February 25, 2021

Office Occupancy Sensors: Save Money + Improve Space Utilization

[6 Minute Read] 

The hybrid work model is growing in popularity. People want to be able to work where and when they want. Occupancy sensors can help organizations make data-driven decisions about occupancy levels, availability, and space utilization.

Nowadays, every worker doesn’t need an assigned desk because they aren’t tied to them like they used to be. Hoteling and flexible workspaces allow companies to maximize square footage, save money, and create better employee experiences.

There are different types of occupancy sensors for offices. Strategically placing a combination of them throughout the building gives insight into how people use the space. But making the decisions on which type of sensors to use and where to place them isn’t always easy.

Understanding the different sensor technologies, capabilities, and features is the first step in creating an office that emphasizes space utilization, efficiency, and worker satisfaction.

How Occupancy Sensors Work

Occupancy sensors detect when a space is occupied. They can then trigger a series of events like turning the lights on/off. There are three common types of sensor technology that use different methods to detect occupancy.

Passive Infrared (PIR)

PIR sensors detect heat emitted by people in motion. They can only see movement in their line of sight and won’t capture people behind obstacles, partitions, or glass. They work best in single-use bathrooms, storage closets, small offices, etc.


Ultrasonic sensors work similarly to echolocation used by dolphins and bats. They emit a high-frequency signal and detect a change in frequency due to motion. The frequency is high enough that the human ear and hearing aids don’t notice it. These sensors don’t have a line of sight, so they’re better for restrooms with stalls or large common areas.


Radar sensors (also called microwave sensors) work like ultrasonic but use electromagnetic waves. Electromagnetic waves travel faster than sound waves, so they can detect smaller motions. Radar sensors will pick up on movements like typing and breathing that would evade detection from other sensors. They’re best for large spaces and challenging environments, like the outdoors.

4 Office Occupancy Sensor Applications

There are five different applications for office occupancy sensors. Using a combination of them will enable you to automate processes and collect valuable space utilization data. Meeting rooms, open offices, hot desks, storage closets, stairwells, and common areas will require different sensor configurations for the most cost-effective and accurate solution.

Ceiling-Mount Sensor (1)

Ceiling-Mount Sensor

Ceiling-mount occupancy sensors are ideal for larger spaces like lobbies, cafeterias, coworking areas, and large board rooms. You may need to install several to cover the entire area. They can collect information like footfall traffic and give insight into space utilization. Where do people congregate, do they use the open meeting areas, which areas are often empty?

desk occupancy sensor (1)

Desk Sensor

If you want highly-accurate, real-time data on workplace utilization, desk sensors are the way to go. They’re usually battery-powered and mounted under individual workstations. Occupancy data is then transmitted wirelessly to the cloud.

They’re ideal for desks, flex-spaces, cubicles, phone booths, and small huddle rooms. They provide some of the most reliable space utilization data. Real-time sensors can show available workspaces and trigger cleaning alerts when people leave.

Meeting Room Sensor 2

Meeting Room Sensor

Meeting rooms sensors can provide insight on current occupancy status, usage trends, and control room settings. Instead of walking around looking for a free space, you can rely on real-time data to find unoccupied meeting rooms. When you enter the room, the lights will adjust, and displays will turn on, etc.

These low-profile sensors are typically placed on the ceiling or over doors and rely on PoE (Power over Ethernet) to run and transmit data.

SafeCount people counter (1)

People Counter

Sometimes you want to know more than a room’s occupancy status. People counters can detect the number of people in a space and help you understand footfall patterns. They can also give you a more detailed insight into space utilization. Is your large conference room usually booked for meetings with two or three people? How many employees use the break room?

People counters differ from occupancy sensors because they use object recognition to detect how many people go in either direction. All data is still anonymous since no personally identifiable information is collected. They run on PoE or the main power supply.

Benefits of Occupancy Sensors

Efficient Hot Desking

Whether it’s your office or a coworking space, knowing desk availability will help streamline hot desk procedures. People can book unoccupied workspaces. When they leave, a cleaning alert can trigger the janitorial staff, and the desk will be available if someone else wants to use it.

