People Analytics helps companies to understand, to predict and – if necessary – to change the behaviour of their employees. Based on hard science. Ben Waber, data scientist and pioneer in this field: ‘Data are also crucial in designing physical work places.’
Ben Waber is a visiting researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he developed the ‘Sociometric Badge‘. The idea is to hang the smart badge – which is equipped with a microphone – around your neck so it can analyse how much you talk. But also how you talk – your tone of voice, volume and speed – or how often you are interrupted, … Big Brother? Not at all, Waber assures.
‘We are investigating how employees work together and how we can improve it by using hard data. Who is talking with whom and for how long? Who does most of the talking during meetings? We do not provide individual data to companies, they only get to see general patterns and correlations such as: do sales and engineering work enough together? How people behave among themselves in the workplace largely determines the productivity of a company. A conversation between two employees may reveal much, without focusing on what is being said.’ Ben Waber strongly believes in the chemistry between employees who are physically present and working together. ‘Our technology proves the power of human interaction.’
Our technology proves the power of human interactionBen Waber, Founder of Humanyze
Longer lunches improve results
Waber gives the example of a study on call centres of the American Bank. The data suggest that teams having time to chat during lunch time are a lot more productive. Data also show that patients in hospitals recover faster when nurses give them more attention. ‘By gathering all this data over the years you can make predictions: if a particular employee works or collaborates in such way, he will show better results.’Data with predictive value. Does this mean that decisions based on gut instinct will completely disappear? ‘Even with tons of data to support our decisions, we need people to interpret the data and make the right decisions ‘, emphasizes Waber. And are employees ready to work in those data driven organizations? Waber thinks so: ‘Provided that companies cannot use this data to identify and target individual employees.’
Invest in a workplace
Data can change a meeting room or even the whole workplace. ‘Data are crucial for the design of physical work places.’ For example, in one of the companies that participated in Waber’s study, employees sitting at long desks were communicating 43 percent less than their colleagues sitting at shorter desks. ‘Another example: if only one person talks 80 percent of the time during a brainstorm, the participants come up with crappy ideas. By gathering different people, changing the design of the room and using technology, a meeting can become much more productive. You should consider meeting rooms and industrial buildings as smart investments rather than cost items. They also change the way people work together.’