Occupancy Analytics and COVID-19 Response: Using Wireless Networks to Help Workplace Management Teams
As offices begin to reopen, businesses are concerned about the safety and productivity of employees returning to the workplace. With so much on the line, companies want to make the most of their workspaces—and they need to get it right.
Personal protective equipment, or PPE, may be top of mind when it comes to safety during the pandemic, but data plays a key role as well. What if you could know the exact occupancy and density of your office space at any given time? What if you could identify underutilized—and overutilized—areas and make modifications to accommodate physical distancing guidelines? What if you could cut costs while also making workspaces more comfortable and flexible for returning workers? You can do all this with Basking.io.
An Eye to Flexibility and Sustainability
Basking is a workplace occupancy analytics solution based on WiFi and artificial intelligence (AI). We use wireless networks as a data source for occupancy insights, and then use our machine-learning algorithms to turn this technical information into real estate metrics. Those metrics might include the number of people in an office at any given time, the occupancy density, or even something as granular as where different teams tend to congregate.
At Basking, our passion is improving the sustainability of office buildings, and having the right analytics is the first step. Even pre-COVID, the average office utilization was only 60%. That is a concerning statistic, considering that real estate is typically one of the largest costs for businesses. That is a huge waste of resources, but it also presents an opportunity to repurpose existing workspaces, making them more sustainable and better utilized. Those empty workstations could turn into a bigger lounge, more meeting rooms, or a designated quiet space.
Our customers are corporate real estate teams who typically work with companies that have more than 3,000 employees. Companies with such a large office footprint are motivated to optimize every square foot. With our help, they often discover that they don’t have to rent additional space to attain the amenities they want.
Since COVID spread across the globe, the commercial real estate sector is under immense pressure to adapt to accelerating changes in the market—from the rise of remote working to rapidly-evolving new policies. Executives are looking to real estate management teams for cost savings from a reduced office footprint while also delivering flexibility for their employees. With the right occupancy data, we can make that a reality.
A Global Problem Needs a Global Network
Basking began as an internet of things (IoT) platform, but we then shifted to focus solely on occupancy analytics. The occupancy analytics we provide are based on WiFi as the main source of data. That means we need a partner with strong, reliable networks from which we can extract the data to analyze.
A key requirement for a partner was the ability to operate on a global scale. We’re headquartered in Berlin, but our clients stretch across Europe, North America, South America, the Middle East, and Australia. Servicing such a geographically diverse client base would be impossible without a partner like Cisco.
We initially found the company through the Cisco DevNet community. Cisco DevNet is a program for developers who want to build on top of Cisco technologies. The exposure to resources and product roadmaps led us right to Cisco Meraki and Cisco DNA Spaces.
With these solutions, we use network access points as sensors. Whenever an employee or visitor is in an office, their devices indicate their presence through their connection to access points. This signal allows us to identify their location, and we then take that data and enrich it further with our machine learning algorithms to transform it into analytics.
We can also complement this network-as-a-sensor approach with traditional sensors. By combining Cisco Meraki alongside video-based or passive infrared (PIR) sensors, we can provide more granularity to our customers. Unfortunately, installing additional sensors can be labour-intensive and time-consuming. That’s why the ROI is much higher with WiFi-based analytics, especially at scale.
Not only does WiFi offer significant cost savings, but it allows for quick deployment. Onboarding new buildings with Cisco Meraki and Cisco DNA Spaces takes from 15 minutes to a couple of hours to connect multiple buildings at once, globally. After onboarding, activating the Basking application is as simple as downloading the app and tapping two buttons. From there, it’s easy to customize your settings.
Portfolio-level Dashboard available with Basking.io
Our recent deployment with Colliers International is a great example. It took less than eight weeks to connect 65 of Colliers’ offices worldwide—but the actual technical rollout took only a few hours.
Adapting Analytics for a New World of Work
The speed at which we can move became a major asset at a time when every company was sprinting to adapt to the new and ever-changing guidelines surrounding COVID. Partly due to our partnership with Cisco, Basking quickly delivered new safety and regulatory compliance features on our platform.
One of our most important new features is office-to-office mobility tracking. As a short-term response to COVID, it means that if someone were to test positive, a company could quickly know which offices that person visited. It’s critical to note that this feature is anonymized; by design, we aren't able to identify the individual behind the statistics. Still, it’s a very powerful tool that allows companies to be proactive with cleaning and employee notifications. In the long term, companies could use this feature to address hoteling needs and ways to make mobile employees comfortable and productive, no matter where they are.
We also developed another feature that can track physical distancing compliance by examining room density. Knowing the number of people present in a room and the square footage of the space, we can calculate the density and compare that to physical distancing guidelines from the World Health Organization. A lot of companies are currently adjusting the capacity of their offices by designating active and inactive workstations to create distance between employees. Data can inform an organization’s plan on ways to do this properly.
That leads into the third feature, which provides recommendations on bringing people back into the office. With this feature, we calculate the number of people who can be in the workplace safely by looking at capacity limitations and current visiting patterns.
Safety and productivity go hand in hand. Creating safe spaces for everyone is the only way to make people feel good about going back to the office. All of this is based on the initial metrics we derive from the WiFi, as well as metadata. It’s all done seamlessly, and is very low-touch for our customers.
Helping Companies Thrive Post-COVID
Apart from safety, all this data helps our clients recruit and retain high-quality employees. Attracting top talent and getting the best work out of them is a consistent concern for leading global employers. To do that, you need to understand the patterns behind the way employees come to the office and how they use the space.
When corporate real estate executives talk with business leaders about their office needs, typically business leaders ask for more: more workstations, more amenities, more overall space. The thing is, more of everything isn’t always the answer. But having that data through a visual representation, like a heatmap, can help make a clear-cut case for what’s necessary.
Example of Heatmap analytics available with Basking.io
A heatmap is a powerful communication tool in that regard, but we couldn’t produce it without understanding the data, and we wouldn’t have access to the data without such a powerful underlying network from Cisco. We came to Cisco for the scale but we stayed for the support. They’ve been incredibly supportive and open in their sharing of product roadmaps and their attitude toward customer development, and that makes us feel confident about our future and our ability to create more exciting features.
Cisco gave Basking the global reach to seamlessly provide analytics for our customers. Because of our partnerships with Cisco and distributors, we can deliver high-quality services quickly. That allows everyone to work in the safest, most efficient way possible, and provide comfortable, intuitive workspaces for employees around the world.