Follow a day in the life of our fictional American office worker as his company tracks what he does, where he goes and whom he meets.
Advancements in technologies―including sensors, mobile devices, wireless communications, data analytics and biometrics―are rapidly expanding monitoring capabilities and reducing the cost of surveillance, and that's prompting more employers to use these tools.
In 2015, about 30 percent of large employers were monitoring employees in nontraditional ways, such as analyzing e-mail text, logging computer usage or tracking employee movements, says Brian Kropp, group vice president of HR practice for Gartner, a research and advisory firm. By 2018, that number had jumped to 46 percent, and Gartner projects it will reach well over 50 percent this year.
Walk up a set of steep stairs next to a vegan Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto in Silicon Valley, and you will see the future of work, or at least one version of it. This is the local office of Humanyze, a firm that provides “people analytics”. It counts several Fortune 500 companies among its clients (though it will not say who they are). Its employees mill around an office full of sunlight and computers, as well as beacons that track their location and interactions. Everyone is wearing an ID badge the size of a credit card and the depth of a book of matches. It contains a microphone that picks up whether they are talking to one another; Bluetooth and infrared sensors to monitor where they are; and an accelerometer to record when they move.
“Every aspect of business is becoming more data-driven. There’s no reason the people side of business shouldn’t be the same,” says Ben Waber, Humanyze’s boss. The company’s staff are treated much the same way as its clients. Data from their employees’ badges are integrated with information from their e-mail and calendars to form a full picture of how they spend their time at work. Clients get to see only team-level statistics, but Humanyze’s employees can look at their own data, which include metrics such as time spent with people of the same sex, activity levels and the ratio of time spent speaking versus listening.
The University of Arizona is tracking freshman students’ ID card swipes to anticipate which students are more likely to drop out. University researchers hope to use the data to lower dropout rates. (Dropping out refers to those who have left higher-education entirely and those who transfer to other colleges.)
The card data tells researchers how frequently a student has entered a residence hall, library, and the student recreation center, which includes a salon, convenience store, mail room, and movie theater. The cards are also used for buying vending machine snacks and more, putting the total number of locations near 700. There’s a sensor embedded in the CatCard student IDs, which are given to every student attending the university.
“By getting their digital traces, you can explore their patterns of movement, behavior and interactions, and that tells you a great deal about them,” Sudha Ram, a professor of management information systems who directs the initiative, said in a press release.