Office sensors provide new functionalities in the workplace

According to researchers at the Pew Research Center, most Americans recently polled said that they would accept more stringent workplace monitoring and surveillance if it led to more security. That is just as well, since US employers are well-within their rights to monitor extensively. According to the National Workrights Institute president Lewis Maltby, “(they) can do any kind of monitoring they want in the workplace that doesn’t involve the bathroom.”

In most cases, the goal of workplace sensors is to improve energy efficiency. By tracking when people start work and use conference rooms, managers can determine when to run heating, lighting, and other resources. This can provide big energy savings and make the building more efficient. They can also help planners design how to maximize office space by detecting how employees move through an office. The sensors can be very compact – as small as a dime and fitted to desks, rooms and doors.

Enlightened, a Sunnyvale, CA. Based company, has a range of offerings in this regard. They have 75 Fortune 500 customers, and 275 other large companies using their services. They provide an IoT platform that allows energy savings of up to 70% according to their data. Their sensors can measure employee presence and then tailor the facility operation to meet needs while reducing energy consumption as much as possible. The CEO of the company, Joe Costello, said of the sensors: “Most people, when they walk into buildings, don’t even notice them.”

Gensler is a US integrated architecture, design, planning and consulting firm and they having been using enlightened sensors in their new building in New York. The building has 1,000 sensors installed, and the company saves a quarter of their energy bill as a result. This will pay off the investment in 5 years, making it worth it long-term. It cost $200 thousand to fit the sensors to the 120,000 sq ft facility. “It’s kind of cozy when you’re working late at night to be in a pod of light,” said Luke Rondel, a thirty-one year old design strategist at the company.

There is another aspect to workplace sensors that has generated some controversy – employee monitoring. In 2016 the UK National Union of Journalists lodged complaint with the management of The Telegraph newspaper because of their fitting of desks and offices with “OccupEye” sensors, which the management said were intended to reduce energy expenditure on empty cubicles. But given that the sensors detected if a worker was at their desk, the staff felt it was infringing on their privacy. The sensors were removed because of these complaints.

Enlightened also enables an employee monitoring functionality, measuring things such as the length of time since an employee last spoke to another employee. This is possible since some of their sensors are fitted to ID badges. They are also trialling functionality that allows managers to track a specific employee with a locationing app, which is only being used at their own company at the moment where they believe it will allow efficiency increases by eliminating the need for emails and notifications to locate an employee. According to Costello, “you get used to it.” They hope it will make arranging meetings more efficient.

Bonston Consulting Group also have tried location sensors for workers. One employee, Ross Love, described it as “a little bit invasive”. But it is claimed by the company, who are trialing the system of mics arnd sensonrs made by Humanyze in their Manhattan office, that the data will only be used to analyze interaction anonymously and not be used to judge employees.

More information can be found at: Bloomberg.

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