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Space Utilization: Clicker Studies vs AI-driven Software

10.21.2021

At corporations and universities across the country, you can still find facility managers making space utilization decisions manually. That is, they are relying on clipboards and clickers, and often commission third-party reports on space occupancy and utilization. 

Facilities and Operations Managers are driving towards informed, fact-based decisions and looking for research conducted at their site to help determine how to reopen offices, libraries and laboratories after the COVID-19 shut down. There’s a growing realization that spaces should be designed with greater flexibility

This leaves them with an interesting choice: invest in one-time studies (which can cost up to $250k or greater depending on footprint and duration) through clicker-counting, or invest in a larger technology-driven space analysis. Either approach can identify target areas for improving utilization, benefit employee satisfaction and productivity, and result in significant real estate cost savings. 

Here’s a look into the pros and cons of clicker data studies vs technology-driven space analytics to help you decide which approach can help you achieve your goals for utilization or redesign. 

What to expect from clicker studies 

Every third-party clicker partner will work with you to set standards around tracking frequency, observable spaces, duration of study, and expected outcomes. They are ideal for understanding top-level space utilization around how your conference rooms, private offices, or desk spaces are utilized. This may shed light on where you need to increase collaborative spaces, what departments are prime for transitioning to a hot-desking strategy, and the average number of people in a meeting room. 

Studies can surface “signs of life” data, meaning that someone was in conference room A on floor 3 once on Tuesday and never again. They can tell you that, on average, huddle spaces are utilized at X% during core business hours. These are essentially bed checks, telling you that someone was in the space during working business hours. This static snapshot of your conference rooms and office spaces can provide an essential window into how your space is being utilized. 

As with anything, this approach has a few hang-ups. These studies are manual and become quickly outdated. For example, a clicker-study pre-COVID became irrelevant over the last year and a half and will have to be repeated any time policies or employee preferences change. 

Experts in workplace design agree that manual counts lack the precision required to meet the transformational needs of today’s office space. Workplace Design Magazine points to meeting fatigue encouraging workers to be on the move on average every 45 minutes, meaning that once an hour checks can miss key utilization insights. Bringing people into the equation will leave room for some human error as well as disrupting the normal flow of your employee’s workday. The clicker-counter becomes the elephant in the room. This can cause your employees to skew your data, feeling bound to their seats. Not to mention there’s a seasonality to office attendance that might cause clicker study data to be time-bound and require repeat studies.

Finally, because the data isn’t connected to other types of data, for example meeting room scheduling tools, what you have is occupancy counts without context. That context becomes a driver in terms of what to change in order to maximize your space.

What to expect from AI-driven space analytics software 

There are a number of automated ways to source people-counting data. From sensors to Wi-Fi, video, and RFID cards, the greater number of channels through which you can capture traffic flow within your space, the more accurate your picture becomes. This data, when surfaced through dashboards, and alerts can bring your space analytics into sharp focus without disrupting the productivity of your workers.  

With a continual source of data, you can look for patterns over weeks, months, and even years. If your redesign team can see shifts from historical data, they can design with transformational flexibility in mind, building in elements like movable partitions, retracting roofs, or shady trees. 

Moreover, data can be overlaid on a spatial representation of your space, giving you a bird’s eye view of your campus. This view allows you to better visualize and create a full picture of how your building, floor, or office space is being used over time. It can help you understand bottlenecks or popular egresses. Are people congregating in the hall between meetings waiting for a room to become available? How can you transform that popular loitering space to better serve employee needs? A full-venue view can uncover these areas for optimization. 

This means making predictions is simpler—the guesswork is taken out with predictive modeling. Machine learning is able to become more effective the more data it has, and it can help predict things like whether a new lease will be utilized to capacity

AI Software Cost: Less than most clicker-studies 

Some occupancy counting and space analytics software require extensive sensor installations while others don’t. The initial deployment of software-only solutions to capture real-time data and make predictions (without big CapEx investments) often are far lower cost than clicker studies commissioned from third parties for a large campus or venue space. For example, one large corporation exploring space utilization solutions this year reported spending $250k twice annually for 2-week clicker studies—paying more for 4-weeks of data than the annual license fee for software! 

AI software-only solutions can be optimized regularly, allowing you to adjust the granularity of data you’re capturing. The continuous nature of data capture and storage provides for historical analysis which feeds occupancy predictions. Overwhelmingly they surface more actionable, accurate data than a manual occupancy counting service. 

Regardless of how you source data to modernize your workspace, designing a complex, flexible workspace that inspires and engages your employees is the key to unlocking productivity, maximizing real estate ROI and planning for the future of your business.

Look for a vendor like Armored Things whose powerful machine learning platform surfaces anonymized data that your team can take action upon right away. Because we ingest data from a multitude of existing sources and connect to scheduling applications and other business driving tools, we’re able to give you a contextualized, comprehensive view of your space 365 days a year. Your venue, campus, or office is likely already set up to surface data around its usage and Armored Things can help you tap into these existing sources without heavy financial and implementation burdens.