Companies Use Sensors to Monitor Workers

Companies Use Sensors to Monitor Workers

It sounds pretty invasive: Your corporate company tracking your movement, tone of voice and interactions over several days or weeks. Can we say creepy?

But the results can actually be pretty cool. Let us explain.

Companies are now tracking practically everything digitally—inventory, movement of goods and the efficiency of equipment—and using that data to improve operations and save money. (It's called the "Internet of Things", and we explored how it might impact your job prospects last week.) And now, they're doing the same thing with workers.


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The Wall Street Journal reports that several corporations have been giving their employees tracking devices on lanyards or office furniture to track how they work. The programs are voluntary, but they yield some interesting results that could actually make your job better.


Better Food, More Socialization

Bank of America found that call center employees worked better when they mingled, so they started scheduling group breaks instead of solo ones, boosting productivity by 10%.

Last year, Cubist Pharmaceuticals had its employees wear badges that tracked their movements and conversational patterns. They integrated that data with email traffic and employee surveys on how productive and energetic they felt, and found that (like Bank of America) employees work better when they have more face-to-face interactions.

So the company updated its cafeteria and the food to make it more inviting, pared the office down to one coffee maker and water cooler so that employees would mix more, and scheduled a 3 p.m. coffee break right when energy sagged for employees.

Kimberly-Clark Corp. used sensors to realize that employees were often meeting in groups of three or four in conference rooms designed for much larger meetings. Once they carved out more 4-person rooms, employee complaints about space constraints dropped.

What About Privacy?

Managers have wanted to see data on individual employees, but at least one vendor says it makes employers sign forms prohibiting from doing so. It's dangerous information—according to one vendor, the data can predict if an employee is about to leave or get a promotion.

Employees can opt out. In one example, the 10% of employees who didn't want to participate wore dummy badges that looked like everyone else's. But individuals who do participate can look at their own data to glean their own insights about how they work and interact best on the job, so they can improve their own performance, too.

Tell us: Would you agree to wear a badge tracking your productivity at work?


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