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Smart technology and privacy: addressing your employees’ fears

As we move away from the days of ‘one person one desk’ organisations are increasingly seeking new ways to effectively manage occupancy of desks and meeting rooms via workspace booking systems.

But as employees settle back into offices, some are concerned about the introduction of smart sensors and monitoring systems, with reports of some workplaces being forced to remove them after facing a backlash from those concerned about privacy breaches and a “Big Brother” culture.

While sensor technology will undoubtedly become more commonplace in the offices of the future, introducing it requires careful consideration and clear communication with staff.

This article focuses on desk occupancy sensing, dispels some of the common misconceptions and highlights the benefits they can bring to your staff.


How desk occupancy sensors work

Desk occupancy can be captured using a range of different sensing systems. Some of these may use cameras to monitor rooms, which can lead to privacy concerns, but results can be achieved just as effectively with much less intrusive monitoring.

Many sensors simply capture the space around the desk, monitoring nothing but movement in that defined area.

The least intrusive and easiest to install are passive infrared sensors, which can be stuck discreetly under desks.

They use a passive infrared sensor (PIR) to detect motion. When a person enters the sensor’s field of view, the sensor detects the heat emitted by that person.

These sensors are ideal for companies looking simply to capture occupancy rates of rooms and workspaces, and who don’t require any further information on who is in the room. They detect general movement and ongoing occupancy of a desk, providing information on when someone sits down and how long they are there, but cannot give information on who moved, meaning privacy of colleagues is retained.

The best PIR desk sensors use a narrow-angle sensor with a 180-degree radius so they only pick up people sitting at the desk, not people walking past or at other desks.  Some can also be configured to allow for short absences from the desk, meaning toilet trips or tea breaks won’t register.

The data collected by the sensors can be sent to a local network or to the cloud where it can be fed into desk/room-booking or workspace analytics software.

The benefits of desk sensors for employees

Despite reservations from some, desk sensors can be hugely beneficial for your staff, enabling more efficient use of workspaces and reducing wasted time spent looking for available desks or meeting rooms.

In 2017 a Senion survey discovered that 4 in 10 office workers spend up to 60 minutes every week figuring out the occupancy status in their office.

Real-time data provided by desk sensors means this need no longer be the case. It can be used to:

  • Provide a live view of occupancy and availability of hot desks and meeting rooms, so employees can quickly find available desks, rooms, or workspaces.
  • Automatically check employees into a room or desk booking by detecting their presence, allowing no-show bookings to be released.
  • Build up a reliable picture of which areas of a building are most used and where employees like to congregate – to create better space layouts for employees.
  • And equally, identify any parts of a building that are under-occupied, or even unused – to reconfigure spaces into more usable spaces for employees.

Overcoming ‘big brother’ privacy concerns

If your organisation is considering introducing smart sensors into its workspaces then communication with staff is absolutely key to reduce any concerns. Let them know what you’re implementing, when you will be doing it and why.

Pete Burbidge, Managing Director of Pressac, a leading UK manufacturer of under-desk PIR sensors, said: “If staff understand how the sensors work, exactly what they are measuring and the benefits they can bring it can allay fears and reduce negative feedback.

“Nobody wants to turn up at their desk and unexpectedly find a sensor under it, but PIR sensors like ours have no cameras, can’t identify individual people, and the benefits they can bring far outweigh any initial concerns.”

Other key points to address in discussions with staff include:

  • The sensors are not monitoring people or their productivity; they are assessing office space usage.
  • The sensors track motion, but the data is completely anonymous.
  • PIR desk sensors, like those manufactured by Pressac, are fully compliant with GDPR and other privacy laws keeping employees and employee information safe and anonymous. No images or personal information is stored or transmitted.

New technology, like smart sensors, will undoubtedly transform workplaces over the coming years, providing safer, comfortable, greener places to work.

They provide actionable data and insights which help to optimise office spaces, but also increase employee wellbeing and safety. However, certain elements of the process may cause concern among some if not properly explained.

If occupancy monitoring technology is something you are considering introducing in your organisation, make sure communication with staff is a key part of your plan. Businesses that have employee buy-in from the outset experience a much smoother set-up and reap the benefits much more quickly.


If you would like to find out more about Pressac’s desk occupancy sensors and book a call with one of our team visit


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