How a growing prop-tech company is helping big business save space and deliver new ways of working

Feature Article

A growing workplace technology specialist is making an impact in sensor-based office space management, as firms seek better returns on real estate and new ways of working and retaining staff.

Hundreds of corporations worldwide have introduced Abintra’s WiseNet system to monitor and manage the use of desks, meeting rooms and other office spaces.

The patented system, two years in the making, relies on industry-leading sensors that detect if anyone is occupying a desk or a seat in a meeting room. The Wisenet software then delivers a real-time visual display of space usage floor by floor. Crucially, it gathers statistics over time that can be used to make space saving decisions such as implementing desk sharing, how many desks are required and rationalisation of office space. This in turn creates opportunities to introduce new ways of working with wellbeing spaces, such as break out and cafe areas.

Once a desk sharing system has been implemented, the system delivers information on communal screens so that employees can locate free desks, meeting rooms and other spaces.

Meanwhile, for managers, it allows for ongoing review of space usage and for dealing with that trickiest of tasks, managing use and abuse of meeting rooms. It displays information about how many people, if any, are in a meeting room against booking information for a better understanding of space requirement.

Abintra says Wisenet sets the standard in space utilisation systems. Unlike competing solutions, it doesn’t rely on employees to log on to a computer, upload an app to a phone or carry a sensor around with them to sense that someone is using a space. Methods like these have obvious drawbacks because they fall down if the employee accidentally or on purposes fails to use them. They also raise the spectre of employers spying on employees whereas the Wisenet sensors effectively record that someone is in a space without reporting on what he or she is doing or his or her identity.

Wisenet also scores against systems using off-the-shelf sensors, because its purpose-built devices are more precise and more discreet because they can be mounted underneath and at the back of a desk rather than close to the edge. That precision is important because it enables monitoring of other kinds of spaces than desks, notably individual meeting room seats. Wisenet says other systems can’t match its reliability in those areas and often amazed how companies get talked out of this most important requirement.

Tony Booty, director at Abintra, says: “Most organisations know they could reuse some space, probably a lot of it, but fear staff won’t understand how that can happen without them being cramped together. We can help. Instead of corporate real estate managers being seen as the enemy by building users, we give you a way to prove what will best support the requirement. Once people understand the statistics, they will understand the solution, which can be a better environment with a variety of spaces, better suited to the changing world of work.”

Wisenet maintains that any organisation can benefit from reviewing its space utilisation, but the company is typically called in when a corporation is going through a reorganisation, restructure or merger, or when it is considering moving offices.

“Once you have the data, you might discover you do not need to move to bigger premises, after all, but if you do, you will have a much better understanding of how much space you need in the new location,” says Tony Booty.

Banks, insurance companies and local authorities are among those who have used Wisenet to inform decisions about real estate, sometimes making huge savings in space usage and associated costs. Another significant benefit that Abintra points to is staff retention and reduced HR costs, by allowing customers to reconfigure floors for agile working with collaborative spaces and even coffee shops.

When the system was used to reconfigure one floor of an insurance company’s building, it opened the door to staff welcoming a move to new offices where they knew all floors would be configured that way.

There are other uses for the data, including risk management, providing information on how much space would be needed if an operation has to relocate because of an emergency such as a flood. It can be used to plan efficient security routes and to reduce energy costs and carbon footprint by managing heating and air conditioning based on utilisation. The sensors record temperature as well as occupancy.

Perhaps the feature that resonates most loudly with customers is accurate meeting room scheduling. Unlike button systems or paper trails, the system reports on how many people, if any, are in a meeting room at any time without those people being required to do anything. One customer discovered a senior executive was routinely using a large meeting room as an annex to his office. Another found that staff were regularly booking pricey hotel meeting rooms in Belgravia when, contrary to what their Intranet was telling them, there was meeting space free in the office.

Break Down Silo Mentality or Miss Out on Smart Buildings and Agile Working – Abintra Warns

Corporations must break down the silo mentality of their teams to unlock the potential of agile working.

That’s the verdict of international flexible workplace specialist Abintra, which pioneered workplace utilisation technology more than a decade ago with its WiseNet system, and which has advised more than 100 corporations worldwide to monitor office usage and redesign workspaces.

The consultancy warns that unless firms take a business-wide approach, they will fail to implement flexible working properly and will miss out on the advent of smart buildings.

