Understanding the New World of Office Space with Basking
Overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic reshaped how and where Americans work. By June, according to a survey from Stanford researchers, 42% of the U.S. labor force was working from home full time, with millions more not working at all.
For employers, that shift has led to new challenges as they navigate an unprecedented economy. One big question: what to do with all the empty offices?
Wasted office space has long been a problem for the corporate real estate sector, according to Eldar Gizzatov, the founding CEO of Berlin-based company Basking. “Even pre-COVID, about 40% of office space that was rented was already unoccupied,” says Gizzatov. The companies that own these locations often look to streamline their holdings and get rid of underutilized space, while still keeping enough capacity for the flexible needs of employees.
Basking helps these companies do just that by applying machine learning techniques to the data received from the customers’ wireless networks and occupancy sensors, in an effort to analyze and predict office traffic. “Our customers are corporate real estate teams looking to understand their workplace attendance better so they can provide safe and productive workplace conditions for the employees,” says Gizzatov.
The conventional answers have been to manually count employees, which is labor-intensive, or to install video cameras and sensors, which can be costly and take a while to implement. For a company with dozens or even hundreds of offices worldwide, these solutions may be unwieldy.
Basking’s WiFi-based method is complementary to both, says Gizzatov. Because the technology uses existing networks that are already in offices, setup is remote, connecting in a matter of hours. A single platform is more scalable and easier to maintain than data from multiple sensor solutions. And compared to other sources, WiFi-based data is limited in granularity, giving Basking only the data they need to predict the patterns that matter, enabling employers protect the employees’ privacy.
The startup has relied on AWS tools since the beginning, according to Rinat Silnov, co-founder and CTO. Initially using a few services like Amazon API Gateway, AWS Lambda, and Amazon RDS, the company recently integrated with AWS for their data lake to support bigger datasets, and Amazon SageMaker for machine learning.
AWS security, identity management, and compliance services help Silnov and his team keep everything as secure as possible – which is one of the company’s key value propositions. “Some other providers have been on the market for close to 10 years, using the on-premises infrastructure that was mainstream at the time,” says Silnov. “We have chosen AWS from the very beginning and it gave us many benefits in terms of development speed and scalability. Serverless services like Lambda and Fargate help us offload a lot of infrastructure management tasks and work on bringing the value for our customers.”
Basking’s customers are globally present—it is serving locations in the US, Canada, Latin America, Europe and Australia. “The product also has two sides to it: a BI app for real estate managers and the real-time data feed for our partners, like workplace apps for employees,” says Silnov. “Achieving high scalability, low latency and efficient maintenance setup was crucial for the company in terms of the system design.”
Equally important was the ability to speed up new product integrations. “Basking is actively partnering with vendors like Cisco and HP to combine the power of WiFi- and sensor-based analytics for its customers,” per Silnov. The startup’s infrastructure setup now allows for completing a new partner on-boarding within just a few weeks.
Back to work?
With the next six months shaping up to be as uncertain as the last, the Basking team is helping employers and the real estate sector chart their futures. “They want to make sure that they are taking steps as companies, as employers—taking steps to enable a safe return to the office for employees,” says Gizzatov.
Even after the pandemic, nobody expects office life to go back to the old normal. Many employers now recognize that work-from-home is feasible, putting a bigger spotlight on the management of physical office space. And workers are increasingly looking for flexibility in their schedules and office conditions that meet their needs. Basking’s dashboards allow users to view KPIs over time, look at floor-by-floor heatmaps, and compare locations across a range of metrics.
The firms with better visibility, says Gizzatov, will capitalize. “Without data, it’s really impossible for companies to actually use these office spaces well, and to enable productivity in the best way possible.”