Measured Workspace: Big Data or Big Brother?

Companies now have more data on employees than ever in history and Big Data analysis quickly enters HR practice. There is nothing new in the analysis of personnel work, but the scope of the data collected and analyzed is beyond the norm.

Sociometric Solutions inserts sensors in employee badges that capture social activity in the workplace. Sensors report how the employee moved around the workplace, with whom he spoke, and even the tone of voice used during communication. Analyzing the data obtained from these smart badges, Bank of America noticed that the top most productive employees from the call center are those who go for breaks together. They introduced group break rules and productivity improved by 23 percent. Another company, Humanscale, has integrated sensors in office chairs, desks, and computers and offers companies their OfficeIQ system to monitor activity. For example, how long an employee spent sitting or standing at his desk, and how long they were absent.

In Ireland, at Tesco's grocery store chain, warehouse workers wear wristbands that record which items they take from shelves, distribute tasks, and even predict the time for job completion. In other areas, including healthcare and the military, wearable gadgets can detect fatigue that can be dangerous for the employee and the job they perform.

Fujitsu recently launched the Ubiquitouswear business suite, which can collect and analyze data from accelerometers, barometers, cameras, and microphones to measure and monitor people at work. For example, data such as temperature, humidity, movement, and heart rate can determine when an employee is experiencing too much heat. The system can also determine the location, posture and movement of the human body to fix the fall, track the location or calculate the physical load on the body.

External monitoring is compared with data obtained using trackers like Fitbit. The data have already shown that workers involved in wellness programs show a significantly small increase in the cost of health compared to those who did not participate in such programs. At the moment, the employer does not have access to the employee’s medical records, but this time may not be far off. One fine day, your boss may take you aside to discuss your level of stress or too many hours you spend at your desk.

As the world becomes more and more digital, companies have endless opportunities to monitor their staff. Most of the actions that we take during a normal working day already generate a lot of data: we send and receive mail, make phone calls and work with equipment. But soon there will be even more sources of information and ways to collect it: the use of cameras, sensors or crowdsourcing data to measure every aspect of someone's or individual performance.

Should companies use this data to control us? In general, is it ethical to treat us as copy machines or routers? One of the sales people, Cornerstone onDemand, believes it can help companies predict and increase employee productivity. Its analytic software is able to take control of half a billion points of employees from around the world to identify patterns and make predictions about the hiring and performance of employees.

This type of analysis can be used to determine the most successful recruitment channels or identify key employees that the company risks losing. But my fears are that companies will spend more time parsing data that they can easily get. For example, how much time we sat on a chair or how many people talked to, instead of getting more meaningful indicators of what we did while sitting and the quality of our communication with others.

Article Translation: The Quantified Workplace: Big Data or Big Brother?

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