David Maddison, Abintra’s Head of Sales EMEA, said: “Firms need to take a holistic approach to reorganising the way they work. It shouldn’t be just the preserve of the real estate or FM team. It needs to be communicated across the whole business. HR should be fully involved to help to create an improved environment. Other departments, such as IT, have important roles to play. Management should be driving change towards corporate objectives, such as improved efficiency and better recruitment and retention. To make it happen, they need to do more than delegate it to a single team, they need to bring teams together on an enterprise-wide mission.”

Mr Maddison said advances in smart buildings added new emphasis to the need for a well-rounded approach to workplace design. “We now have the technology not only to enable flexible working but also to monitor and control the environment down to the individual desk level. As smart buildings gain traction, it’s crucial that teams work together to reap the rewards, looking beyond energy savings and towards creating a better, more productive work environment, one that contributes to employees’ health and wellbeing.”

Referring to the Vischer* three-level comfort model of wellbeing at work, he said: “By monitoring the office environment and how and when it is being used, we can create adaptable workplaces that address all users’ needs, from physical comfort and wellbeing to how the environment supports them to do their job effectively.”

Abintra reports an increasing number of enquiries from customers wanting to overhaul their working environments as employee wellbeing rises up the corporate agenda.

“Recruitment and retention are massive priorities for major corporations, and this is leading to more and more of them reviewing their working environments,” said Mr Maddison.

Abintra points out that involving the workforce in the process is a crucial step to making it work. It is important to convey respect to the worker, one of the linchpins of theory put forward by people-centred-design researcher Professor Jeremy Myerson.

It is important because so-called knowledge workers, the kind that typically populate the offices of major corporations, have a strong sense of control. There is a risk of threatening that sense by failing to involve them or, on the contrary, offering too much choice, which can be alarming for some people.

Mr Maddison said: “Also under the banner of conveying respect to the worker is silent messaging, the cues that an office environment gives to the people who work in it. That speaks much louder about an employer than any mission statement. Ideally, it should provide a sense of community.”

The second linchpin is that office environments should support the work that needs to be done and provide an environment that allows workers to refresh themselves mentally.

There is no doubt that corporations have space to play with. A recently-published Abintra report reveals that large office-based firms with 250 or more employees in England and Wales are together spending more than £10 billion on under-used Grade A office space.

Mr Maddison concluded: “This all relates to organisations valuing their number one asset, their people, and leveraging their second biggest overhead, their workplace, to develop environments that address these key factors.”

*Three levels of workplace comfort

  1. Physical comfort or basic habitability. Most modern workplaces already meet this level.
  2. Functional comfort supports employees to better perform their work, including lighting, temperature, layout, ambience and ergonomics. Few workplaces get beyond this level.
  3. Psychological comfort is concerned with more than just the employee’s performance. It relates to factors such as territory, privacy, trust, control, attachment and belonging. This is the key to improving mental wellbeing through workplace design.

Time for businesses to future proof office real estate

News Release

Businesses should be investing in future-proofing their office real estate for smart building technology or pay the price down the line, warns a leading specialist.

Workspace flexibility specialist Abintra says it is seeing a drift among some corporations towards buying low-cost, basic sensors to monitor desk usage when they could be investing in technology with greater capabilities and future-proofing systems for advances in smart buildings and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Big businesses are increasingly using sensors to look at how their office real estate is being used and to make decisions about downsizing or moving, but Abintra warns that some inferior tech is not only not up to the job but will be unable to plug into the smart buildings of the future. The firm forecasts that corporations which don’t think about the big picture will be faced with a stark choice: Scrap their existing space management technology and reinvest with all the associated disruption to operations or lose out to competitors on the technological advantages in HR and facilities management, such as improved productivity and energy efficiency.

Tony Booty, a Director of Abintra, which has offices in London, UK, and Boston, USA, said: “We would like to see more businesses asking themselves: Where are we going with this investment? Our advice would be don’t just buy the cheapest sensor that you think can do the job. Look to future proof yourself for IoT and smart building technology.”

He explained: “For most office-based businesses, real estate is their second biggest overhead after their people, so naturally they are looking at space utilisation. When it comes to technology to monitor usage, management should be thinking about going one better. Advanced space utilisation monitors and the software behind them naturally lend themselves to connecting with the building’s environmental systems. Bringing together data and automated control of lighting, air quality and heating in one system joins up the information.”

