The Not-So-Creepy Reason More Bosses Are Tracking Employees

To cut down on formal meetings and improve collaboration, companies keep tabs on workers’ emails, chat logs and face-to-face interactions


By KELSEY GEE

 Social-media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter aren’t the only ones tracking how people connect and share with their peers. Employers are doing it too.

Companies including Boston Consulting Group, and Microsoft Corp. are variously mining employees’ emails, chat logs, and tracking face-to-face interactions to get a better grasp on how information travels among employees.

The goal, managers said, is to cut down on time-consuming meetings, vague emails and useless training sessions. While some bosses already use apps to gauge productivity and employee performance, management researchers say new technologies like sensorladen ID badges and programs that analyze online calendars offer a better measure of how efficiently teams communicate and how well they collaborate without overtaxing one another’s time.

In preparation for an office move, consulting firm BCG gave 20% of its roughly 500 New York-based employees ID badges to wear last spring. The badges tracked the volunteers’ movement through the office and recorded whom they talked to—though not what they said—and how long they spent in conversation. BCG hoped to learn how the old office layout affected their interactions with colleagues and overall workload.

Ross Love, a managing partner leading the project, said the tracking data collected from the badges showed many employees were spending too much time with bosses or direct reports, which limited the flow of information across teams. The six-week trial also revealed that people who stopped more often to chat with random colleagues spent, on average, five fewer hours in long meetings. Mr. Love suspected the time difference meant commingling workers were spreading news and updates more efficiently.

The findings informed the design of BCG’s new office. To boost employee interactions and cut down on formal meetings, the company added a town-square style lounge area serving free breakfast and lunch, where most people stop for coffee or snacks throughout the day.

Diana Li, a BCG associate who participated in the trial, said the lounge’s new salad bar was a “game-changer” that has prompted her to leave her desk more often.

Since the November relocation, Mr. Love said employees collaborate across the business better, an impression BCG will quantify in a second analysis of employees’ work habits in the coming weeks.

The maker of the sensor-laden ID badge, Humanyze, is one of a growing number of software companies and in-house analytics tools replacing company directories and
team calendars.

The new push to measure and manipulate workplace interaction is driven by changes in the way people work. People across industries spend 50% more time collaborating than they did 10 years ago, according Rob Cross, a professor at Babson College, who—with two colleagues—analyzed 300 organizations.

Syndio, a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based relationship analytics startup, has created a software tool that co-founder Katya Siddall said helps companies find out which employees may be feeling left out of formal channels of communication.

Syndio’s application gathers email data and asks co-workers to respond to survey questions like “Does Natasha inspire you?” It then maps a constellation of connected
dots, which represent relationships and the strength of each bond.

Employees with fewer, weaker ties are depicted by smaller-size dots, so bosses clearly see who might need help connecting with co-workers.

Addressing the more intrusive aspects of her product’s data collection, Ms. Siddall said only email data such as sender and recipient—not the message’s content—were collected. She said both bosses and employees at client companies, including health insurer Health Care Service Corp. and Exelon Corp, were more willing to have their communication monitored when they knew it was being used to improve relationships.

Although Ms. Li, the BCG associate, said at first she was self-conscious about how much she was interacting with colleagues while wearing the smart ID badge, after a few days she forgot she was generating data.

“Now it’s like, how many times have I been on a project where two companies are merging and thought, I wish I had data to show how teams are working together?” Ms. Li. said.

Volometrix, a company acquired by Microsoft in 2015, tracks email activity and searches calendar events in Microsoft’s Office 365 products, to measure how employees spend their time, and how much time they drain from co-workers.

The tool, now dubbed MyAnalytics, helps pick up patterns that could hurt teamwork and even offer suggestions. Night owls who frequently send late-night emails might be prompted to consider waiting until the morning to send non-urgent messages if the program notices their contacts are clocking longer days to stay on top of their inboxes.

Ryan Fuller, who founded Volometrix and now runs Microsoft’s workplace analytic team, says his own team of engineers used the tool when they were frazzled from a
disjointed schedule of meetings and individual projects. Reorganizing meeting times freed up two hours for uninterrupted work each week, he said, creating a 5% bump in productivity for the 50 developers, who now report the highest morale scores in the division.


This article was supplied by The Wall Street Journal and was originally published on 21 March 2017

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