Edited transcript of the OpenSensors Webinar on “Evidence Based Design of Workspaces”
Our panelist are: * Arjun Kaicker of Zaha Hadid Architects. An architect and workplace consultant with more than 2 decades of experience in workplace design, he brings a real passion to his work and wants to create workspaces that directly respond to the needs and aspirations of his clients. * Yodit Stanton, CEO of OpenSensors. She has spent the last 15 years as a data engineer building large scale data processing and machine learning technologies in financial trading systems. She has been working with IoT data for the last 3 years. * Sean Murphy, CEO of SKMurphy, Inc. is an advisor to OpenSensors. Acting here as the “voice of the audience:” he poses questions to the panel as webinar attendees type them in.
Workspace Design Decisions Can Now Be Informed by Evidence from Sensors
Yodit Stanton: Thank you everyone. Welcome. This webinar covers data driven design or evidence based design. Essentially what that means is using data from sensors and other things around enabling people to understand how space is being used and also the design of the space. A lot of the trends we’re seeing, is in especially in building occupiers, remotely monitoring the buildings. There are also starting to use these data sets to inform the design and inform the future planning.
Arjun Kaicker: At Zaha Hadid Architects we’re really interested in the potential of sensors. Architects and designers have always struggled to really understand client needs in office projects. An office design is the opposite of a residential design. In a house there is a family with a few people who are the primary users of the building. In a office there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of users with very diverse behaviors and contradictory requirements.
Sensors provide a really powerful tool for understanding workplace needs as we never have really been able to before. We no longer need to rely on assumptions and preconceptions of how people work, or on benchmarking, or—even worse—copying what other successful companies do with bean bags and foosball. Sensors really give us the opportunity to take the guess work out, take the assumptions out and to understand the real needs of workplace users.
Yodit Stanton: At OpenSensors we see three drivers for work space design:
- The recognition that desks are underutilized in many offices is driving new forms of desk assignment where real estate costs are high. In London for example, the average cost of a desk is somewhere between 13K to 15K a year. It’s leading managers to ask, “How many desks do I really need? If I have 100 employees in my group do I really need 100 desks or will 80 be sufficient?”
- Matching the right mix of meeting room—and break room—configuration options with employee needs for collaboration and communication: how many phone booths do I need? How many small rooms and how many large rooms. Are break rooms being utilized? Meeting rooms are often a point of contention and while booking systems have helped there are still challenges with someone reserving a block of time and then not using it.
- The environmental aspects of the workplace, in particular noise and air quality. Both impact employee wellness and productivity. I think the Well Building standard (see https://www.wellcertified.com/system/files/WELL%20Building%20Standard_v1%20with%20January%202017%20addenda%20.pdf ) is one example of this. Another is managers concerned about noise levels in desk areas, what’s appropriate for the tasks they are performing?
Arjun Kaicker: Great points Yodit. Workplaces are expensive so we don’t want to waste space. We don’t want meeting rooms that are being underutilized or amenity spaces that are not as popular as people predicted. But the flip side is that we often find some spaces over utilized in the workplace so that they are not available when needed. In that case the problem isn’t about waste, it’s about people not being able to do their job properly. When people can’t communicate and collaborate properly because they can’t find a meeting room at the right time, it can have a real effect on business efficiency and productivity.
Sean Murphy: Arjun, I have a question for you. Yodit presented figures that it was 13 to 15 thousand pounds a year per desk in downtown London. I would think that the energy cost at most a 10% of that—perhaps even less than 1%—yet we’ve spent more time trying to instrument the energy usage than we have the space usage. Why do you think the space usage monitoring has lagged?
Arjun Kaicker: That’s a fantastic point. With energy a few sensors can capture the total use, while you may need more to get a finer grained understanding. I think space usage monitoring has lagged because you need many more sensors to be able to monitor it as carefully. Building management systems have enabled both the monitoring and adjustment of energy usage. Traditional reservation systems have not incorporated data from meeting room occupancy sensors so they have only been able to allocate but not measure actual usage. Swipe card systems that monitor every entrance and exit can be used to assess total occupancy but give very little detail on usage. I think that occupancy monitoring and utilization assessment are going to catch up with energy monitoring.