Save on Utilities (+Save the Environment!)

Utilities are expensive, and lighting an unused office is a major waste of money and resources. Automating lights to turn on/off based on occupancy can conserve energy and reduce costs.

Savings from occupancy sensors

Improve Space Utilization

Reviewing historical data can give insight into how your space is being used. Perhaps two of your conference rooms are only used 10% of the time, or several rows of cubes are occupied for 15% of the time. Do you need this extra square footage? Could it be repurposed, consolidated, or eliminated?

Attract and Retain Top Talent

Knowing how employees work is essential to creating spaces that foster creativity, productivity, and happiness. Learn what type of environments employees like to spend time in and make more of them. Adjust the lighting, blinds, and temperature to improve their well-being. Provide real-time information to keep them engaged and informed about the spaces. Desk available on the 3rd floor. Conference Room 3 unoccupied!


Occupancy sensors gained their reputation for automatically turning lights on/off, but they can do even more. Integrate with additional platforms to:

  • Turn on/off conference rooms (lights, projectors, displays, etc.)
  • Adjust HVAC settings
  • Restrict access to a room once it reaches maximum occupancy
  • Update hot desk and meeting room availability
  • Trigger cleaning alerts

Data-Driven Decisions

Take the guesswork out of building control and make data-driven decisions about floor space, square footage, layouts, and more. It’s easier to influence stakeholders and leadership teams if you have the data to support your decisions.

Healthier Spaces

There are several ways occupancy sensors can create healthier spaces. They can make the environment more comfortable for employees by controlling lighting, air quality, and temperature. Automated cleaning alerts ensure rooms are regularly maintained. Access control integrations can limit the number of people in a space to better adhere to social distancing guidelines.

(Related: Can your wireless network support IoT devices and sensors?)

Important Features

We’ve covered the different types and applications of sensors. Still, when you throw brands into the mix, the options can become overwhelming. To narrow down your search, consider the following features you want/need and let those guide your decision-making process. An experienced technology consultant can help you select a product with the highest ROI and efficiency.

Wired or Wireless

Wireless occupancy sensors offer more flexibility and are easier to install. However, you must check and replace the batteries, which may wind up costing more over time. Try to find batteries with a minimum lifespan of two years. PoE (Power over Ethernet) is an option popular in smart buildings because you don’t need a separate power supply installation.


The old adage “you get what you pay for” reigns true for occupancy sensors. Cheap sensors lack accuracy and are more prone to false triggering, potentially negating any cost savings. We recommend a minimum of 98% accuracy for commercial environments.

Ceiling vs. Wall-Mount

Wall-mounted sensors generally have a manual trigger option that gives users an extra level of control. But they typically have limited reach and don’t fare well in larger spaces. Ceiling mounted sensors remove the manual trigger but offer 360-degree coverage.


What do you want your occupancy sensors to do? Does it need to communicate with additional platforms? To integrate with third-party software, you need to select an application with an API.


Do you want to look at historical usage trends? Or do you need real-time occupancy data to power room schedulers and wayfinding applications? Some sensors report periodically, while some offer real-time updates. Make sure yours provides the data you want when you need it.

Physical Device

White, black, shape, profile, placement… These will impact the overall look and feel of the device. You don’t want it to be obtrusive, make people uncomfortable, or get accidentally damaged.

Occupancy sensors have become synonymous with smart buildings due to their capabilities and benefits. They’re the first step in creating a truly optimized space. The right combination of sensors, integrations, and data analytics can help you cut costs, reduce your carbon footprint, improve employee well-being, and automate processes.

System selection and placement are crucial to an effective platform. If you’d like to speak with a professional about outfitting your space, fill out the form below, we’re happy to help.


About the author 

Sam Lum

Sam is the Director of Audio Visual Engineering. He is a CTS-D who specializes in design engineering and integration of custom audio visual solutions. As a director, he oversees and facilitates the entire AV process, from providing pre-sales support to ensuring that the projects are completed successfully.

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