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IoT Series : Rise Of The Data-Driven Workplace

In analysis / By Jonathan Camhi / 08 September 2016

A company can have the best product or service, the most efficient operation, and great leadership, but its success often comes down to the routine behaviours of its employees.

Day in and day out, employees are making countless impactful decisions.

Understanding the impact of those decisions has so far been impossible, as companies couldn’t track all of the activity in their workplaces, but that is changing with the advent of the Internet of Things. Companies will use connected sensors to gather an enormous amount of data about their employees’ activities in the workplace. That data can help companies rework policies and redesign work spaces to increase employees’ productivity and satisfaction with their work.

These sensors are already becoming ubiquitous in the workplace, embedded in connected office lighting, in doorways and smart locks, and in employees’ badges. They can track movements around the workplace, as well as workers’ interactions with each other and with customers. They can even provide insights into workers’ vocal patterns and posture, helping companies learn more about their employees’ behaviours and decision-making based on their body language and tone.

Many workers will probably be turned off (and maybe creeped out) by the prospect of their employer tracking their every move at work. However, companies can still make major strides by anonymising this tracking data so it can’t be tied back to individuals. For example, Enlighted uses sensors that track heat signatures embedded in smart LED lights to track movement around companies’ office spaces, rather than using image sensors that capture individuals’ faces. Employees can rest assured their bathroom breaks aren’t being monitored.

Rather than scaring workers, these sensors can actually help them do their jobs better. With anonymised tracking data, companies can pinpoint new solutions to problems that have been bothering workers and managers. If sales are down at one location, the company can look at the amount of time employees there spend interacting with customers compared to other locations. Perhaps the employees are spending too much time on each customer interaction, and they might as well wrap things up after, say, five minutes, since data shows that they’re unlikely to achieve a sale after that.

Or, if employee surveys find a lack of clear direction from management, tracking data can show how to facilitate more communication between managers and employees. If managers are spending too much time in their own offices, then the work space might be redesigned to put managers in contact with their employees more often.

Maybe the managers’ offices are too big, giving them plenty of space to eat lunch at their desk and set up their own coffee machines, so they have little reason to use communal break rooms or cafeteria spaces. Downsizing those ivory tower office spaces could be a key in promoting more communication with employees. Or simply implementing policies that encourage more manager-employee interactions, like open door policies or regular coffee or lunch outings, could be the answer.

Optimising the workplace for employees’ needs will also become much easier with IoT technologies. For example, Softweb Solutions provides sensors that help companies see how different spaces are being over- or under-utilised by employees. Companies can then change the office or store layout accordingly. Small under-utilised conference rooms can be converted to more desks or lockers for storage depending on the employees’ needs. If new teams are struggling to collaborate effectively after a recent merger or acquisition, the floor space can be redesigned to position their work spaces around shared cafeterias and meeting spaces to facilitate more interaction.

Sensor data can also help individuals reach their goals and improve their decision-making. Humanyze, an early leader in this space, collects data from sensors in employees’ office badges, and then provides the workers with a summary of their individual data that is never shown to management. This allows employees to spot areas for improvement in their work habits. They might see for themselves how all those half-hour Starbucks breaks aren’t helping them reach their goals.

The practice of collecting data on workers’ behaviours has deservedly earned a negative reputation because many companies have leveraged data to simply squeeze more productivity out of employees. Sensor tracking data can be used towards the same end, and the granular insights that this data provides about day-to-day activities will help companies squeeze even more out of their workers.

However, the more a company squeezes, the more likely it is that talent will flee for better employers.

The value in sensor data in the workplace will be in finding ways to both boost employees’ productivity and increase employee satisfaction by ensuring employees have the support needed to do their jobs successfully.

As tantalising as these benefits are, companies can also expose themselves to risks if they don’t properly safeguard their employees’ privacy and secure their networks against hackers targeting these connected devices.

Stay tuned to learn more about these risks in part two of this series on IoT and the data driven workplace.

Jonathan Camhi

Jonathan Camhi

Jonathan is a journalist who has been covering the tech world for more than five years. He has written about a wide variety of tech topics, with a special interest in the Internet of Things.

New York City
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