How workplace sensors improve efficiency

For decades, researchers and workplace designers have attempted to understand how to best optimize the use of office space to enhance knowledge exchange, communication, creativity and productivity. Sensors now seem to be an eligible way to move us in the right direction.

When talking efficient workplace design 83% of executives rank space utilization as the most important metric for making the right workplace decisions, according to a Gensler research study. Here density, occupancy costs per square meter, and energy consumption are some of the most commonly applied metrics workplace efficiency is measured up against.

However, using these metrics as the primary guidance when evaluating workplace efficiency only provides one half of the solution. Looking into how workplace design can enhance communication, innovation, creativity, satisfaction and productivity, without compromising cost efficiency, is what truly can move a workplace from being good to best in class.

Workplace designers, facility managers and other executives are feeling this pressure. On one hand, they are striving to decrease space utilization costs while at the same time do it in a way that does not have a negative impact on the employees.

In these contexts, using sensors to detect space utilization while at the same time tracking employee behavior and performance can be great steps on the way to creating an efficient workplace that complements both parties and accommodates the way an increasingly mobile and dispersed workforce interacts and collaborates.

Decreasing utilization costs while improving productivity

Activity and traffic sensors are quite simple technologies workplace designers, facility managers and other executives can use to detect utilization more accurately and show usage patterns over time.

In that sense, sensors will provide insight into when space is used, how space is used, in which time frames the traffic in the office tops and more space is needed or the reverse. Collecting this data over time to determine actual workspace utilization rates can be particularly helpful for planning special configuration projects. With these actionable data, facility managers can take more informed decisions on how to add, reduce or re-design existing space than what was possible before, when the insights only relied on subjective employee surveys and workplace observations.

Another important aspect in workplace design is creating space that favors employee engagement and productivity. Various cases have already proven that sensors play an important part in this process. One of these is Bank of America.

At the time Bank of America noticed a disparity in its call center productivity and decided to try out a novel problem-solving approach, namely: equipping the employees with personal sensors packed into an ID badge.

Besides tone of voice, the ID badges tracked social interactions in the workplace such as how employees move and converse throughout a working day.

The data showed clear results; the most productive and top-performing workers belonged to close-knit teams and communicated frequently with their colleagues. To enhance and support this behavior, the bank therefore decided to schedule workers to group breaks, rather than solo ones. This minor change resulted in an overall 10 percent increase in productivity among the call center employees.

Do we compromise employee privacy?

In the Bank of America case, the ID badge did not record conversations, only tone of voice. Also, the recordings were anonymized for the business itself to secure employee privacy.

Despite that, there is a huge controversy about data collection and surveillance among employees. How do companies work around that? First and foremost, the executives must be open about the purpose of monitoring and surveillance and also the extend of it. To feel safe, the employee must know how far the employer can go, what exactly is measured and how the data is used.

Second, employee data should be anonymized to diminish the risk of intruding employee privacy. Therefore, personally identifiable information should only be collected as metadata and data results should be aggregated to show trends rather than individual employee behavior.

Finally, it is important that executives are transparent about the data collection results. Creating an openness about these insights will help maintaining trust between the employer and employee.

Taking advantage of tracking sensors

Despite the unique advantages of using workplace sensors to improve employee productivity and workplace efficiencies, taking full advantage of these technologies will not be easy.

It will require collecting much more data to inform new design and management principles and not least being better at making sense of the data collected.

Implementing sensors in the workplace also holds the potential to transform IT, HR and facility management.

However, if companies approach this wisely and manage to adapt the workplaces according to how people work and interact improvements will follow. There is plenty of data to prove it.

Can you see a potential in adopting tracking sensors in your organization? Share your opinions in the comment field below.

To learn more about the workplace of the future, download our Vision 2020 White Book: New Ways of Working – the workplace of the future.

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