Neil Sumpter, Product and Program Director at Infrared Integrated Systems Ltd (Irisys), analyses the impact of new technologies on providing accurate, real-time occupancy and people flow calculations to help better allocate resources.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted facilities management like nothing before. If you’re fortunate enough to open your facility, there are myriad safety and regulatory hurdles to navigate.

Fortunately, there are occupancy compliance technologies available that allow facilities managers to accurately automate the counting of people coming in and out of buildings and rooms, and to advise people when it’s safe, or not, to enter a specific area. Monitoring provides assurance that measures are in place to keep people safe and collect necessary data to document regulatory compliance, all without additional staff.

But eventually there will be a transition from pandemic life and a return to ‘the new normal’. So, what’s the role of people counting technology as people repopulate workspaces?

With the continual shift in companies adopting remote working permanently, research shows 49% of businesses are looking to reassess their space needs, while 60% are looking to reduce their office square footage. People counting technology will enable facility managers to assess what space can be reduced through an accurate understanding of utilisation by building, floor, or individual rooms and ensure occupancy capacity is utilised to its best potential. People counting sensors can also direct systems, like HVAC and lighting, to turn off when a space is detected as unoccupied, reducing unnecessary costs.

A critical part of returning people to the workplace is making employees feel safe. Real-time counting provides peace of mind by visibly demonstrating that the facilities are being managed to the highest standard of safety.

In addition, real-time people counting helps staff manage their own safety by knowing what the occupancy levels are at any point in the facilities. For example, placing occupancy display signage at each washroom allows people to know — before they enter — if the room is at capacity or not.


Similarly, a display screen at the staff canteen ensures that social distancing is being maintained.

People counting systems can help transition people back to the office in a way that puts safety first and provides the information to empower them to be a part of solution.

As with any technology, not all people counting sensors are the same, there are some core attributes to consider in selecting a system that will work in the short and long term, including:

Simple to install — A people counting system should be as easy to install as hanging the sensors and mounting the displays. Installation and setup should take a non-technical person a matter of minutes per location to complete.

Easy to understand — A system is only as good as it is intuitive. End user signs should be easy to understand. The management display should have simple graphs and counts so they know at a glance if there are any issues and where they are.

Anonymous — Systems that use cameras can present a privacy issue and may be perceived by staff as monitoring them. A good system will use sensors — not cameras— that anonymously count people.

Accurate — Real-time accuracy in excess of 99% is essential. Anything less risks people’s safety as the data is not reliable.

Scalable — The system should scale to deliver the data needed to best manage the flow of people within the facility.

In the short term, real-time people counting technology is a wise investment for facility managers to meet pandemic mandates and keep staff safe. It can also provide significant ROI in the long run by delivering accurate data on space utilization and the flow of people so the best decisions can be made on which space is necessary to best run the business in a post-COVID world.

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