Introduction to passive occupancy and ghost booking

In the hybrid work environment common in many office spaces today, a couple of behaviors have emerged that confound efficient use of common, bookable spaces, prevent workplace strategists, space designers, and real estate teams from fully understanding space usage patterns, and reduce the number of bookable spaces available to use. These behaviors are passive occupancy and ghost booking. Let's define what these do and don't mean, then get into more detail.

Passive Occupancy definition

Passive occupancy occurs when employees leave behind personal items in a workspace like a conference room, hot desk, or phone booth without actively using the space. The illusion of occupancy deters others from using the space and leads to an inefficient allocation of workplace resources.

By deterring others from using these spaces, they end up underutilized, increasing overall demand for space or reducing the desire to commute to an office where it will be hard to be productive.

Passive occupancy has other common meanings

Passive occupancy frequently refers to passive occupancy sensors, or passive infrared occupancy sensors. These measure heat to identify when a space is occupied by a person, without any personally identifiable information that can compromise privacy. As part of a comprehensive sensing portfolio and connected to the right software and analytics, these sensors can be a great help to real estate teams. Check out R-Zero's passive infrared occupancy sensors, or our broader offerings for real estate teams. Most personal items, or "signs of life," like jackets or backpacks, are invisible to passive infrared-based occupancy sensors because they don't give off heat like a human does. Passive infrared sensors are also commonly used for automatic control of lighting systems.

Ghost bookings definition

When a bookable space is reserved, but not used, that reservation is a "ghost booking." The booker may forget to cancel a reservation after their plans change, or intentionally book space "just in case." This practice makes space that is physically available impossible to reserve for others, exacerbating perceived space shortages. When others would have used that space, value is lost.

Ghost booking — other common meanings

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The significance of addressing passive occupancy and ghost bookings

The implications of not addressing passive occupancy and ghost bookings extend beyond mere inconvenience. They represent a significant fraction of total vacancies or underutilization within a workplace, contributing to:

  • Perceived space shortages: When employees can't find the spaces they need, it creates a sense of frustration and limits productivity. This perceived shortage can lead to unnecessary expansion or underuse of existing resources.
  • Financial implications: Unused spaces represent a financial cost to organizations, particularly in class A office space in premium locations. Ineffective space utilization foregoes a substantial cost savings opportunity.
  • Employee satisfaction and productivity: The ability to find and use workspaces efficiently is directly linked to employee satisfaction, collaboration, and overall productivity. A workplace that supports its employees' needs fosters a more engaged and productive workforce.

Addressing passive occupancy and ghost bookings is not just about making better use of physical spaces. It's about creating a more dynamic, responsive, and ultimately productive workplace environment. Strategic interventions — from policy changes and cultural shifts to technology implementation — can make workspaces more efficient and effective, supporting organizational goals, enhancing employee experiences, and reducing costs.

How technology can reduce passive occupancy and ghost bookings

Combining real-time data from advanced occupancy sensors, privacy-protecting AI, and booking systems can reduce passive occupancy and ghost booking problems. Let's delve into how these technologies function independently and together to achieve this.

Occupancy sensors

Occupancy sensors are the cornerstone of understanding real-time space usage. These sensors detect the presence of people and objects within a designated space, whether it's a conference room, at a desk, in a phone booth, or any other workspace. Depending on the technology used, occupancy sensors can discern whether a space is being used, how many people are using it, and detect objects that signify passive occupancy.

Privacy-protecting AI

The real power of occupancy sensors lies in their ability to provide live, continuous data. But raw data needs to be interpreted and turned into information to answer key questions: is someone present? How many people are present? Has there been a jacket and backpack in the room for the last 15 minutes, but no human presence?

Interpreting this data is harder than it might appear: the sun streaming through a window can create a hotspot on a conference table. Accurately discerning a camel colored jacket on the table from a navy blazer hanging on a chair, in any lighting conditions, requires sophisticated image recognition. And embedding this intelligence in a battery-powered, long-lived sensor that only communicates simple counts (10 am: 3 people and 1 jacket. 10:05 am: 0 people and 1 jacket) to the cloud to preserve anonymity and privacy requires sophisticated engineering. But the data is invaluable, not just for immediate space management but also for long-term planning and optimization efforts. By understanding patterns of use and identifying times of peak and low utilization, decision makers have the data to confidently design, allocate, and manage space.

Real-time data Integration with booking systems

Combining real-time occupancy data with booking systems marks a significant leap forward in solving the issues of passive occupancy and ghost bookings. This real-time data flow enables booking systems to become more intelligent and responsive, adapting to the actual usage of spaces rather than relying solely on scheduled reservations.

Here's how the integration works to solve specific challenges:

  • Combating passive occupancy: When sensors detect that a reserved space has not been occupied for a predetermined period, the system can automatically notify the person who made the booking, offering the option to extend or release the reservation. This approach respects the fluid nature of work—acknowledging that meetings may end early or start late—without prematurely canceling reservations due to temporary absence from the room. It can also notify the person who made the booking that objects may have been left in the room.
  • Eliminating ghost bookings: Similarly, if a room remains unoccupied beyond a grace period at the start of a booking, the system can automatically release the room back into the pool of available spaces. This ensures that unused resources are promptly made available to others, effectively reducing the waste associated with ghost bookings.
  • Enhancing User Experience: For users, this integration means a more seamless and frictionless interaction with workspace resources. Employees can find and book available spaces with confidence, knowing that the system reflects the true occupancy status of the workspace. Additionally, automated reminders and notifications help users manage their bookings more effectively, promoting a culture of responsibility and consideration for shared resources.


The bigger picture

By leveraging real-time data, organizations can not only address the immediate challenges of passive occupancy and ghost bookings but also gain insights into broader trends and patterns of space usage. As workspaces continue to evolve, the integration of occupancy sensors and booking systems will be critical in creating environments that are more efficient and cost-effective for owners and more supportive of the productivity and well-being of their users.

Passive occupancy and ghost booking FAQ

1. What defines passive occupancy in workspace management?

Passive occupancy is when a vacant space has someone's personal items in it, so it appears to be in use. Passive occupancy misrepresents actual space utilization, affecting efficiency.

2. How does ghost booking impact workspace utilization?

Ghost bookings are reservations for workspaces that go unused without cancellation. Ghost bookings create a false scarcity of bookable space, misdirecting space allocation efforts.

3. Can occupancy sensors distinguish between temporary absence and genuine vacancy?

Advanced sensors with the right embedded AI algorithms and appropriate configuration can discern temporary absences from actual vacancies, employing grace periods to avoid misinterpretation and ensure accurate space availability data.

4. What are good protocols to handle early meeting terminations?

Systems should offer a notification mechanism to confirm early meeting ends, enabling the release of spaces for rebooking, thus enhancing space utilization.

5. What are good strategies to manage passive occupancy due to left personal items?

Implement policies or design solutions that encourage personal item removal when spaces are not in use, supported by technological detection and notification systems.

6. Best practices to mitigate ghost bookings?

Encourage timely booking cancellations and consider implementing automated reminders or penalizing repeat offenders to foster a culture of responsible space booking.

7. Role of real-time data in booking system efficacy?

Integrating real-time occupancy data with booking systems ensures dynamic and accurate reflection of space availability, improving decision-making and space utilization.

8. What's a good procedure for spontaneously using a reserved but empty space?

Every organization should set a procedure that works for it, but a common approach is to make space automatically available again if it hasn't been claimed after a set time.

10. How are privacy concerns addressed with occupancy sensors?

Choose sensors that collect anonymized, non-identifiable data to ensure privacy compliance. Clear communication of privacy policies is essential to maintain trust.