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Business in Transformation

The Internet of Things in HR: Quantifying Employees

(Deloitte University Press)

Wearable devices have enabled athletes to measure calories, sleep, heart rate, oxygen intake, and countless other metrics; helping them analyze and optimize their performance. But it’s not just world-class athletes or gym rats that have taken to fitness trackers. More than 45 million were purchased in 2015, and demand is expected to grow by more than 45% annually through 2019, according to IDC (International Data Corporation).

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In analyzing the “quantified employee”, an article by Deloitte speculates whether Internet of Things (IoT) technology and the popularity of wearables could spread into the office, with employers monitoring and evaluating their workforce by tracking employees. Two big questions emerged: in what ways employers could use the data to improve work processes, and whether they would be able to persuade employees to cooperate with being monitored.

Quantified Work Environments

In a quantified work environment, HR departments would gather information about productivity, communication patterns, teamwork, and travel/location trends to create a more efficient and work-conducive environment. Businesses are adopting the belief that the work environment is a driver of productivity, and therefore changing the office landscape for better engagement.

Deloitte says that “by gathering data about workplace activities that were previously invisible to both managers and employees alike, companies are able to use an ever-widening range of information to help make the business run better.”

With IoT technology, there is an unlimited amount of data available for tracking; ranging from something as simple as daily steps or as complicated as tone of voice in various conversations. One of the keys is figuring out what information is most relevant to management while also being in the best interest of the employees. Too little information can skew results, causing misleading conclusions, while too much information can be overwhelming and hard to sort through.

The best data will likely result from monitoring over a long period of time to account for the various seasons of the year. Monitoring only around the holidays when things are stressful, or just during the summer when things are more relaxed would obviously produce inaccurate results.

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Measuring Employees

Many companies require employees to carry ID badges or wear lanyards around the office, but the next step could be a badge that does far more than gain access to the building. For example, Deloitte Canada equipped a set of volunteers with sociometric badges that measured location, movement, and voice tones to measure stress and analyze the positive and negative aspects of their work life. They used their findings to help redesign their offices and to compose their teams.

Another example of incorporating IoT technology is package delivery companies that use sensors on trucks to monitor speed, directions, braking, and idling, among other things.  IoT software can help plan more efficient routes, eliminate idling, and schedule truck maintenance in advance. Using similar initiatives, UPS saved nearly 200,000 gallons of fuel in one year.

IoT applications have the power “to fundamentally alter how organizations measure and improve themselves.” Even if a company has good intentions, though, there is still likely to be hesitation and/or skepticism from employees. Giving up this information allows employers to monitor where employees are, what they do, with whom, and when.

Deloitte’s research shows that workers worry about their employers using personal monitoring against them. Not only do employees dislike the feeling that Big Brother is constantly watching, but if they feel a new technology or system doesn’t benefit them, they may avoid it or even try to undercut it. Getting employees to embrace the change is a delicate situation, but essential.

Implementing IoT Technology into Business

Deloitte’s article suggests that the first step to take in designing a quantified workplace is deciding which problem or problems need to be solved, as seen in Figure 4. Once that is established, decide what data is needed to address it, and carefully plan how to collect and manage the information. The goal should be quality over quantity when it comes to data gathering.

It’s paramount that HR and IT work together to instill parameters so the collected data is properly managed; duplicated or inconsistent data is useless. “[Companies] should have a clear process for securing data, managing access, and holding people accountable for security and quality standards,” says Deloitte.

Gathering the needed data will be contingent upon employee buy-in, which will require trust and communication. The company should clearly state its goals and explain how the implemented technologies will offer employees value. Deloitte also suggests giving employees the ability to opt-out of such programs, promising confidentiality, and opening the lines of communication for feedback--anonymously if deemed necessary.

Once data collection is established, data sets should be tested for validity and statistical reliability, so as not to draw incorrect conclusions. One way to test out the impact of the data without making wholesale organizational changes, which can be time-consuming and expensive, is using pilot programs to roll out changes slowly.

As Deloitte says, “the desire to quantify, measure, and monitor ourselves has spawned an entire industry.” Combining this trend with IoT technology presents the opportunity for businesses to quantify their employees through data collection, and to use that information to help make the workplace more productive. By balancing employees concerns and business goals, organizations can solve workplace problems that benefit both the employer and the employee. 

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