Rather than mount a myriad of sensors and wiring throughout an office space, Abintra has developed a wireless sensor with multiple capabilities. It can be mounted in ceiling voids or flush with ceiling, and can even serve as a warning light outside a meeting room to show that it is occupied or not, based on information it gets from sensors inside the room.

“It is about using a component that has to be there and leveraging it,” said Mr Booty, who sees a future where desks, chairs and office components each have their own IP address and can identify themselves for digital building design and management, systems that will be increasingly powerful as buildings become ever smarter.

“There is an environmental benefit as well as a cost one,” said Mr Booty. “I think many facilities managers probably think there aren’t any further savings to be made in lighting after the introduction of LED, but there are, and although they are relatively small, taken together with all of the other environmental efficiencies that are possible, it is definitely worth investigating.”

Mr Booty is a passionate advocate for thinking beyond using the technology for cost savings, however: “Understanding how space is used and being able to monitor and respond to that in real-time creates a better working environment, not just in the traditional desk space, but by freeing up space to create new kinds of individual and collaborative areas, essential for flexible working and flexible environments. That creates a competitive advantage when it comes to recruitment and retention, and since people are an even larger overhead than real estate, it is an opportunity that businesses should be seizing.”

Introducing Surveys – the fast way to monitor your office space

How long will it take you to find out if you’re using your office space efficiently? Book one of our fast-track workplace surveys, and you’ll have all the answers at your fingertips in just four weeks.

Booking your four-week study is a great first step towards introducing flexible working, or making your existing office layouts even more agile.

Our experts will install the sensors and link them wirelessly to our award-winning software. We’ll help you to interpret the data, and we’ll advise on new workplace strategies in line with your corporate goals.

You’ll discover for the first time exactly how much desk space is going to waste and how often those over-booked meeting rooms are really being used. The results are often genuinely astonishing with typical potential space savings of 30 per cent or even more.

Knowing how your office real estate is actually used can translate into lower overheads, and it also gives you the option to create more agile working environments, which are valued by employees. So realigning your workspace can make a real contribution to recruitment and retention.

Abintra always involves your people from the outset in any space utilisation study so that they come along on the journey. It’s all about making better spaces that support you and your people to deliver your business objectives.

The starting point is knowing where you are now, and that’s where Abintra adds value. Unlike some alternative methods, our Wisenet system delivers ultra-accurate data that can be studied over any timeframe and filtered by any parameter of your choice. Most importantly, with Wisenet, you know you can rely on the results.

Join major corporations worldwide who trust Abintra’s industry-leading expertise for unrivalled insight into office real estate. Our pioneering WiseNet sensor technology sets the industry benchmark for utilisation and environmental monitoring.

To find out more, please use the Contact link below.

You’re just four weeks away from finding how you’re using your office real estate and how to adapt for the future.

Corporations must harness prop tech to adapt to new ways of work – special report

The world of work will continue to evolve in 2019, and corporations must find ways to adapt their office real estate.

That is the conclusion of a new piece of research by flexible workplace specialist Abintra.

Published in a new report, the study highlights how corporations are struggling to manage office space efficiently as the trend towards agile and flexible working gathers momentum.

The publication explores methods for responding through office space utilisation techniques, including the latest tech options.

Compiled by Abintra’s US office, Emerging Trends in Occupancy Management asks if an emerging class of technology services could be the solution to the challenges faced by real estate professionals in 2019.

It sets out the pros and cons of different approaches to managing office space usage, including people counting and tracking, either manually or via WiFi, swipe cards and PIR sensor systems.

Previous research by Abintra has revealed that corporations waste as much as 30 per cent of office space and two thirds of meeting room space because of under-utilisation. The value of that prime real estate in the UK alone tops £10 billion.

The report shows that companies are learning to get by with fewer people and need less space per worker as they allow more employees to work flexible hours, or work at home.

It quotes one US real estate professional as saying: “There is this constant trend to get more productivity and efficiency out of office space.”

But while real estate managers would like to rationalise the amount of space being used, or to make better use of it, the report points out that doing so is increasingly complex. Density can vary significantly due to various factors such as the nature of work, building codes and even the use of space as a reward for more senior personnel.

Calculating how much space is actually required depends on working out how space is currently used and how it could be adapted. Unfortunately, as the report shows, many of the techniques used for measuring usage don’t deliver reliable information. It points out the flaws in many traditional measurement tools and in many of the technological solutions on the market.

