Staff could opt in, or out at any time, and there was absolutely no obligation for anyone to sign up.
Having a flexible approach and incorporating employee feedback throughout the process can often enable new technology to be tested, without causing any dissonance among those who raised concerns.
Ultimately, with such new technology, the Internet of Things will require a lot of trial and error, testing different processes to see what works and what doesn’t, while managing any concerns to help with user adoption and acceptance.

Smart toilets

For decades, electronic toilets have enjoyed an enduring presence in countries like Japan, South Korea and China. Met with a certain amount of skepticism in western culture, the rise of the “smart toilet” has taken some time to catch on, but there are signs that attitudes are changing.
Fitted with automatic flushing, warm seats, jets of water and even Bluetooth - apparently listening to the radio is a pre-requisite for an enjoyable toilet experience - the four main benefits for having a High-Tec toilet have been touted as cleanliness, comfort, convenience and conservation.
Jets of water strategically aimed at certain parts of the body, apparently achieving a more thorough clean, which is particularly beneficial for older adults, younger children or facilities managers in industries that cater to these audiences.
The welcomed warmth of a heated toilet seat in winter has its obvious appeal, and there are now even apps and sensors that can automatically lift the seat for you upon your arrival at the proverbial throne. Combined with ultraviolet lights that can break down bacteria, these high-tech toilets provide additional level of convenience and hygiene – and with smart toilets using 35% less water per flush than your typical cistern, there’s the environmental consideration and cost saving from excessive water usage.
As a fan gently blows warm air over your buttocks, this very modern and paper free spa ritual comes to an end, and beside improving the efficiency of maintaining building washrooms, it can also wow first-time visitors and longtime tenants alike.
With an increasing number of IoT devices entering the marketing, the Internet of Things is gaining ground at an astonishing rate. Research shows that there will be an estimated 8.4 billion connected IoT devices by the end of 2017. With staff or tenants demanding consistently high standards in the restroom, there’s a unique opportunity to leverage the technology in order to provide a comfortable environment where every guest feels valued - and maybe a little bewildered.