Monday, February 20, 2017

Bloomberg Businessweek

Writing for Bloomberg Businessweek, Rebecca Greenfield highlights an exciting new trend in office design that harness the power of data to develop new workplace efficiencies, while also presenting unique challenges to workers concerned about privacy. Devices that measure the frequency with which employees come and go, use certain areas of an office building, and even the patterns of oral communication have been collecting data at hundreds of companies around the world, including roughly 15 percent of all Fortune 500 companies. Greenfield concedes that these devices have a Big Brother or James Bond mystique, but companies like Enlighted have developed innovative ways to mine data and use that data to improve the space that companies use. On balance, despite legitimate fears of intrusiveness by employers, these super smart sensors have the capacity to transform the workplace into an even more functional efficient environment.
Although headlines that rightfully scare workers announce things like “hidden devices” stashed in light fixtures and inside of ID badges, the idea that employers are more motivated to snoop on their workers or track them like prey is less likely than the compelling desire to increase profits and build a more productive office space. Enlighted’s data is entirely anonymous, which means that all of the information that clients gather using the sensors in their offices is within the legal boundaries of U.S. law. Employers are already equipped with an array of tools that facilitate monitoring in almost every corner of the office. Rather than using cameras, snooping on employee computer usage, or using actual managers to track employees, these new devices are a highly sophisticated method of gathering the same information and using it in much smarter ways.
Perhaps most strikingly, Greenfield discovered that many workers do not mind this type of data collection. She cites a Pew Research Center study from last year found that a majority of U.S. workers could permit monitoring and data gathering if done for safety reasons. In fact, safety is just one of the positive byproducts of surveillance in the work place. These sensors can detect everything from energy usage to daylight to motion. One major architecture firm mentioned in the Bloomberg article this week estimates that it has saved 25 percent in energy costs since installing 1000 sensors in the light fixtures in its New York office. Over the next five years those savings could exceed $200,000, which will more than cover the installation costs.
Most surprisingly, these sensors can sometimes include small microphones that track sounds of speech, so that employers can actually tell how long a worker has gone without speaking to coworker. Not unlike many other features of these devices, these microphones might seem like a way for bosses to keep their workers from pleasant conversation with work friends, but it might also signal a need to tear down walls or other barriers in the workplace that prevent employees from great collaboration. Sensors cannot actually do the work, but they can dramatically enhance the flow.  


Bryce Carrasco said...

Integrating workplace software is a increasingly popular trend in leading companies across all industries. Devices and technology like the one mentioned in this article are extremely beneficial for management teams when analyzing employee performance or when trying to fix possible defects in their production processes. While some may argue that analyzing employee activity throughout a typical work day can seem intrusive and violating privacy, I disagree because I do not think that the workplace is one that should warrant privacy towards employees if they are acting in a professional manner. This technology can also work towards the benefit of employees by increasing collaboration and giving management more data to improve the work environment, since they have the data necessary to analyze how employees interact and perform various duties and whether or not those daily activities can be improved to increase efficiency and quality of production. Furthermore, employees should not view this integration of workplace monitoring as a violating action, but rather as an enhancement of management to employee communication and collaboration. This technology has the potential to open lines of communication between workers and managers that was not possible before, and this improvement in collaboration techniques will allow for better communication and more efficient production.

Matt Lodato said...

Everywhere we go, and everything we do we face technologies that most people are completely unaware of. Whether you find it invasive or cool, it is becoming more advanced, more capable, and more widespread. There is no doubt that workplace technology in almost all industries is becoming increasingly apparent and widely used for many reason. The scary truth for most employees is that some of these reasons may be unknown to anyone other than the higher up executives. This also made me surprised that many workers do not mind the data collection that is taking place in their office. I feel that this might be due to the idea that a company’s use of these devices is not to track their workers, but rather to increase the company’s overall productivity and increase profits. Lewis Maltby, the president of the National Workrights Institute said, “Employers can do any kind of monitoring they want in the workplace that doesn’t involve the bathroom.” Employees are legally allowed to track their workers in basically any way they want as along as it does not involve the privacy of a bathroom. While still invasive in some aspects, I feel that as technology becomes more advanced, especially in the workplace, monitors and devices like this are becoming increasingly important for a companies efficiency and productivity. I feel that these devices are going to continue to become more advanced and more widely used in many ways because of the potential competitive advantage it could bring to a company. Its ability to enhance the flow of a workplace and increase the overall productivity cannot be passed up on especially if competitors are using it. Overall I believe that company executives are not using these devices to be invasive and have complete control over all workers, but rather for the best interest of the company. Their goal is to be as efficient as possible and increase profits as much as they can, and these devices have proven to help. A lot of new and useful information comes from these hidden devices that the higher ups cant pass up on.

Michael Bacci said...

I am against this sort of invasive overstep of privacy. With today's ever advancing technology, this an unfortunate new issue that we face. The major problem with the implementation technology like "OccupEye" is that almost all of the privacy laws that were written to protect us, were written when this sort of technology was not possible. Whats worse is that a large percentage of employees do not even know this sort of surveillance is going on. I find it horrifying that our privacy laws do not require companies to inform their employees about the constricting net of surveillance that they are drawing around them. At a minimum, there should be formal, open disclosure of the practices that the company is involved in and how that may affect them. To be better equipped to deal with the new and changing issues we face today, our privacy laws must be reviewed and updated. The reason the article suggests that “businesses are within their legal rights” is because of the outdated nature of such laws.
The article boasts about the vast number of benefits that are achieved thru surveillance. I would argue that this is a misleading statistic which does not account for the negative effects of such surveillance. When employees understand that they are constantly being watched, I believe their productivity will go down. They will be more stressed, less happy and as a result less productive. I would argue that this contributes to an overall net negative effect. Additionally, the problem with this sort of surveillance is not ensuring that it is used the right way but rather considering what will happen if the information falls into the wrong hands. With the high profile hacks of the DNC, Yahoo and Apple iCloud, what happens when this surveillance information falls into the wrong hands? Risks like these add significant costs that are not accounted for in the statistics presented in this article. A "25 percent savings in energy costs" is well and good until the same system causes a massive leak of information that damages everyone associated to the company. How is a disaster like this factored in to the “25% savings” model? I would assume that it wipes out all of this precious energy savings.