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Workplace sensors & wearable devices in the office

27 Apr 2017  |  Tech  |  Future of the workplace

Workplace sensors and wearable devices to monitor employee behaviour are becoming increasingly popular within companies around the world.

It’s been reported that number of unnamed high street banks and parts of the NHS are using ‘sociometric badges’ created by a firm called Humanyze. The discreet badges are worn around employees’ necks and include a microphone for real-time voice analysis, a device that tracks the wearer around the workplace, a Bluetooth sensor to scan for proximity to others and an accelerometer to check physical activity.  The aim of the devices is to build data on the behaviour of staff in order to eventually improve productivity in the workplace – a proposed benefit for all.

The chief executive of Humanyze, Ben Waber, said: “By mining the data, you can actually get very detailed information on how people are communicating … and can make predictions about how productive and happy they are at work.”

The potential for adopting such devices or installing fixed sensors within a workplace is huge – if a company can truly understand what makes its workforce tick, then they can take steps to improving the working day, providing a happier environment and design a workplace that suits their business.

Benefits for employees could include better heating and air conditioning – a survey carried out on more than 1200 full-time office workers in the US showed their biggest complaint about their office was the inability to adjust their workplace temperature, with 46% saying they were unsatisfied .

Monitors fitted to furniture in the office could also dramatically assist with wellbeing in the office. If a sensor is installed within a task chair, it could identify if the user is sitting correctly – alerting them if their posture changes and assisting to avoid issues such as back pain.

Of course, in addition to providing data just as an aid to improve workplace wellbeing, Smart Buildings are utilising sensors and monitoring to dramatically change the way the workplace is run. You can read our blog on Smart Buildings here. One example is how sensors can track how many people are in the building at any one time and which rooms are being used, so better control of the energy used can be maintained – resulting in smaller bills and significant cost savings.

However, the data protection side of collating employee data is something that still needs further exploration. An article in the FT suggests that some HR professionals, lawyers and unions say it could create an ethical quandary and employers should work to develop codes of conduct about how they collect, store and use data about their workers . As with the introduction of any major new initiative to the workplace, a good change management programme is essential to making sure employees feel assured and understand why changes are being made.

By Kate Fargus 

What do you think? We’d love to hear your opinion.

Would you welcome wearable devices or sensors in your office?

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