Using Sensors to Improve Office Space—Without Looking Like Big Brother

In George Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother—the leader of Orwell’s fictional totalitarian state—is always watching.
In real-world 2019, with sensors seemingly everywhere—including the workplace—it can be hard for employees to ignore the possibility that they could be subjected to a similar level of surveillance.
Unlike in 1984, however, where the purpose of the technology actually was to keep tabs on Big Brother’s citizens, many of the sensors available today have a much more benign intent: to help business owners address environmental and space management concerns. Consider the faucets in public bathrooms that turn on automatically—no need to touch the germy surface. A sensor knows someone is there when a hand is waved nearby—but learns nothing else about the person.
When sensors have a clearly defined, limited purpose, and don’t uncover much in the way of personal information, they are significantly less frightening. And, used responsibly, more and more are being given roles in developing and improving commercial real estate.
Long associated with energy efficiency—such as automatically turning lights on and off when someone enters or leaves a room—sensor technology has now advanced to the point that it can be used to increase other aspects of facility efficiency, tracking the location of employees within an office building and assessing employee work patterns.
But as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility. Given the advanced sensor technology now available, how can a company use such technology to enhance its office space without making employees feel like they are under a microscope?
(1) Determine if the benefits of the technology outweigh potential employee concerns.
Within the realm of workplace sensors, some seem to offer clear-cut benefits without implicating privacy issues. Automated lighting and temperature controls, for example, can significantly reduce company energy usage and facilities costs. These sensors also have only minimal effect on employee privacy—they identify that someone is in the room, but not who that person is. At a time when it is increasingly important that companies adopt environmentally friendly measures, sensors like these, which also offer long-term cost-saving benefits, seem to quite clearly add value.
Occupancy sensors, which monitor employees’ use of individual desks or conference rooms, can also be valuable, allowing businesses to obtain accurate, real-time space utilization data to determine how to best use office space—or even how to schedule cleaning and maintenance. These sensors are sometimes used temporarily—perhaps in advance of an office renovation to help decide how to restructure the space—but often on a more permanent basis, to track unassigned open desks and conference rooms so unoccupied spaces can be used by others for increased collaboration and productivity.
As with lighting and temperature sensors, occupancy sensors do not identify an individual, but instead recognize when someone—anyone—is occupying the space. It can feel more personal, though, in situations where one employee is the primary worker to use a particular desk: that person may feel that the company is monitoring him or her specifically. In such a case, the employer will need to determine if the benefits of occupancy monitoring outweigh the concerns raised by the employee.
(2) Don’t be any more invasive than you have to be.
There’s a wide variety of technology out there—from the environmental and occupancy sensors discussed above to employee ID badges that track “everything from movements and interactions around the office, to lengths of conversations, and even voice tone.” If your company is simply trying to make efficient use of desk space, it does not also need to monitor employee voice tone. Don’t add all the monitoring bells and whistles unless you have a clear and demonstrable need for them.
(3) For goodness sake, be transparent. Talk to your employees.
You might think this last—and most important—tip would go without saying, but like many other issues that employers worry might be controversial, the use of employee monitoring is often not dealt with head-on.
Just a few years ago, workplace sensors made the news when a UK newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, added a sensor device to the desks of journalists without disclosing the addition. The device, which picks up on motion and body heat, was intended to track when employees were at their desks—allegedly to identify times of low usage to help reduce energy costs. The journalists noticed the devices and broke the story (after which, The Telegraph removed the sensors almost immediately).
Could all the controversy have been avoided if Daily Telegraph management had simply sat down with the journalists in advance and told them what was being planned?
Maybe. Maybe the journalists, if they’d had the situation respectfully explained in reasonable terms, would have decided there were some benefits to the sensors and agreed to their installation.
Or maybe not. They might instead have suggested a compromise involving a less intrusive technology, or a shorter duration of monitoring time. Or perhaps they would have objected strenuously right from the start. It may have been an uncomfortable conversation, but it wouldn’t have broken employee trust. Or made headlines.
Sending out a memo trying to explain your intent after you’ve already taken action—as the Telegraph did—is never as effective as discussing the matter with employees ahead of time. If your company decides to use sensors to increase office efficiency, be transparent about it. Talk to your employees. Explain what information is being gathered, why the information is important, and how the employees can benefit. Talk with them about how the data will be used. As much as possible, come to an agreement on terms.
Because unlike Big Brother, the only thing your company is actually watching is its bottom line.