Real Goal Is to Enable Employees to be More Productive
Arjun Kaicker: We cannot lose sight of the fact that it’s the people and not the real estate or the energy that are asset, and the most expensive cost. Depending upon their skills and experience the total cost of the people is probably seven to ten times that of the space they occupy and energy they consume in an office setting. If a better designed workplace can increase productivity by five or six percent that’s equivalent to half of your real estate cost and, if you can, from getting a better designed place, from getting a better designed workspace. If you can increase productivity, the efficiency by 12 to 15% you have paid for your whole building—that’s where the real savings can come.
Space utilization studies
Sean Murphy: Currently how are folks monitoring the workplace? And how can using sensors make it more effective?
Arjun Kaicker: Today you can look at the swipe card data to see how many people are occupying a building but that doesn’t really tell you anything once they’ve gone into the building.
You can interview people or hand out surveys to ask them what they see working well and not so well. But this can end up being very subjective. As a workplace consultant, the only technique that I’ve used that did more than scratch the surface is a space utilization study.
For a space utilization study we start at one end of the building and walk to the other end, floor by floor. We walk to as many desks as we can within an hour and then turn around and start again. For eight hours we mark down what’s happening at the desk or what’s happening in the meeting room.
With one person in a week you can get good coverage on about a hundred desks: you have a snap shot for the week of how those desks were used. This is a very very useful complement to interviews and satisfaction surveys for an organization. The problem is that it’s just one week and it would only be for that second you walked past the desk during the hour. So, if someone happened to get up to use the restroom for five minutes while you were walking by you would mark the desk unoccupied for an hour. It’s a time consuming expensive method: to cover 1,000 desks you would need a least five people full time for a week.
Sensors Are Replacing Manual Site Surveys
Arjun Kaicker: Sensors have massively cut the cost of carrying out this kind of data gathering and the amount of time it takes. We have also found that although space utilization studies were very useful to give a kind of general picture, they weren’t that persuasive because people knew were only done over a week or they knew that actually, it was only a snapshot within a second within that hour. And, I think that sometimes managers and executives were a bit suspicious of them: it’s much easier to buy into requirements based on the very rigorous data from sensors.
Sensors Are Not a Substitute for Conversation
Sean Murphy: How do you tell if people have tried but failed to find the certain type of space? I needed a phone booth but I couldn’t find it? I needed a five person conference room and ended up in one that holds 20.
Arjun Kaicker: You cannot tell directly but you can be pretty sure it’s happening if we see 100% utilization of a particular resource. Normally 80% to 90% is about the limit before problems start to emerge.
Yodit Stanton: Sensors are complementary to satisfaction surveys and in-depth conversations. I would never say, even as a sensor company, that they can replace the in-depth conversations that you need to have with employees.
Arjun Kaicker: To give an example of that, a few years ago I had in client on the West coast of Canada. We did a space utilization survey—sensors were not available then—and we did a questionnaire. In the questionnaire people kept on saying ‘I can never find a meeting room when I need it’ but the space utilization study found that meeting rooms were used 30% of the time. We drilled in to see if there were any particular meetings rooms which had high use—maybe these were the ones people were complaining about—but answer was no, the highest meeting room usage was 60% of the time.
We dug in some more and did some in depth interviews and discovered that they were doing a lot of audio and video conferences with colleagues on the East Coast of Canada. There’s a four hour time difference and now it became obvious. For half the day in the window where their workday overlapped the over coast, these meeting rooms were booked solid. We were able to start designing to meet this need once were were able to reconcile the utilization data with the survey data and insights gleaned from in depth conversation.
How Are Sensors Changing the Architect’s Role?
Yodit Stanton: How do you see the role of architects changing? My understanding is that architects used to design the space and deliver the project and then move on to their next project. Now with these sensor networks actively collecting occupancy data and other systems generating live data, how do you see the role of architects changing with this ongoing stream of information about how the client is taking advantage of the design?
Arjun Kaicker: Sensors can make a really big difference to the way that architects design space because now we’re designing more for flexibility, for adaptability in the future. We’re not just looking at designing in day one. Sensors provide data that allows us to move beyond rules of thumb and best practice, to they enable us to understand client needs in much more depth so that can we design something that is better for them. Sensors are holding us more accountable to clients for the impact and usefulness of our designs
How OpenSensors Helps Evolution of Smarter Buildings
Yodit Stanton: We are a technology company, most of our customers come to us with a project and ask for help selecting the right sensors, managing their installation and integrating the data streams they emit with existing tools and information systems.
