Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tracking the Wild Employee

The advent of cheap and relatively unobtrusive RFID technology, along with data crunching capacity on a large scale, is offering employers lots of new ways to monitor and improve productivity in the workplace. This article discusses a fairly scary trend (at least, it’s scary for me): the real time, full time tracking of employee movements during the workday.

The radio tracking of people is done for exactly the same reason that biologists fit radio collars to high value wild animals - it’s possible to glean a lot of useful information from simply watching them go through their daily routines. When you merge productivity measures with this data, you can start to develop strategies that can help make the workplace a better environment for collaboration, concentration, and productivity.

For example, knowing that your most productive workers are interacting directly and closely with a particular group of colleagues means that you should schedule your work breaks for those people as a group, rather than at fixed times for each individual. Similarly, noting a correlation between higher productivity and face-to-face interactions might lead a company to cut back on telecommuting and out-of-office time for its employees. An indication that people are using their lunch breaks, to eat at their desks and check emails might lead you to upgrade the quality of your in-facility cafeteria to encourage people to eat together. You might increase the size of your tables in the lunchroom so that more people can sit at them together, and cut down on the size of your conference rooms, so that you can have more of them so that people can meet in smaller groups that seem to foster more productive meetings.

Even employee advocate groups don’t seem to have much of a problem with this kind of tracking as long as it’s done at the group level, and individual employees are not singled out for reporting. But it seems to me that individual tracking and sorting will be the next and obvious step - most employers want to be able to identify their most productive and least productive people and structure their performance improvement efforts accordingly. Once employers start focusing on individual movements around the office, I’m guessing there will be some type of legislative backlash to address the issue. In any event, this "collaring" is just another indication of the way technology is shaping employment management

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