By Noam Livnat
Chief Product & Innovation Officer

Of the many sensors enabled by the office Internet of Things (IoT), few deliver the capabilities of desk sensors. Though they’re a simple example of on/off (I/O) triggers, desk sensors are practical and versatile additions to any expanding office network. Configured properly, desk sensors play an important part in everything from simple cause-and-effect automations to crucial triggers in mission-critical workflows.

For companies expanding their IoT framework or venturing into office automation for the first time, desk sensors are a practical investment. Here’s a quick overview of desk sensors, how they work, what they’re capable of, and how to leverage them to great effect.

How do desk sensors work?

Desk sensors use a type of technology called a passive infrared (PIR) sensor. This is the same type of sensor used in motion detection equipment. It’s triggered by motion and movement, and activates when there’s a status change.

Most office desk sensors sit discretely atop a desk, with a PIR range of just a few feet. An unoccupied desk is the baseline (O). When someone stands in front of the desk or sits down to work, the sensor triggers a change in status (I). That trigger relays a status change to any integrated systems. A simple example would be changing the desk’s status from “available” to “occupied” in a desk allocation program.

There are also some desk sensors that are pressure-enabled. They can detect when someone sits in a chair or rests their elbows on the desktop, and they trigger the same type of off-to-on response.

Practical applications for desk sensors

While workplace sensors are great for on/off triggers, they’re even more powerful as part of broader automations. Desks sensors, in particular, support complex workflows. Here’s a basic example of the role desk sensors play in workplace automation:

  • Jeff needs a desk. He checks in with Sally, the hot desk manager. Sandy sees a real-time picture of available desks and assigns one to Jeff. When he arrives, he triggers the sensor, which shows the desk as occupied in Sandy’s program. The trigger also notes the average time Jeff stays at the desk and what time he sits down.

In this example, the I/O trigger from the desk starts a domino effect. When the desk becomes occupied, it triggers an algorithm that generates important data about total desk use. Sandy can get the information she needs to manage hot desks at a glance, thanks to the initial desk occupancy trigger.

Now let’s look at desk sensors in a free-assign workplace, without a central check-in point. How does a desk sensor become part of a more dynamic workplace?

  • Fatima wants to meet with Leon and Phoebe for 20 minutes to go over some revisions to a project. She brings up a live office floor plan and sees two open breakout spaces with tables. She messages Leon and Phoebe to meet her at the nearest one. But, after 10 minutes, the group realizes they need to involve Sam and John. Fatima finds an open bench big enough for five, and the original three meet the newcomers in that area.

Here, desk sensors allow employees to make real-time decisions and adjustments. Flexing into and out of these workspaces takes only minutes, because it’s easy to look ahead and see what’s open. Desk sensors bring visibility and certainty to even the most dynamic spaces.

Even assigned spaces benefit from desk sensors. Traditional offices can make use of desk sensors for tasks like wayfinding or employee location. Here’s a look at one more example:

  • ABC corporation has 75 employees spread over six floors. Shelly should be in a meeting on the third floor, but she’s late. Matt, the meeting leader, checks the company directory to see if her desk is occupied. If it is, he can quickly call and remind her about the meeting; if not, he can assume she’s on her way.

Simple conveniences like this are possible through desk sensors. A quick look at active vs. inactive gives someone the information they need about a specific workspace. In the same way Matt can check on Shelly’s desk occupancy to plan for her arrival, the front desk can check to see she’s there to receive a visitor. It’s a simple convenience with major benefits.

Does your workplace need desk sensors?

The broad adaptability of desk sensors makes them applicable in many workplaces. Coworking spaces and offices ruled primarily by hot desks will see immediate benefit from desk sensors. Flexible work environments and agile workplaces also need the instantaneous reports from workplace sensors. Really, any workplace with real-time seat changes and agile desk management benefits from desk sensors out of the gate.

For companies easing into flexible work or an agile floor plan, desk sensors will quickly become essential. Take a proactive approach to understand how they work and realize their capabilities as you develop the infrastructure that’ll eventually support your flexible environment.

Keep reading: What are IoT Sensors?