We really do three things:
- Find and evaluate sensors for inclusion in sensor networks. We are always looking for new options that provide better battery life, better range, higher reliability, new protocols, or otherwise extend the set of capabilities of what we can offer. This often involves establishing working relationships that allow us to be knowledgeable but vendor agnostic.
- Build and manage sensor networks that collect data and turn it into useful information. We spend a lot of time establishing partnerships with other firms that allow us to make proposals that include the installation and ongoing maintenance of not only software and cloud stack but on-site the hardware—primarily sensors and gateways.
- Integrate with existing systems to provide them with useful information: this is what people really care about. Can you extend the capabilities of tools and systems I am already using to take advantage of this sensor network that has been installed? We believe that the trend toward smarter buildings will continue to be evolutionary, so we strive to interoperate with and extend the uses for tools that our clients are already comfortable with for reserving meeting rooms, managing workplace and facilities CAD data, and doing utilization surveys.
Different Sensor Types Zaha Hadid Uses To Understand Client Needs
Arjun Kaicker: We want to get a complete picture of the client’s needs and rely on the following types of sensors to get a full picture:
- Desk utilization sensors are typically sampling every ten minutes to see if someone is seated at a desk. You can sample more frequently but there is a trade-off between the sampling rate and battery life and most of these are battery powered.
- Meeting room counting sensors detect not only if the room is occupied but give a count of attendees. This allows us to determine if a room that can hold twenty has someone making a private phone call or is being used for a small meeting with three people.
- Environmental sensors include noise, C02, and lighting here. It’s interesting to cross reference this with other occupancy data we have. Footfall sensors can measure use of hallways, circulation areas, and breakout spaces.
We can combine different data to answer the following kinds of questions:
- In a hot desk environment where do people prefer to sit? Which desks typically fill up first and are more frequently occupied?
- Which hallways are most travelled? How does this affect noise levels?
- Which breakrooms are most occupied at different times of day?
- If we have informal breakout areas do the ones that are more isolated tend to get used or the ones near circulation areas? The answers to these questions can vary from company to company and even between departments in the same company. It can be useful to instrument the current space when planning a new one as patterns of space usage intend to continue.
Making Sense of Sensor Data
Yodit Stanton: So far we have been discussing the various types of data that a sensor network can collect on workspace utilization and environment. Let’s talk about two ways that we use most commonly to visualize it to make sense of it. In space: typically as an overlay on CAFM or workspace CAD drawings. This can be used to answer the question “I want to see what’s going on right now.” In time: what are the trends of usage over the course the day or days of the week or weeks of the month? When is peak usage—and perhaps what does this look like on the seating chart? One thing we like to do is incorporate historical data from manual surveys so that we can potentially uncover trends that started before sensors were installed. Data from reservation systems can be incorporated to forecast near term needs and from swipe card systems to cross check total building occupancy.
Practical Cost Considerations For Managing a Sensor Network
Yodit Stanton: I wanted to cover some practical cost considerations for installing and managing a sensor network. You have to look at the following costs:
- On-site sensor hardware is the most obvious cost and we often try and related everything to a “cost per sensor” or “cost per sensor per month/year” but this is really only a fraction of the total cost.
- On-site network devices like gateways used to access an Internet Service Provider network.
- Cloud services include off-site hardware; we say “in the cloud” but it’s in an off-site data center somewhere.
- On-site installation costs includes labor for site preparation surveys, labor to install the sensors and gateways, and labor to troubleshoot any bringup problems and deliver an operational network on time and with a minimum of disruption to regular work.
- On-site maintenance costs includes labor to replace failed sensors as well as to replace failed batteries.
- Network management costs includes software and services to monitor and troubleshoot any problems end to end in an operational sensor network.
There are a number of trade-offs but the one key point I want to make is that manual maintenance, changing batteries, and installing sensors can be significantly more than the raw cost of the sensor hardware.
- Selecting “cheaper sensors” that are less reliable and/or less power efficient and therefore have shorter battery life may be much more expensive when analyzed from a total cost of ownership perspective than a more expensive sensor with higher operational life and longer battery life.
