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- Office utilization data, collected with movement-tracking sensors, has been a key part of forward-thinking office operators’ arsenals.
- Office sensor platform VergeSense announced Thursday that it has raised $9 million in a round led by Allegion Ventures, the corporate venture fund of security and access control company Allegion.
- The round also included investments from proptech heavy-hitters MetaProp and JLL Spark.
- VergeSense has also unveiled new tools that are designed to monitor the safety of offices on the eve of the slow return back to office work.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Before the pandemic, density was king.
Companies looking to minimize their real estate spend, while maximizing the amount of employees they can bring into the office, packed employees closely together. Cost savings were part of the equation, but another major goal was promoting the sorts of accidental interactions that can connect people from different parts of the business.
Companies used sensors to track movement and occupancy in the workplace, and used the data to better understand how their space was being used, and how it could change to become more efficient financially while also providing a fertile bed for corporate culture. This data was essential to WeWork’s design, and helped them to become the exemplar of densification driving a more collaborative corporate culture.
Now, coronavirus has turned the densification trend on its head, but that building utilization data is more essential than ever as a tool to reshape offices for the era of social distancing.
“The market has been pulled forward by five years,” Dan Ryan, CEO and co-founder of building sensor startup VergeSense, told Business Insider.
The three-year-old company has raised a $9 million venture fund, VergeSense announced Thursday. The fund was led by Allegion Ventures, the corporate venture fund of$8.7 billion access control company Allegion,and included investments from real estate tech heavy-hitters MetaProp and JLL Spark, as well as Y Combinator, Pathbreaker Ventures and West Ventures.
VergeSense raised a funding round at the end of 2019 from Bolt for an unspecified size, and had raised $1.62 million in two seed rounds in 2018 and 2017. The company works with 40 Fortune 1000 companies, such as Shell, Cisco, and BP, and its sensors cover 20 million square feet in 250 office buildings across 15 companies.
This new funding will help VergeSense to scale its business to meet the onslaught of new demand as corporations look to make their offices safe. The company is projecting sales to increase 500% quarter over quarter.
Ryan walked Business Insider through the ways that the company has added new social-distancing and coronavirus specific features to its software platform, with the addition of everything from a social distancing score to a smart cleaning planner that provides real-time cleaning plans based on office utilization.
See the presentation on its new technology below.
While COVID-19 has totally flipped the demands of office operators, sensor technology may be more important than ever.
One of the main goals of VergeSense’s software before the pandemic, Ryan said, was facilitating “workplace collisions,” the formal term for informal interactions around the water cooler of in the hallway.
“Everything has been turned upside,” Ryan said.
Now, density is verboten and workplace collisions have turned from the organic petri dish growing a corporate culture to a potential transmission site.
Still, demand for office sensors is soaring. The earliest adopters already have the tech, but he’s seen clients in the midst of adoption cut their timeline to full adoption in half.
Other clients were just beginning pilots with the technology when the pandemic started, but they’re now already committed to using it.
The hardware tracks where people are in the office, and the software is able to compile that info to highlight the riskiest areas in the office.
VergeSense uses ceiling-mounted sensors to count the number and location of people all around the office in an anonymized way (the company doesn’t actually take high-quality photos or videos which would allow for individualized data collection).
The hardware has always been grabbing information about utilization around the office, but there wasn’t any use case in the past to show the utilization of every part of the floor. Now with social distancing, that information is extremely valuable.
The slide shows one way to use that data: an overhead map view that can highlight areas where social distancing violations are happening currently, or where they happen commonly over time.
This information can inform ever-evolving office designs, and highlight areas that facilities managers should be focusing on.
The software allows building operators to set new capacities for conference rooms or areas, preventing overcrowding.
This tool tracks compliance with new, lower occupancy standards that companies are putting into place to make social distancing possible. The user can add these new occupancy standards to the system, which can provide real-time alerts about usage or information about trends overtime.
Daily occupancy reports give an overview of areas and times when occupancy levels were exceeded.
This information can be used to make changes to areas with consistent violations, such as removing chairs or to change protocols and employee guidelines about the top offenders, like a lunchroom.
The occupancy information can also alert office managers about violations in real time.
Ryan said the real-time alerts about occupancy aren’t as popular among their clients as the overviews that highlight broader trends. However, some companies are looking to hire employees for a new job, “floor ambassador,” who looks out for social distancing violations. The occupancy alerts would allow them to dispatch to the parts of the office with the worst violations.
VergeSense’s software can also create a cleaning planner, dispatching cleaners to focus on the most critical areas.
Hygiene and cleanliness are top-line concerns for the return to the office.
“Most of our customers are increasing their budget from three to four times from before,” Ryan said.
Occupancy data can make sure that those additional cleaners are focusing on the most important parts of the office. The smart cleaning planner highlights areas that do and do not need cleaning, based on usage, and can even provide a schedule directly to cleaning workflow systems.
Additionally, the smart cleaning planner can be used to ensure that conference rooms are cleaned thoroughly between each use. VergeSense can connect to booking systems and actually make it impossible to book rooms until they’re cleaned.
The sensors can also facilitate hands-free check-in to conference rooms.
Some of the more technologically advanced offices have been placing tablets outside conference rooms to allow on-premise booking and check-in. Those kiosks have significantly reduced functionality in a touch-free, pre-vaccine world.
“Touch is the enemy,” Ryan said.
With sensors, VergeSense can actually connect to booking systems and allow booking or check-in by walking into a room.
A list of some of the integration partners that work with VergeSense.
They range from real-estate service giant JLL, whose JLL Spark fund is an investor, to Teem, the workplace software an analytics company that WeWork acquired for $100 million in 2018 and then sold to iOffice in January of this year.
While the collection of data is essential to keeping the office safe, VergeSense makes sure to anonymize information.
VergeSense is only able to count the presence of a person in a space in a binary way, and is unable to track people identities.
“Relative to other tools in the workplace, an employer can’t get much about a persons’ identity in our system,” Ryan said.
Ryan said that he has never actually heard a customer ask for this information in the office world. Instead, they’re strictly focused on office utilization data.