Built and deployed in minimal time, pioneering functionality included COVID-secure QR code check-ins, pre-arrival declarations and contact tracing.
The UK government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is a ministerial department with responsibility for business, industrial strategy, science, research and innovation, energy and clean growth, and climate change. It is instrumental in creating and implementing Return To Work policies for all UK government departments. It is also responsible for publishing Covid ‘Safe Working’ Guidelines for UK businesses.
BEIS’s estate includes 3,500 desk spaces over eight floors on its London campus, plus regional offices comprising some 400 desk spaces.
After launching a Smarter Working Programme, BEIS wanted to reduce office space on its London campus. Without reliable data on desk utilisation, BEIS was unable to accurately assess occupancy levels for its estate and could not make recommendations for decreasing its office footprint.
As a result, BEIS initially selected Matrix Booking’s desk monitoring solution—supported by sensors—to obtain more accurate data about desk occupancy levels. BEIS intended to use this information to make better use of its office space and improve workplace efficiency.
With a planned delivery date of early Spring 2020, Matrix Booking began deploying 3,500 desk sensors on BEIS premises to measure daily usage of desks. The solution allowed staff to find a free desk quickly and easily by checking large touch screens located on each floor of the building. When someone sat down at a desk, a sensor detected their presence and the system (and the information screens) automatically reported the desk as occupied.
However, before the implementation process was completed, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK. The subsequent announcement of a national lockdown dramatically changed BEIS’s priorities and the whole scope of the project.
BEIS’s new requirement was almost the polar opposite of its original objective. Before the pandemic, the project was focused on sensors to allow the department to monitor and maximise utilisation of its office space. After COVID struck, BEIS needed an effective way to rigorously control and limit the number of office attendees.
BEIS’s requirement shifted from deploying a desk monitoring solution to the urgent implementation of a robust desk booking system. The prime aim now was to ensure a safe, sustainable workplace for a potential on-site attendance of 3,500 people (including staff, government ministers and advisers).
To support contact tracing, and to help keep its premises COVID-secure, BEIS needed verified check-in for both internal staff members and external visitors. This would enable building managers to gather more granular data about who was coming into the office each day, where they were located, and who they came into contact with.
BEIS also needed a ‘safe occupancy’ planning capability that would allow it to adjust the number of people who could be safely accommodated as lockdown restrictions changed.
This was a complex and urgent requirement that could not be achieved with BEIS’s existing processes. In fact, at the time, no such functionality was available from any desk booking software provider.
To meet this urgent challenge, Matrix Booking realised it would have to quickly build innovative new software—and re-develop its desk booking solution to align it with BEIS’s new objectives.
Working in close collaboration with BEIS’s own technical team, Matrix Booking was able to quickly build and deliver a ground-breaking, intuitive program which fully met the needs, business processes and user rules that BEIS required.
The new solution uniquely combined advance desk booking with contactless validation of the reservation by using QR code scanning functionality on arrival at the front of house.
When a member of staff, or an external visitor, makes a booking, Matrix sends the user a “pass” which includes a unique QR code. The pass-holder must present and scan the QR code at the entrance to the building to validate access. The same code is also scanned to exit the premises—an essential requirement for track and trace purposes.
To further strengthen COVID security, Matrix added a customer configurable “declaration” to the booking process. This declaration requires people to answer site-specific questions and confirm they don’t have COVID symptoms, or aren’t subject to quarantine restrictions, within a limited time period before attending the site.
The biggest obstacle was implementing such a complex new system during COVID, with only essential workers allowed on site (<1% of staff). Matrix Booking managed to overcome these challenges by being agile, rigorous and having the tools and ability to quickly modify and reconfigure its platform to meet BEIS’s urgent new requirements. As a result, a raft of pioneering software was built and deployed in minimal time.
Pressure to deliver an effective result was intense—and not just because of shifting requirements due to the unprecedented and unexpected changes arising from the global pandemic. BEIS was the government department responsible for advising all UK businesses on achieving COVID-secure premises and workplace environments. This meant BEIS needed to set an example to other organisations.
Matrix Booking’s agile and flexible approach to software development and delivery meant it was able to embrace the pressure and the radical changes—and still achieve a successful outcome.
As a result, BEIS now benefits from:
A proven method of capturing empirical data regarding desk occupancy.
Detailed statistics for office utilisation by department and zone to allow objective planning of future office spaces, including easier transition to hybrid working.
A safe return to work with touchless, verified check-in using QR Code scanning and adherence to pre-arrival requirements.
Optimised desk space—allowing socially distanced desks and maximising efficiency where desk numbers can be reduced.
Increased productivity and staff morale by empowering employees to book preferred desks with colleagues and teams.
Control of who is coming into the office and where they sit—as part of a COVID-safe return to work program.
New technology to support key operational processes, including contact tracing.
“As the government department responsible for publishing COVID ‘Safe Working’ Guidelines for UK businesses, we knew we had to implement a system ourselves that would provide the highest possible standard of safe working for our teams. We worked closely with Matrix Booking to develop a system that would achieve this, as well as giving us accurate and reliable data about how we’re actually using our workspace.
“The look and feel of the system is absolutely brilliant. It’s very intuitive. It allows our teams to plan ahead, structure their attendance, and coordinate their use of office space. Data is everything in the civil service and we’re really going to be able to fully understand our office utilisation going forward—especially with the shift to hybrid working and more collaborative spaces in our offices.”
Greg Chammings, Deputy Estates Director, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)