- There are trade-offs between sampling frequency for events (e.g. how often do you check if a desk is occupied?) and we normally sample once every ten minutes so that most batteries last 18 months to two years.
- We have spent a lot of time developing specialized software just for installation management and ongoing network management to make on-site labor hours as productive and error free as possible—and to know that sensor 659 under desk A7 is not working and to understand why.
- We also spent a lot of time working with manufacturers and doing our own testing and proof of concept designs to verify specifications. We want to offer our clients sensor networks at the lowest total costs per sensor and that means spending a lot of time testing the actual sensors and sourcing the most reliable low power hardware we can.
Need a well-defined strategy for communication about use of sensors
Arjun Kaicker: It’s really important to clearly explain the reasons behind a workplace project. Normally, it’s something simple like to create a better place for people to work. But if you don’t explain it to them, people often assume that it’s about cost cutting, or it’s about downsizing space. It’s about taking stuff away from them as opposed to enhancing the space for them.
In the absence of clear communication, people assume it’s about them. If you don’t explain that the goal is to understand the needs so you can create better spaces some people might assume that you’re trying to check their work performance.
Showing people the results of the data and not just explaining what you’re doing makes a big difference. With sensors, you don’t just have to provide the information to them at the end of the survey. You can actually do it in real time, so people can maybe click on the dashboard and see what findings of the sensors are in real time. And that can often make people feel much more comfortable with the process.
Sean Murphy: We had one question on that, around sensors only painting part of in picture in large organizations where the issues of utilization are more compelling. Know who is using the space is also important, which would seem to work counter to the privacy concerns. But I can understand where architects might want to know which groups or which category of persons.
Arjun Kaicker: Yeah, there definitely is a balance to be struck there. What we do is to have open discussions about with the client about what level of anonymity they want to have. So, there can be complete anonymity or there can be, for instance, anonymity that doesn’t tell you who the individual is. That might provide data on what group they’re in, what team or department they’re in, or might, alternatively, give information on what level they are within the organization. If they’re executive, or if they’re general staff, et cetera. Obviously, if you start to cross reference that a bit too much, then if there’s only one executive in a particular team, that starts to kind of ruin the anonymity.
But generally, you’d be able to process results that anonymous enough and, really, so no one is ever seeing who the individuals are. I think there’s one for the caveats of that, which is that we do … There’s an obvious issue with if there isn’t hot desking, if people have the permanent desk, then you’ll be able to pretty quickly work out, even if it’s anonymous … If that is the only person who ever sits there, then you kind of know how much time they’re spending at their desk. And I think that was always an issue with the space utilization studies. That people have to be comfortable with that level of visibility of what they’re doing.
Sean Murphy: What I’ve learned today is that architects are using data to fuel design and are moving from rough rules of thumb to incorporate more granular data in the way that they’re making decisions. OpenSensors aggregate and help you understand the data. They are moving to enable this information to be fed into their existing tools and existing systems, the CAFM systems, the reservations systems at co-working facilities, systems like that.
Arjun Kaicker: I think that sensors are a great additional tool for architects and designers. I don’t think that they provide all the answers for understanding, using these, but they’re a really powerful part of a tool kit. I think that also just interviews, surveys, workshops with people, really bringing users into the process is still as useful and viable as it’s always been. I also think that what sensors can start to do is that they can give us more broad data. When we start looking at a series of buildings and how a sense of data might be different in different buildings, and that might be particularly useful for developers even more so than specific building occupiers and so it can really start to help us to understand how to design spaces better for maybe multiple tenants.
Yodit Stanton: As a technologist, it’s very interesting seeing the kind of maturation of the sensor installs and actually enabling people that are not very technical to work with these types of stats. I’m fascinated what kind of impacts these trends are gonna make. Both in terms of the relationship between the levels and occupiers and how the trends that kind of started with, or are starting with, replacing a lot of the manual subways will drive a lot of automation, a lot of a kind of automation with in terms of meeting rooms and so forth and seeing what kind of change it drives in terms of the designer of these spaces. Because, you know, I think everyone wants to, or at least is trying to go towards multi-use, multi-purpose buildings that, you know, we still have some ways to go with that.