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Employee Productivity Tracked Through Sensors?

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Productivity tips and techniques may be one of my key areas of focus, but I’m concerned about one specific productivity enhancement “technology.” That’s the use of electronic sensors to track an employee’s every move.

I wish I were making this up, but I’m not. As covered in AOL Jobs:

The idea of having employees walk around with electronic sensors to track their every move is unsettling. There are privacy and legal issues, and who wants to feel like they are just a cog in a system? But data companies say that the resulting reams of information will improve life for companies and employees.

I’m a huge fan of productivity. I’d like to think it’s the main topic I’m known for an as an Indianapolis speaker. And I love measurement. How else will you improve productivity if you’re not measuring what you’re doing?

Increasing Productivity: Pedometer

© Flickr user tellumo

However, this story reminds me of a post we wrote about another productivity improvement plan. That one was based on movement-sensing technology that would sound an alarm if employees walked too slowly.

Here’s more from the article:

The sensors are intended to measure when and how employees are truly productive. While individual information is collected, it’s anonymized to provide metadata and hedge against privacy concerns. The information is then used to suggest how employees, and the company as a whole, can work more efficiently.

[The team] placed electronic sensors in employees’ badges, which includes a Bluetooth, a microphone (it doesn’t record what people say, but rather the tone of their voice, speaking speed and volume), a motion sensor to measure movement, and an infrared beam.

The idea is that these analytic tools can help determine the nature of the conversations people are having. For example, the microphone can measure speaking tone, and the higher someone’s tone or the faster they speak can indicate how excited or passionate they are at any given time.

It’s easy to see why some researchers and some managers are excited about this “productivity improvement technology.” But it’s also easy to see how this can be used. Measurement eventually becomes monitoring

Improving Productivity Through Monitoring?

© Flickr user mujitra

This supposed solution begs the real question: What is the definition of productivity?. The answer is that productivity is about setting and meeting objectives, not about measuring the tone of voice people use to talk to each other.

Ultimately, if we want to improve productivity we need to look at objectives. We need to step out back and encourage stakeholders to take risks. We need to accept that some people will want to have upbeat conversations and others will want to have tense conversations and others will not want to have conversations at all.

In summary: The secret to being more productive isn’t more measurement. It’s focusing on trust and results.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
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