Prepare for your New Quantified Employees

Nike fuel band

The "Quantified Self" movement has emerged with the rise of wearable devices like Fitbit, Jawbone Up and Nike Fuelband. These gadgets help people monitor their daily health: activities like steps taken, stairs climbed, sleep, and water consumption.

Some devices deliver health tips through a corresponding smartphone or desktop app. The idea being that the more we know about ourselves, the healthier we can be.

Not only are we monitoring our bodies, we're slapping instruments on everything else. Homes are being monitored by tools like Nest.

Then, there's social media. Facebook encourages us to post data about where we are, what we’re doing, and who we're with. When you Tweet, you broadcast your location, what you’re reading or thinking, and often your photograph.

In the Workplace?

The movement has seen organisations begin using data and insights from personal tracking apps given to their employees (or which they're encouraged to sign up for). Tools are being developed to help monitor, track, and better understand the activity of workers. These tools run anonymously in real-time, and are often invisible.

Quantified Work uses data-driven approaches (like input, feedback, and visualisation) to encourage interaction, and improve business performance. It gives a behavioural insight into achieving objectives, through the measurement of key results.


Quantified Work is all about performance enhancement, and is designed to support human resource efforts. The process begins with strategies for defining goals and metrics. While some data is derived from time-based activities, monitoring needs to cover much more.

Issues include:

·   Employee Monitoring: i.e., your workers' daily activity. Who they meet with. Where they go. One aim is to identify the “social connectors” in the organisation, and what patterns of communication seem to lead to higher levels of performance.

·   Real-time Feedback: Traditionally, companies have used annual "engagement" surveys for this. A new set of tools now let you speak up about how you feel at work, on a real-time basis. Most run on mobile devices, and are available from companies like CultureAmp, Achievers, BlackbookHR, TinyPulse, TemboSocial, Hppy, and Waggl.

·   Accountability: Maintaining confidentiality of feedback will give people transparency, and the freedom to share what they feel. This will make management more accountable, and improve the work environment.

·   Employee Retention and Big Data Monitoring: Tools from the likes of Entelo and OrgStars mine social data and apply intelligence to develop an aggregate “score” which tells employers who's looking for a new job. Companies can quickly figure out who is thinking about leaving, and develop strategies to encourage workers to stay on. 

·   Performance and Big Data: Analysis to help you understand the characteristics of high performers. This will assist in turn with developing management tools, hiring practices, and pre-hire assessments. Companies like Evolv On Demand, IBM, Visier, PeopleAnswers, and others now provide Big Data analytics using internal HR data.

Methods of Implementation

1. Badges: Location monitors, which fit inside an employee badge. Companies using this technology have discovered that more sociable people (who also eat lunch at bigger tables) are better at customer service.

Analysis of badge data has shown that natural leaders, (“charismatic connectors”) give their time democratically to others and listen at least as much as they speak. They communicate equally with everyone, and make sure all team members get a chance to contribute.

2. Name Tags: Hitachi’s Business Microscope (HBM),  is worn like a conference name tag. It measures body movements and voice levels - even ambient air temperatures, and illumination. The device tracks head nods, arm waving, stretching, finger pointing and other non-verbal communication.

In practice, these wearables would make it possible to determine which office locations have the most frequent and active discussions. Such information might contribute to designing a more collaborative office layout.

3. Wristbands: Buffer gives all of its employees a Jawbone UP wristband that they can use to track activity, nutrition, sleep patterns etc. The logic (which has shown results) being that improved sleep patterns translate into better performance at work.

4. Real-time Leaderboards: Some devices (like the Fitbit) use Bluetooth to wirelessly track your movement, sending the information to a mobile phone in real-time. That same data could be used to create an office leaderboard of most active employees or departments.

5. E-mail Analysis: Monitoring the pattern of employee emails - not with the goal of reading anyone's messages. Rather, the idea is to study the patterns of communication within the company. The method looks at everyone’s “To” and “cc” lists, and also who people are receiving email “from.”

Isn't It Intrusive?

Could be, if poorly implemented. These tools will raise many issues about data ownership and workplace privacy.

Quantification works best in organisational cultures that are characterised by high levels of trust and transparency.

Some (Other) Things to Guard Against:

·   The workplace degenerating into a "California high school" nightmare of cliques and popularity contests.

·   The abuse of anonymous feedback and comment to harm the career prospects of others.

·   Analysis of short-term feedback failing to spot the sleeping genius. Those who sit quietly in a corner, developing the idea or product that changes everything.

 Above all, the extension of people analytics must bring with it a corresponding extension of workplace privacy, and rules governing data usage. Because by all appearances, Quantified Work is here to stay.