- Employers have unique ways of telling how full their offices are.
- There's more interest now that more bosses are calling their workers back to the office.
- From office-style radar to measuring the flavored water, the metrics are revealing.
As more companies push return-to-office mandates, there are under-the-radar ways they're measuring how many people are showing up — and how workers are using the space.
Some employers are turning to sensors that can tell when a person is sitting at a desk or using a conference room.
An Australian company called XY Sense — think X and Y coordinates on a grid — operates in more than a dozen countries selling sensors that employers or building operators can use to detect, in real time, where people are on an office floor.
Knowing which parts of an office are getting used, and which parts might be sitting empty, can help employers figure out how to better meet their employees' needs, cofounder and CEO Alex Birch told Insider.
Questions about how employees are using offices could become more pressing now that summer is fading in the US and some employers are stepping up efforts to get workers back to their cubicles.
Birch said XY Sense devices, often mounted on the ceiling of a workspace, don't identify individuals. The scanner only determines when people are in the office and can render them as dots on a screen.
"It's not about Big Brother or monitoring anyone. It's actually about understanding exactly how space is used," he said.
Birch said one client used XY Sense data to uncover a mismatch between the number of people in meetings and the size of the rooms. Most of the customer's meetings involved a half dozen workers or fewer. Yet most of the conference rooms were set up to accommodate groups of 10 to 20. The employer was able to divide some of the spaces so they could better meet demand, Birch said.
"Often there's demand for meeting rooms and you walk around and they're all booked, but none of them are occupied. So if you have sensors, you're able to release the no-shows and put those back into the pool," he said.
What the office water cooler actually reveals
There are other ways that measuring office occupancy can help understand employee habits.
Bevi, the maker of machines that pump out some 40,000 variations of flavored water — still and sparkling — and other beverages, logs how often thirsty workers slide up to its machines.
Sean Grundy, Bevi cofounder, told Insider numbers show that more workers are coming into the office before 9 a.m. or staying past 5 p.m. than prior to the pandemic. In 2019, 21% of flavored-water hounds in East Coast offices were using Bevi machines early or late in the day. By this year, that had ticked up to 26%.
"I think what we're seeing is if people have to come in for two days, they're either coming in early and staying late to beat the commute, or they're just taking advantage of being away from home and having more ability to focus on just cranking out more hours," Grundy said.
Bevi's data also suggests — little surprise — that suburban offices are a tad busier than downtown spaces. Use of Bevi machines in suburban spots is back up to about 64% of the level they saw before the pandemic, while urban areas are closer to 58%.
The difference between RTO mandates and knowing how office space is being used
These metrics aren't the same as tracking badge swipes.
Insider previously reported that tech firms like Google, Amazon, X, and Meta are requiring employees to work from the office more often. On Wall Street, investment banks like Goldman Sachs and hedge funds like Citadel have been at the forefront of efforts to get employees working in the same place again.
Of course, workers who said they achieved a healthier work-life balance through hybrid or remote work are fighting back, with many quitting over RTO mandates. An April survey of 700 financial-services professionals at the manager level and above, conducted by Deloitte, found that of those who work at home at least part of the week, two-thirds said they would leave their role if they were mandated to go to the office five days a week.
Grundy said Bevi, a Boston startup, asks workers to be in the office at least twice a week and that many choose to show up three or more days. He said part of the reason some people are coming in more often could be because, at two days, it doesn't seem like the company is asking too much.
"I remember, in college, thinking if I got assigned 20 pages of reading, I would read all 20. But I got assigned to 200 pages of reading, I'd read zero," he said. "If the task is manageable, you're more inclined to just, like, jump into it. That could be the case that people feel that we generally trust them and then it becomes a little more voluntary."