COVID-19 has forced businesses to rethink everything. For some companies, it’s time to get employees back to the office, but they must consider how to meet government-issued COVID-19 safety requirements. In fact, the back-to-the-office safety challenge is so steep, in countries where the virus is still uncontrolled, only 10 to 15 percent of employees are working on-site.
The global pandemic is driving a new set of data needs around workplace occupancy. Businesses recognize that the only way employees can return to the office is by understanding what’s happening within the office space. There’s an IoT-enabled solution for that: Freespace, by Workplace Fabric. Freespace has been making the workspace intelligent for years. Before the coronavirus happened, facility managers used Freespace to govern their spaces with efficiency and reduce operating costs by optimizing office occupancy. By leveraging occupancy data and automating HVAC controls, facility managers could reduce energy spending. Today, Freespace is helping them keep employees safe from COVID-19. Their solution works by using sensors installed on desks and in meeting rooms to collect occupancy data.
Software is then used to establish an analysis in real time, and provide facility managers with the data they need to ensure social distancing, occupancy-based cleaning, COVID-19 guidance compliance, and employee reassurance.
Freespace knew that controlling the spread of COVID-19 meant making occupancy data available to everyone in the building. So they built large screens, visible on each floor, showing socially-distanced spaces that all employees can use on a particular day and time. In addition, employees and cleaning staff may use a mobile app for even more flexibility during a work day.
From helping customers reduce costs, to rapidly producing a COVID-safe solution for the workplace, Freespace has celebrated incredible accomplishments in a short time. However, these didn’t come without technical challenges.
Before COVID-19, Freespace aimed to make spaces intelligent and more efficient. With that goal in mind, they learned security was a top concern for facility managers.
“Understanding these occupancy metrics is key to businesses going from 10 to 100 percent of employees back in the office,” said Raj Krishnamurthy, CEO of Freespace. “But when you’re managing occupancy data, you have to build a solution that is both secure,reliable and scalable.”
Freespace had three critical needs to tackle their technical problems. First, they needed a managed connectivity platform that would seamlessly handle all critical IoT connectivity functions, freeing up engineers to focus their time on core product features. Second, they needed security features strong enough to satisfy the requirements of their enterprise customers’ IT departments. Lastly, they needed the ability to reliably send sensor data over Wi-Fi or cellular to the cloud for analysis. It became obvious that they would need an IoT platform that met these needs—versus build all the required infrastructure themselves, which would have slowed them down with work that wouldn’t even differentiate them in their market.
Freespace chose the Electric Imp Platform, now part of Twilio’s IoT business. The Electric Imp Platform is a highly scalable IoT connectivity platform.
“Due to the scalability of the Twilio Electric Imp Platform, we were able to roll out Freespace quickly in 72 cities worldwide, and counting” said Krishnamurthy.
It also gave Freespace comprehensive security features to prevent hackers from compromising the broad attack surface inherent to any connected system. They were able to double-down on security thanks to embedded modules running Electric Imp’s impOS on Freespace sensor devices which provide secure Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity.
“Our increased confidence in a secure connection over Wi-Fi or cellular to the cloud allowed us to deploy 30,000 Freespace sensors within 12 months,” said Krishnamurthy, “even during the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, data from Freespace sensor modules is transmitted securely through the Electric Imp cloud to the Freespace cloud for real-time analysis. Electric Imp’s best-in-class security spans from the impOS on the Freespace device up to and through the Electric Imp cloud, protecting against a host of cyber attacks such as DDOS and MITM attacks. The platform was the first ever IoT platform to get certified to UL 2900-2-2 Cybersecurity for Network Connectable Devices, which makes it easier for Freespace customers to appreciate the deep level of security that is provided.
“After we deployed with Electric Imp, many of our enterprise customers are seeing 20% in savings in real estate costs thanks to real-time and historical insights Freespace enables,” said Krishnamurthy.
With Twilio IoT, Freespace is helping its customers conquer a challenge that, while global in nature, is a brand new concern. Having already achieved savings and improved workplace efficiency, these customers are now enabling their employees to return to the office—safely.
“We chose the Twilio Electric Imp Platform because it allowed us to build a new solution fast, and differentiate us in the market by implementing our patented occupancy sensing application. At the same time, we are able to offer assurances around security and reliability to our customers.” said Krishnamurthy. “We’re sticking with Twilio because they do everything in their power to support our mission to manage workspaces with efficiency, securely and, most importantly these days, safely.”