Written by: Kim Pierson
for CoeoSpace

Increasing Meeting Efficiency Through Better Use of Conference Space

With U.S. companies losing billions of dollars each year to poorly organized meetings, it has become increasingly obvious that changes must be made to increase efficiency. While there is no one perfect path to a well-run meeting, there are a number of techniques—such as setting a clear agenda and limiting the number of invitees—that can help. One factor that is often overlooked is how meeting spaces can be used and adapted to improve productivity.

As WorkSocial stressed in their recent piece on meeting room design:

Well-designed meeting rooms can put attendees at ease, encourage conversation, and induce creativity. Mindful meeting room design can drastically improve effectiveness of your meetings.

Many office buildings have several distinct and different conference areas available, and choosing the right one involves an analysis of not only the number of expected attendees, but also the purpose of the meeting, and how your team likes to work. A room that seems perfect for six colleagues preparing for a presentation may not function nearly as well for a large board meeting, and vice versa.

Consider whether your team prefers standing meetings to sitting. Do they like to work on their own, or as a part of a group? Do they do their best work when they have access to a white board, or might they need equipment to teleconference with employees working remotely? All these factors should be considered in order to optimize a meeting’s efficiency. But the size of the room, because it’s the hardest to change, is probably the place to start.

(1) DETERMINING THE BEST SIZE FOR YOUR MEETING SPACE

Today’s offices generally offer some combination of the following types of conference spaces:

  • Privacy Booths: these relative newcomers to the world of meeting spaces are intended for telephone calls or one-on-one discussions. An upgrade on the cubicle, Perfect for sharing sensitive information in otherwise open floor plans, privacy booths are frequently modular and thus can be added easily and inexpensively. Many companies have multiple privacy booths so they can be used as the need arises, without advance scheduling.

  • Huddle Rooms: typically intended for 4-8 people, huddle rooms are particularly useful for brainstorming and collaboration, as well as small corporate training sessions. They commonly contain advanced videoconferencing capabilities that can help to create a connected culture. As with privacy booths, most companies do not allow huddle rooms to be reserved, allowing more flexibility in use. They are particularly valuable in offices with open floor plans, as they allow small groups to meet without noise or other distractions.
  • Small Meeting Rooms: more than simply convenient rooms for internal meetings, these can also serve as places to work on longer-term projects too substantial to be packed up at the end of the day. Rooms this size must generally be reserved ahead of time.

  • Large Conference Rooms: these are the rooms where a company pulls out all the stops. The largest meeting space, with top-of-the-line furnishings, state of the art equipment, and a lovely view, a large conference room is used primarily for meetings with clients or others who executives are trying to impress.
  • Outdoor Spaces: while less traditional than indoor conference rooms, outdoor meeting spaces are becoming increasingly common. Outdoor workspace can promote relaxation, as well as encouraging creativity and innovation. Patios, gazebos, and rooftop gardens have all become popular conference spots—with some companies even holding walking meetings along nearby trails.

(2) OTHER MEETING ROOM CONSIDERATIONS

(A) Décor & Lighting: While not every company has access to an outdoor conference space, all can enjoy the benefit of the great outdoors by bringing certain aspects inside. Placing live plants in meeting rooms can have a relaxing impact, as can maximizing natural light. Indeed, lighting often plays a significant role in creating the desired meeting atmosphere, with softer lights making a space appear welcoming, and (dimmable) brighter lights generally preferred for more formal meeting rooms.

