Each year new gadgets are introduced that enhance different areas of our lives. Some are simply for entertainment, while others are geared more towards analysis, measurement and driving change.
Let’s be honest here, we are not unfamiliar with the concept of wearable gadgets. Between old school pedometers worn back in the 90’s and early 2000’s, to the smart watches, glasses and cameras of today, we’ve seen lots of fancy, technological accessories over the years. As a runner, I love the concept of having the ability to measure my personal mileage, listen to music and monitor my heart rate all from my watch. This type of technology makes me feel all warm inside and makes me happy; particularly when the results exceed my expectations.
But, wearable technology isn’t done yet — it’s taking on the challenge of measuring upon a more complicated scale. Recently, Bank of America got wind that their call center productivity was plummeting. So they gave employees an ID badge that contained wearable sensors equipped to measure productivity and happiness. What they found was interesting to say the very least: the more employees interacted, the more productive they became. According to the sensor’s creator Ben Waber, CEO of Sociometric Solutions, the results were significant:
At first, we tried to figure out what factors predict an employee’s productivity. We thought it would probably be how employees talk on the phone — people who talk in a certain way would complete calls more quickly and be more effective. That wasn’t the case. We saw that people who had a cohesive network and talked to each other completed calls in half the time as those with the least cohesive network.
Waber believes this new technology is one way that will help managers move from gut instinct to fact-based information when making decisions. In his view, the way in which companies currently measure employee happiness and productivity–through surveys and consultants–is subjective and doesn’t scale. With his technology, measuring activity through voice analysis is much more accurate and quantifiable:
Today, ID badges have RFID tags, which are actually sensors that can tell a person’s location. But that doesn’t tell [you] how people are collaborating. We’ve added additional sensors to the ID badge to measure that: Two microphones do voice analysis (how loud or quickly somebody talks, the tone of their voice, how much they interrupt whomever is speaking) and an accelerometer measures how active people are in general. It turns out that’s a really good measure of how happy and productive people are.
We’ve discussed employee productivity tracked through sensors before. It’s not a particular subject matter we believe greatly in. Which isn’t to say we don’t embrace technology. On the contrary, we encourage readers to utilize apps that enhance workflow and assist in productivity.
And we are not against measurement either. Without measuring progress and analyzing the way in which we work, achieving a more productive and successful environment would be impossible. The problem is, measurement through sensors eventually morphs into excessive and unnecessary monitoring–whether intentional or not. This simple fact is the biggest problem of all. How can you make employees happy and productive when they feel they are being watched all the time? In this regard, it stands to reason that, given the impending stress and agitation employees would surely experience, these two items of measurement would in fact go down over time.
Which leads to my next question: can we accurately measure happiness? Certainly, one can interpret the emotion based on observation. But, does that mean we can actually gather data that can be quantified and translated into fact-based conclusions? Plenty of us operate under the assumption that we’re happy only to find out days, weeks, months, or years later that we’re not fully satisfied. I hate to be Captain Obvious here, but if we can’t fully grasp our own level of happiness how in the world can an outside sensor do it?
Based on Waber’s conclusion that happiness can be charted, are we then to assume that managers and business owners will begin blindly making decisions based solely on those results without instinct and personal observation whatsoever? If that holds true, it would mean we as a working society would begin to loose our ability to freely make choices based on our own thoughts. Let’s hope that is not the ultimate goal because it is a recipe for disaster.
If you ask me, there are simply too many unanswered questions to safely say that a sensor is a “really good measure of how happy and productive people are.” Instead, let’s focus on how activity produces results, and how results create value—while not being too distracted by measurements.