Big Data in the Workplace: Can it Enhance Employee Productivity and Quality Of Life?

Mar 9, 2016 12:30 PM ET
Mark Bickford, President, Corporate Services, Sodexo North America

Big Data in the Workplace: Can it Enhance Employee Productivity and Quality Of …

This is the third in a continuing blog series based on insights and findings from the Sodexo 2016 Workplace Trends Report. The Report examines nine key trends affecting business outcomes and the quality of life of employees and consumers. To learn more, access the full article: Big Data in the Workplace : Can it Enhance Employee Productivity and Quality of Life?

Thanks to Big Data, also known as the Internet of things, facilities management professionals can go beyond just monitoring temperature and air quality in a building. They can go as deep as monitoring keystrokes to report on productivity or analyzing vocal patterns in customer telephone interactions. The ability to collect data is nearly endless.

The 2016 Workplace Trends Report, which examines key trends impacting business, points out that while companies have the ability to closely monitor and track employees, they also need to be very transparent about what data is being collected and how it will be used to improve the company and its results, or it risks just creeping out their employees. Big Data must be coupled with Big Judgment to bring desired results.

On the positive side, Quality of Life for employees is directly tied to their physical surroundings. Big Data can help Facilities Management keep buildings safe and comfortable—no more cooking people at one end and freezing the people at the other. Big Data can see how workers collaborate and lead to designing workspaces that enhance teamwork and productivity. It can contribute to good health by knowing what food choices employees are making in the company cafeteria.

Now, that last point sounds great in the aggregate, but few people want their own individual choices being monitored by someone else, so it’s important to understand that Big Data does not mean invading personal privacy. By definition, Big Data is aggregated information about patterns and broad implications. This is a key point in the Workplace Trends Report. Companies must respect their employees and transparently communicate with them about data-gathering initiatives. Beyond that, companies should engage employees in planning data collection efforts so that everyone agrees on its purpose, intended use and benefits.

For Facilities Management (FM) professionals, a key question is how can FM leverage the data already being captured about workplaces and the workforce to raise the bar on employee productivity, engagement and quality of life? What additional data could take FM to the next level of relevance and enhanced organizational performance? How can FM leaders ensure that the data they capture is used appropriately and responsibly? How can FM professionals use Big Data effectively to make data-driven decisions? What kinds of information should they be tracking to operate their facilities more efficiently and effectively?

The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) and Sodexo collaborated to answer some of these questions as the sponsors and hosts of a Future of Work Roundtable conversation on the challenges and opportunities surrounding these questions. At IFMA’s Facility Fusion 2015 Conference in 2015, the roundtable was facilitated by Dr. James Ware, Executive Director ofThe Future of Work…unlimited, Global Research Director for Occupiers Journal Limited, and immediate past president of IFMA’s Corporate Real Estate Council.

The roundtable participants represented a broad range of industries, professional roles and geographic regions. They are senior FM practitioners, consultants, workplace designers and FM service providers. The roundtable conversation, which lasted approximately two hours, focused on exploring the issues surrounding the collection and analysis of data that describes employee demographics and behaviors in the workplace. The group was particularly interested in how the FM function can affect both the benefits and the risks of tracking employee activities. The following questions drove the conversation:

  1. What are the newest and most powerful opportunities for capturing data about employee work activities and experiences?
  2. What are the most compelling benefits of work activity data for employers? For employees?
  3. What are the dangers and risks?
  4. What are the most important do’s and don’ts regarding work activity tracking? Should organizations establish and communicate formal policies about tracking and using work activity data?
  5. What is the appropriate role for FM leaders to take in defining and enforcing employee monitoring policies and practices?

Read the 2016 Workplace Trends Report to see a summary of their conversation and for insights into implementing Big Data strategies to build commitment and understanding of its implications across the entire organization.

Mark Bickford is President of Corporate Services for Sodexo North America and a strong advocate for the new performance frontier: Quality of Life. Mr. Bickford believes there is a direct link between enhanced Quality of Life and better individual, organization and community performance.