The increasing ubiquity of wearables and the Internet of Things has rightly prompted concerns over the privacy of personal data and establishing boundaries for being tracked. Hitachi, the Japanese electronics company, is targeting corporations with a new device that is designed to optimize for efficiency in the workplace through data gathering. The Hitachi Business Microscope looks like an employee ID badge that many major corporations issue to their employees that often allow for access within certain buildings.
In this redesign of the standard employee ID badge, Hitachi has embedded infrared sensors, an accelerometer, a microphone sensor and a wireless communication device. When these sensors come within a certain distance of each other, they are able to recognize each other and record the face time, body and behavior data to a server’. The device records and transmits to management data about who talks to whom, how often, where and how energetically. It sends employers information on how much time each member of staff spends out of their seats. The device also has an LCD screen that features real-time stats for personal feedback and benchmarking (for those self Quantifiers). In other words, it tracks everything – for better or for worse, for employers and for employees.
While privacy concerns are an obvious issue, the benefits to this system include giving companies (employers and employees alike) valuable data about interactions within the workplace and have already been shown to improve productivity. According to Hitachi, in a retail store pilot test, based on an analysis of 10-days of POS data and employee/customer behavioral data, employees were re-positioned within the store. The results? A 15% improvement in average sales per customer.
Finding ways to promote personal privacy whilst gathering business intelligence will prove to be a fine balance as both issues are of paramount importance. However, taking an optimistic view, the enormous amount of data that could be collected within organizations from employees could allow companies to improve organizational communication and develop programs to help improve company culture, promote higher employee engagement, and potentially introduce more breaks for increased employee health.
For example, one firm introduced the device after combining two different groups within the organization. Data collected from the device showed that several weeks after this merger, there was very little interaction between the two divisions. A manager was able to identify himself as a problem and realized that he was having little or no interaction with many of his new team members and made an effort to optimize his performance by intentionally building new working relationships to improve collaboration.
Thus, gathering data on employee behavior through wearable devices can result in a positive impact across organizations as individuals and groups work to optimize their overall performance. So long as the privacy of data is respected and programs are implemented after carefully considering the impact such devices will have on the company as a whole, the future of work with wearables can bring about greater productivity and inter-organizational awareness.
Source, images: Hitachi