Indoor occupancy sensing: 3 advantages for owners/operators

Joseph Aamidor, Senior Product Management Consultant and Managing Director of Aamidor Consulting is a BuiltWorlds contributor.

We invite experts and thought leaders to share their knowledge on topics related to innovation in the built environment. Information on each contributor can be found at the bottom of each article. Learn more about our contributor program here.

These days, sensor-driven solutions are very popular within buildings. But some indoor sensors, like the everyday thermostat, have been around for more than 100 years.

In the 1880s, Warren Johnson invented the first thermostat and went on to found one of the largest companies in the building space, Johnson Controls. Since then, temperature sensors have been vital to buildings, but today’s sensors reach far beyond the humble thermostat.

Joseph Aamidor

Specifically, there now are reliable and inexpensive sensors that provide indoor occupancy data and can detail how many people are in and/or how they move within a space. This data is quickly becoming foundational to many aspects of running a building.

A variety of technologies can be used to collect this information and some hardware costs are being rolled into an ongoing data service fee (to provide indoor occupancy sensing as an operational cost, rather than a capital one).

3 advantages indoor occupancy sensing data creates for building owners and operators

1. Higher square footage utilization

Most offices have some underutilized spaces — areas that are designed for a purpose but aren’t used. The trouble is identifying these spaces so that they can be repurposed. It’s too labor intensive to observe offices live, so sensors enable automatic collection of the number of people and the duration of their stays. This information can help plan changes to spaces to make them more useful or to modify spaces to enable more people to use them.

Case in point: A recent CBRE report on space utilization notes that almost 60 percent of all meetings included just two people, while the most common meeting room size accommodated six people. Many of these rooms could be split to increase utilization, but without data, it would be hard to determine where to make changes.

Financial benefit: Higher rent due to higher performing space

By allowing more people to use a space, rents overall can be increased. Tenants looking to reduce overall square footage (which aligns with the trend of less square footage per employee) can do so with a data driven offering. This frees up more space to rent to other tenants, which can increase total rental revenue in a building.

Additionally, buildings that have technology to monitor the number of people might be seen as more technologically advanced buildings, which can drive up rent. Similarly, there is significant data showing the benefits that green buildings have on rents and occupancy. One conclusion is that the spaces are more advanced and modern, in addition to being more environmentally friendly. This drives increased rents for green buildings, and it can do the same for buildings with advanced sensing.


2. Increased responsiveness of the workplace

As offices become more flexible — a move from cubicles to hotel offices and co-working spaces — indoor occupancy data will enable them to be more responsive to individual workers.

For example, indoor occupancy data can be used to direct office workers to spaces that are not only open at a given time but also fit their preferences (level of sound, window/no window, proximity to amenities, etc.). For visitors, these data streams can provide wayfinding to those individuals that you are scheduled to meet with.

Buildings 2.0 Conference
Interested in sensors and building systems? Join us at our Buildings 2.0 conference next month! More info here

On the operator side, service calls can be addressed more systematically — instead of addressing work orders as they come in, they can be addressed based on taking a single trip through an office. Additionally, for hot/cold calls, building engineers may be able to pinpoint specific issues based on the location of the issues being reported.

Financial benefit: Higher rent due to new business models

Occupancy data enables building owners and operators to charge on a pay-per-use model by monitoring actual use of a given space and connecting it to a given person. It also helps the office space support more workers, again raising revenue by enabling more users.


3. Condition-based maintenance

Many maintenance activities are conducted on a scheduled basis: Janitorial services likely occur every day, HVAC service occurs on a regular basis, as do other services like trash pickup. However, in many cases, these services occur based on estimates and a uniform schedule, not an actual need. By tracking the number of people in a space, it is possible to more accurately estimate and plan various maintenance tasks. For example, if a given company has a two-day offsite, data on occupancy could automatically inform the janitorial service that cleaning is not necessary on those days.

Financial benefit: Less expensive operations

Top-line benefits might be more compelling to many owners and operators, but the bottom line cost savings should not be ignored. The average private office spends $8.07 per square foot on operations, and of that total, $1.52 is for cleaning and $2.00 is for repairs and maintenance. Better occupancy data will drive this price down by allowing the building to reduce maintenance activities when they are not necessary.


New data streams about occupant use in buildings provide a number of advantages to all parties. As more buildings collect these data and employ them in daily operations, the list of value propositions is likely to grow. Today, the benefits listed above are reason enough for any commercial building owner or operator to consider indoor occupancy sensing capabilities.

About the Author

Joseph Aamidor is a senior product management and strategy consultant focused on smart buildings, IoT and energy. He helps startups and established industry players understand the smart buildings market, develop competitive strategy, and forge partnerships.