Abintra’s own system relies on passive infrared sensors mounted to the underside of work surfaces to detect presence linked to powerful software. It is non-invasive compared with systems that rely on individual workers’ phones or computers to track them. The resulting data is displayed on a live floor plan, available on an app, web browser or a display in the office entrance area so that employees can see where there are available desks within a building and choose where to work.

The report draws on Abintra’s experience in the field as well as publicly-available information from Avison Young, CBRE, Urban Land Institute, Balfour Management Consultants, Harvard Business Review, Deloitte and MarketWatch.

The report is available to download at https://abintra-consulting.co.uk/emerging-trends-in-occupancy-management/

The new rules of meeting room etiquette

Meeting and conference rooms are an essential part of the fabric of most modern office spaces. With many businesses choosing to go open plan, they provide professional spaces for meeting with clients, collaboration hubs for co-workers and private work spaces when confidentiality is required.

As with any shared space, rules need to be applied, but while much common sense meeting room etiquette remains relevant, new technology is set to see some of the old rubrics thrown out.

The first rule today should be for managers to really understand what their people need, says workspace flexibility specialist Abintra. Fortunately, that is something that can now be assessed with precision thanks to advances in office space monitoring technology.

“Workspace consultants can monitor how their clients’ meetings rooms are being used, and use the data to improve flexibility,” says Tony Booty, a director of Abintra, which has worked with more than 100 corporations worldwide to help them make best use of corporate real estate. “For example, we might discover that instead of using space for rigid meeting rooms, we can introduce new kinds of collaborative space and breakout areas.”

“We might discover that instead of using space for rigid meeting rooms, we can introduce new kinds of collaborative space and breakout areas”

So in a world where the nature of work and meetings is changing, what are the new rules of meeting room etiquette?

Do be spontaneous

The old rules would have said think carefully about whether you should have a meeting at all and then to make sure you book well in advance.

Ducking into a vacant room for an impromptu catch-up with colleagues would be a big no-no.

But there’s a reason we’ve all been guilty of doing this… and that’s because we like working this way.  It makes sense to get together to discuss a pressing issue when it is, indeed pressing. Or to take the opportunity of everyone being in the office at the same time to catch up on a project.

Instead of rigid and bureaucratic systems, modern offices should support the way employees need to work.  Flexibility and collaboration can be promoted by creating plenty of bookable and casual meeting spaces whose availability can be monitored by colleagues in real time via screens and Apps.

Don’t waste time managing complex booking systems

How many times have you been in trouble for not booking a meeting room properly;   or irritated colleagues for not cancelling it on the system when you no longer need it? Or trawled through days of bookings to find a clear spot only to find the room sits empty because others haven’t cancelled their bookings?

New sensor based technologies does away with the need for complex booking systems that require lots of proactive intervention from employees by auto detecting when meetings start and finish and releasing space if it is not being used.

If you need a room and one is free, you can just take it. The aim should be to allow people work how they want rather than imposing rules that impede productivity and, frankly, cause high levels of frustration.

And, if you are to avoid awkward encounters with colleagues in the corridor, there are some old rules that still apply:

Do stick to a schedule

Make sure you allow enough time for your meeting, including setting up and clearing away, and make sure it doesn’t overrun.  Even if you don’t cover everything on your agenda, vacate the room as soon as your time slot comes to an end. Your colleagues won’t appreciate having to wait to start their meeting, especially if it’s with important clients.

Don’t hover at the door

“I found myself over-running by barely a minute before someone was knocking on the door. He muttered “I waited” in ill-concealed frustration as we left.  It didn’t look good in front of my clients!”

If you’re early to your meeting, avoid hovering at the door.  It will put unfair pressure on your colleagues to finish up before time and you should also be mindful that the meeting could be confidential.  If the meeting is running late, be careful to bring this to your colleagues’ attention whilst remaining professional and courteous.

Do tidy up

As your mother might say, ‘leave it as you would wish to find it’! Clear away coffee cups, water glasses and food, put away any equipment you have used and be sure to wipe clean whiteboards or clear flipcharts of your notes, plans or doodles!

Don’t use a meeting room as your own private office

“I wouldn’t want to mention any names, but certain, senior members of staff just use our meeting rooms like their private office.”

If you work in an open plan environment, booking a meeting room can be a great way to get some quiet space to make a phone call, write a confidential report or focus on getting a piece of work completed.  But blocking out rooms for days on end and turning the room into your own personal office is a no-no as it removes an important resource for your colleagues.

If you need an office, speak to your boss about getting the right space to meet your needs.