How Sensors and Data are Changing the Workplace

Technology is driving massive change in the workplace, and sensors and data are playing a big role. Whether employed for process improvement and streamlining operations, creating efficiencies and enhancing productivity, or for measuring and analyzing employee engagement, technology is a revolution that’s changing everything. Sometimes the revolution is obvious—as in encouraging the transition from internal communications from email to collaboration platforms. Other times applications of technology are less visible. Consider the slightly Big Brother-ish use of sensors in everything from air conditioning units to employee badges to gather data on employee activity and office efficiency. Using what’s been dubbed “sentiment analysis,” technology also allows businesses to monitor employee conversations in Slack and/or email in order to get a read on employee happiness and engagement.

Sound creepy? Maybe. But maybe not. Let’s explore how sensors and data are changing the workplace for good, not evil.

Sensors in the Workplace

Sensors in the workplace used to boost efficiency are more common than you may think. For example, Bloomberg reports sensor company, Enlightened, serves about 15 percent of Fortune 500 companies. Enlightened’s sensors track office temperature, air flow within a space, and more. Many are placed in light fixtures to detect motion and energy usage. One company—the office design firm Gensler—reports seeing a 25 percent savings in energy costs as a result of installing the sensors.

It’s not just about energy savings. Some sensors monitor how often employees are at their desks or how long they go without speaking to another one another. In Enlightened’s case, this data is pooled in an anonymous manner. This way, no employee is singled out, but changes can be made to improve the employee experience if data shows they’re warranted.

There are plenty more examples of sensor technology doing wonders in the workplace. There’s the marketing agency that uses sensors to trigger air purifiers when office air quality is poor and the digital innovation company that uses beacons, heat sensors, and smartphone signals to help employees find an available, comfortable desk in their open-concept office space.

And yes, it’s legal. As the president of the National Workrights Institute told Bloomberg, as long as employers stay away from monitoring anything involving the bathroom, they’re covered.

Sentiment Analysis: Improving Employee Engagement, One Algorithm at a Time

Besides using sensors to monitor employee physical activity and office building efficiency, companies are also using algorithms—the basis for sentiment analysis tools—to determine how happy and engaged employees are in the workplace. This software scans collaboration platforms, emails, surveys, and other forms of digital communication looking for keywords and even emoji usage to find the collective mood of teams. Again, these activities aren’t specifically targeted to individuals, but rather measure morale of groups.

Why is morale so important to measure? A high morale leads to high engagement, and high engagement does wonders for businesses. According to 2016 research from Deloitte University Press, employee engagement is “a business imperative for leaders at levels—above all, the CEO—and no longer something to be measured just once a year by taking a look in the rear-view mirror.” Sentiment analysis tools fill this precise need for enterprises to SMBs, allowing businesses to take a proactive and sometimes even real-time approach to addressing employee concerns before they escalate to larger issues including increasingly-costly turnover.

The Takeaway

The discussion of whether technology is treading into Orwellian waters isn’t a new one. In this modern business world where leveraging tech is table stakes, there is an inevitable fine line between a smart application of technology and an intrusive one. This latest dive into sensors and data in the workplace, however, does not cross that line. Instead, these practices merely aim to help reduce both energy costs and employee disengagement rates in offices. They’re changing workplaces for the better. Simple as that.

How do you feel about the use of sensors and sentiment analysis tools in the workplace? Tell me in the comments, and let’s talk about it.

Additional Resources on This Topic: 

Sensor Technology Can Improve Office Design and Create Happier Employees, says Haworth
Employee Fulfillment and the Shifting Landscape of Company Culture

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