(B) Color: Like lighting, color can impact the effectiveness of a meeting space. Cool colors such as green and blue have long been touted as helping with productivity and relaxation, whereas warm colors like yellow are said to aid in creativity. Materials such as wood also add warmth, while glass is associated with a more modern feel. Some businesses like to use company colors or incorporate a logo into the meeting room décor in order to better tie the space to the company.

(C) Sound: Meeting room acoustics should also be considered. Not only should these rooms be soundproofed—keeping meeting contents private and outside noise from becoming a distraction—but set up to provide optimal communication within the space, without echoing or other distortion. This is particularly important when microphones or speakers are in use.

(D) Furniture & Technology: Comfortable office furniture is an essential part of an effective conference room, but other amenities may not be. While it is important that a company have access to features such as projectors, screens, white boards, microphones, speakers, refreshments—even height-adjustable tables for those standing meetings—not every meeting room must provide each and every one of these. Meeting rooms can be customized according to the ways in which they are most likely to be used—and modified when necessary.

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Does your office’s conference space meet the needs of your team? Please comment below.

Written By; Kim Pierson
for CoeoSpace

Employee Retention: It All Starts with Onboarding

New employees bring with them energy and innovative ideas.

And they’d better. Because they’re darned expensive.

Engaging new employees requires an investment of both time and money. Advertising for and interviewing candidates is costly. As is training new hires and helping them grow into highly productive members of your team.

And that presumes you can even find qualified individuals. With the current low unemployment rate (3.6%, as of May 2019), when an employee leaves, 60% of employers spend more than 12 weeks looking for a replacement.

So when you do find that diamond in the rough, the last thing you want is for him or her to be one of the 50% of new hires who leave their position within the first 18 months.

Your onboarding program can help. Onboarding, or “organizational socialization,” is the means by which new employees acquire the necessary skills and behavior to become the qualified workers that every employer hopes to find—and keep.

But it’s more than that. Onboarding, if done right, is the new employee’s first experience with your company’s core values and culture. It’s your first chance to make him or her feel appreciated. And if your company attracted the new hire through an Employee Value Proposition, this is your first opportunity to deliver on it. The onboarding process sets the tone for all that is to follow.

But too often, it’s not made a priority. As Dana Bice, Managing Director for Found Advisors, put it,

How we plan and prepare for new employees is key to our very own success. Nevertheless, we often let it fall by the wayside. As a result, we may lose valuable employees. Our turnover rate skyrockets and employee engagement plummets.

Losing employees brings with it more than just the financial hit of trying to replace them. As Bice mentions, the loss can affect morale. Exiting employees can take key clients with them. And, from a real estate perspective, the empty spaces left behind can skew the remaining office space.

Onboarding experiences can and should be as unique as the companies designing them. They can be formal—providing new hires with a fixed sequence of activities—or informal—in which new employees learn about their jobs with a less explicit organizational plan. Regardless, there are certain best practices for making the onboarding experience a positive one:

(1) DO make new hires feel welcome. Show that you’re pleased to see them, take them to lunch, and/or leave a small gift at their workspace.

(2) DO use onboarding to inspire new hires and introduce them to the company core values and culture.

(3) DON’T ignore the onboarding process. Throwing your new employees right into the workday without introducing them to the people with whom they’ll be working makes the transition hard on everyone, as does expecting the new hires to just learn as they go, without proper training.

(4) DON’T make the onboarding experience an everlasting parade of employee handbooks and paperwork. Obviously, legal and policy documents will need to be signed, and handbooks distributed, but break up the day by introducing the new employees to their supervisors and coworkers, and providing a tour of the office.

According to a Gallup poll, only 12% of employees strongly agree that their organization does a great job onboarding new employees. Do yourself a favor: put yourself in that top 12%. It’ll boost everything from employee morale to your company bottom line.

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What do you remember about your most recent onboarding experience? Would you say your company did a “great job”?

Written by: Kim Pierson
for CoeoSpace