Kelby Green, CTO, VergeSense says with people returning to the office, we need to up our sensor game.

In a rapid timeframe, we’ve moved from a world in which going to a physical office five days a week was the default to one in which it no longer is. The switch to remote work opened up a lot of possibilities – and for many companies, it means that employees now need to be enticed back to the office. A recent survey conducted by VergeSense found that 84% of enterprises planned to have employees return to the physical office in some capacity, 74% of which said they would be doing a hybrid approach.

The hybrid approach looks different for every company. But for most, it means that at least some portion of the workforce will be working in the physical office for at least some portion of the time.

The onus is now on employers to bring employees back to the office by providing the right mix of amenities and work environment. Understanding what this mix entails can be a challenge, however. Sensor technology offers new opportunities for employers looking to navigate these changes, but it’s important to understand what sensor technology can and can’t do, and how to make the best use of it.

Prediction: Mission impossible?

In many situations, business owners want to use sensor data to essentially predict how people will behave or use space. They take the data they have and build out a new conference room or lounge or other such space – and then it turns out the employees don’t use it. That can lead to many questions, like: Is the furniture uncomfortable? How did we get this so wrong?

But the truth is that it’s practically impossible to truly predict how people will behave and act even when you have previous data to look at. Unpredictability is an inherent fact of human nature. So, a key tip to helping succeed with your use of sensors is to understand that there’s no silver bullet, no absolute predictable truth. You can’t just add some sensors to your office and call it a day – there’s more to it.

Use sensor data as a baseline

That brings us to the second point: while it’s not possible to predict human behavior with 100% accuracy (because people are inherently unpredictable), sensor data can and should be used as a baseline to help shape your future endeavors. Having a high-quality foundational data set to help you understand how space has historically been used is extremely important. Observation of behaviors is ultimately more important than predicting behaviors.

Sensors can be used to detect occupancy at a very granular level. With some solutions, that includes the ability to detect “passive occupancy” or “signs of life.” That might include other aspects that indicate human presence, such as bags or coats or laptops being left in a room. This helps infer how space is being used, and this information can then be used to design new spaces. Real-time occupancy data helps better allocate workspaces to each business group based on the group’s in-office habits – and that helps also repurpose under-used space.

At the end of the day, an accurate data feed about actual human behaviors combined with rapid iteration of the office configuration can make up for the inherent unpredictability of employees.

It’s all about flexibility

The physical office can become an integral tool to increase productivity and encourage cross-functional collaboration. At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that things are going to be changing rapidly, and your organization needs to be able to flow and adapt with these changes. We’re no longer in an era where a company can do one major renovation every few years - instead, there needs to be rapid iteration in which small changes are made in a continuous fashion.

Once you’ve reached a point where employee retention is in the dumps and no one wants to work for your company because of its boring and horrible office space, it’s too late. Change must be continuous.

And with flexibility comes agility. When we talk about agile workspaces, it’s easy to assume that merely means no one has an assigned seat anymore. But it’s more than that. You can use the occupancy data you collect from sensors to help employees find the right space at the right time – for instance, displaying occupancy data in real time through the office to help employees visualize an office space and know which workstations are available and which are occupied.

Great workspaces are a modern necessity

The move to remote work due to the pandemic has a huge impact on the world of work – although these changes had already begun. If you want people to come into the office willingly, you need to make a great office space for them and include amenities. We’ve seen this with many Silicon Valley tech companies. Google, among many others, gained a reputation for providing gourmet lunches and free snacks in addition to services like on-site laundry, fitness classes and more. These on-site pluses are even more important now. Companies must understand that employee experience/employee happiness is as equally (if not more) important a metric as productivity or return on investment. Employees have shown this year that they aren’t shy about voting with their feet, but you have a better chance of keeping those feet firmly planted in your office space by using sensor data for all its worth.