Businesses are increasingly using tracking devices, commonly known as sensors, to collect information on how their employees interact with each other and do their jobs.
Here’s an example of what businesses have found. Bank of America wanted to see if face time (face-to-face interaction) was important to call center staffers. Some 90 employees wore badges equipped with sensors that could record the tone of conversations and movements.
“The data showed that the most productive workers belonged to close-knit teams and spoke frequently with their colleagues,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “So, to get more employees mingling, the bank scheduled workers for group breaks, rather than solo ones.” The result? It led to a 10 percent or higher increase in productivity.
Similar studies have found that employees who eat at tables designed for 12 during lunch are more productive at their jobs than those who eat at tables designed for four. Also, smaller spaces are needed for small numbers of employees holding meetings. A company created smaller meeting areas, after it was found that three or four employees were meeting in rooms designed to hold eight to 10.
In addition, Cubist Pharmaceuticals used sensors to follow 30 sales and marketing employees at its Lexington, Mass., offices. In addition to an e-mail analysis and surveys, the information led the company to provide better lighting in the cafeteria and improve the food selection. The goal was to get employees to eat lunch together rather than alone at their desks. Also, the company forced sales and marketing employees to use just one coffee station and water cooler for the sales and marketing staff. The steps led to more interaction.
There is controversy about big data collection among employees – such as invasion of privacy concerns.
“Gathering big data about human behaviors can be a sensitive topic,” Dave Lathrop, director of workspace futures and strategy at Steelcase, told The Journal.
Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, said it is legal for a company to track employees inside a company. The data could improve worker performance and overall performance of a business, he told The Journal. But show some good sense.
“It would be very surprising if some provider doesn’t start giving employers data about individual employees when they ask for it,” Maltby added. “That’s not illegal. But do you really want your employers following around what you are doing? It’s a creepy way to work.”
Looking at the overall field of surveillance some industry watchers are concerned, as well. “Surveillance is already big business – very big business and is likely to continue to expand exponentially into the foreseeable future, attracting the good, the bad and the ugliest elements of society,” warned a recent report from International.to.
To get an idea of the less controversial uses of tracking sensors, here is how they are helping athletes. Catapult Sports said that outdoor GPS and data-tracking technology already used by U.S. athletes in the outdoors will be used indoors. It will also be able to do more than the outdoor device. It will record how much force a player exerts, acceleration/deceleration, velocity, and maybe even report more by installing a sensor into a ball to monitor movement.