What goes into the average work day? A walk to lunch, a walk to the bathroom, a few clicks through your favorite blog, a conversation by the coffee maker. These behaviors are natural aspects of office culture in the United States and they are increasingly being monitored by employers.
More companies are turning to tracking devices to learn about employee behavioral patterns in the hopes of boosting productivity. This kind of data collection is just one of many new attempts to predict our behavior by monitoring how we live, work, and make purchases.
Ben Waber is the president and CEO of Sociometric Solutions, a social sensing technology company that monitors employee interaction. Kenneth Cukier is co-author, along with Victor Mayer-Schonberger, of "Big Data: A Revolution that Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think."
Waber explains that his company collects gigabytes of data on each person being monitored each day. They analyze email data, online chat data, and phone call data with the consent of the employees. "The idea," Waber says, "is to really understand: How are people collaborating? How are different teams collaborating with each other and how does that relate to the strategy of the organization? And really understanding: What are the things that make people happy and productive at work?"
For the first time we are able to "datafy" how employees interact and what we are learning is revealing. For instance, Culkier says, "What we found when we looked at IBM, in their famous Rüschlikon lab outside of Zurich, is that…this was the lab that was responsible for many of their Noble Prizes in the 20th century…and one of the reasons why it was so successful is that they built in, almost inadvertently, ways for employees to collaborate with each other."
Waber explains that this workplace data is not just beneficial to employers: "One of the reasons why over that last year we've gotten over 90 percent participation at every company we’ve gone to is because people understand that these things are what make them happy and effective. But right now they have no way to show to management, 'Hey, you know what, I shouldn’t eat lunch at my desk, I should be able to go out to lunch with my colleagues because actually those interactions are where I get a better understanding of what people are doing, we get new ideas, and we just kind of form a more supportive community.'"
Ben Waber, president and CEO of Sociometric Solutions