The humble office toilet is something that every single employee will use throughout the working week. They’re rarely talked about, and our experiences within these porcelain worlds are guarded as privately as a confessional – but regardless of their secrecy and relatively taboo nature, they’re an important part of facilities management.
Over recent years the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) has fundamentally changed the washroom experience, and through the use of sensors and connectivity IoT devices now have the potential to not only improve the washroom experience, but to increase productivity and efficiency in the workplace.
Leaving a lasting impresssion
Every touch point, either consciously or unconsciously, contributes to a person’s perception of a business or organisation. Considering toilets are often the very first or last thing a customer sees when visiting an office, they can either make a great impression, or leave a lasting negative opinion.
Unhygienic or poorly stocked toilets can lead to customer complaints, and internally employee’s want to feel part of a quality enterprise. They want to see tangible evidence through the quality of workplace facilities that they’re important, valued and more than just a number.
The challenge for many facilities managers is to learn about the capabilities and the limitations of these new technologies, and deciding how, when, and where to implement IoT strategies.
Monitoring the level of washroom consumables
It’s not news that a number of restrooms already use hands-free, motion-controlled soap dispensers; but the next generation of dispensers are now tracking how often the dispensers are used, and trigger automated actions based on the data.
Through the use of integrated sensors inside soap dispensers, optical systems in toilet paper holders, and portion meter’s in paper towel dispensers, data collection points throughout a building can send the information to an interface that visually displays the various stock levels to both cleaners and facilities managers.
By checking product levels in real time and observing trends in washroom behaviour, facilities managers can start to identify when a washroom is statistically at their busiest or quietest times. Cleaning rota’s can be adjusted based on actual usage (rather than recurring mandatory checks), and by replenishing consumables when they’re actually needed, and at a time with the least impact of people who use them, the whole washroom process can be made more efficient.
It might not seem important to those not directly involved, but in low margin services where much of the cost is associated with people, the improvements in efficiency and productivity can make a real difference to the bottom line.
The same sensors and principles can be also applied to customer usage. Long waiting times at a bathroom are all too common, and can lead to dissatisfaction for customers and reduced productivity for employees.
Through the use of the Internet of Things, connected bathrooms can track when a bathroom is occupied, and display its status and waiting time in other areas of the building, or even on a mobile application.
For example at the recent London World Championships, the Olympic Stadium could have used a branded app to inform attendees that there’s a 15-minute wait at the bathroom by Gate C, but only a 1-minute wait by Gate B. For those without the app, staff could also be deployed to usher customers to the bathroom of least resistance.
Similarly at your workplace, employees could easily view when a bathroom is available, helping to minimise the waiting times outside bathrooms and helping to improve staff productivity.
This could also play a role in the layout of an office. By identifying how users interact with your washroom, which toilets get used the most, which toilets are rarely used etc., you can make changes to the layout of rooms or redesign office floor plans based on usage patterns.
Customer feedback and reviews
While we tend to think of reviews as something’s that’s reserved for a new product launch or the latest TV series on Netflix, the Internet of Things is being used to gather feedback on how visitors rate their washroom experience.
Following this concept, the Indian government – which is particularly interested in improving sanitation throughout the country – is using this very approach to gather customer feedback across a number of public washrooms.
Through the use of colour coded emoji’s (green, yellow and red) users will be able to assess their level of satisfaction by pressing one of the three buttons, with the feedback being sent directly to the urban local body.
In cases where there’s consistently a negative experience, the government will send an SMS to the caretaker for corrective action, and an escalation SMS can be sent to higher management if feedback does not improve. Just as the Internet has opened up Journalists to immediate feedback from their audience, facilities managers can now have real time data from their customers, enabling them to make tangible improvements in the services that they’re responsible for.
A hands free experience
While hands free toilets have been popular in the East for some time, they’re only beginning to catch on in the West, but hi-tech toilets have the potential to improve sanitary care the world over.
It may take some time for everyone to feel completely comfortable with a hands free washroom experience, but the main premise is one of convenience and hygiene. Hygiene will be of particularly importance for the hotel and food industry, where the cleanliness of their washroom has a direct bearing on how customers judge an establishments “food hygiene” practices.
The technology already exists where toilets can detect your presence before opening doors automatically for you. Toilets seats can be warmed to a comfortable temperature, and sensors integrated within the toilets can now recognise when you’re “ready”, before deploying a quick spray of water to the sides of the bowl to help improve lubrication.
Customers looking for toilet paper may initially be surprised to find none (inducing a small amount of panic), but the remote control on the wall is all visitors will need. Displayed before them is an array of washing and drying options, complete with a range of potentially perplexing water jet speeds and angles – all providing a comfortable finale to the events proceedings.
Upon standing, the toilet automatically closes the lid, before water flows over anodized cathodes that electrolyse’s the water (extracting sodium and chlorine) before the water is sprayed into the bowl 45 seconds after you walk away. The slightly acidic solution helps to kill bacteria, before the self-cleaning toilet uses UV-light for further bacteria zapping benefits.
While all of this will undoubtedly make for a memorable experience, there’s now no need to touch a single object in a washroom, helping to mitigate any unsanitary or unhygienic practices. And from a cost perspective, automatic flushes typically use less water and there’s the reduction, or complete eradication of toilet paper.
The future of toilets
While all of this may sound futuristic, the big area of toilet excitement is in biometrics. The idea is that sensors in the toilet could analyse urine and fecal matter, before tracking your bodily changes to provide useful health information, warning you of any potential problems before sending the information directly to your doctor.
As a result, smart toilets may be a crucial element of future healthcare, but today, the Internet of Things has, and will continue to fundamentally change the washroom experience, and provides facilities managers with plenty to think about over the coming years.
This post was written by VR Sani-Co, providing a range of quality washroom services, hygiene solutions and sanitary bins throughout Kent, London & Sussex.More