Not all corporate occupiers are fortunate enough to build new offices for their employees. Buzzwords like smart and intelligent buildings are nothing new, but how can companies harness evolving technologies to transform their existing buildings to benefit management and staff?
It’s difficult to avoid hearing about ‘Millennials’ (like me!) and ‘Generation Z’ and the challenges faced by employers to attract and retain this talent. This comes as no surprise given the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey, based on results from 10,000 people across 36 countries, found that 43% of Millennials (born between the early 1980’s and mid 1990’s) and 61% of Generation Z (born between the mid 1990’s and late 2000’s) expect to leave their current job within 2 years. So without the luxury of a clean slate to design a workplace tailored to the workforce, what can be done to help renovate existing buildings to achieve the same result?
Smart badges. Most of us will be wearing some form of staff ID badge and it is these that can be used to collect data on people using a building. Hardly a revolutionary idea, but an interesting concept. Coupled with the benefit of not needing to overhaul an existing buildings infrastructure to use them, is the potential of wearable technology in the workplace being realised?
There are technologies already out there which I have seen used to track employee movement and create heat maps of workplace utilisation. The main approaches include:
- Passive RFID – This approach uses a reader or scanning device to read unique codes held on micro-chips which can be installed within an ID badge. When a person wearing a micro-chip walks past the reader, the unique code is picked up and the reader records that someone (and who they are based on their unique code) has passed by. A good example of this is for marathon runners, where Passive RFID is used to record when runners (wearing micro-chips) cross the finish line (which contains the reader) and calculate their time.
- Active RFID – Similar to Passive RFID, except greater range and accuracy is achieved as the signals are being emitted from the micro-chips themselves rather than a reader. When fixed readers are installed within a building, occupants can be located based on triangulation between the readers that are picking up the signal strength of their micro-chips.
- Bluetooth Tracking – Similar to Active RFID, Bluetooth tracking requires Bluetooth beacons to be installed that send a unique ID via Bluetooth signal which is received on people’s mobile devices, allowing their locations to be tracked within a building via an installed app. However this approach relies on people keeping their Bluetooth activated on their mobile device and allowing the correct app permissions. To help overcome this, this approach can be reversed by installing the Bluetooth beacons within an occupants ID badge which then interfaces with fixed receivers installed throughout a building to identify their location.
- Wifi Triangulation – When an occupant connects to a buildings wifi using their mobile device, their device will connect with all the wifi access points throughout the building. The occupant can then be located based on the strength and proximity of their signal to the nearest wifi access points within the building.
- What next? Implanting micro-chips in people? It’s already here!
Before introducing technology into the workplace, it is important to set a clear vision of what you want to achieve and selecting the technology to suit. Deloitte recently collaborated with Humanyze, a Boston-based start-up specialising in people analytics, rolling out their biometric smart badges to collect data on employees. In addition to employee location, their smart badges can track conversation frequency (not content, don’t worry), to understand how collaborative teams are based on how people use the building and the amount of time they spend speaking versus listening. Using this information led to successfully redesigning and boosting collaboration in the Canadian office.
I don’t see smart badges as the stand-alone answer, but they do look to go beyond just employee location and utilisation and could be a catalyst for taking a leap forward in this space by building on the existing technologies available. Humanyze predict smart badges could also help report on employee heartbeat and temperature and I can foresee collaborations with technologies like Fitbit and contactless payment, enabling smart badges to monitor employee health and be used for purchasing elevenses from the office vending machine!
These different technologies will need integrating, as each piece speaks its own language or code and they will all need to speak the same code to work off a single smart badge. However finding the technologies that can talk to each other isn’t the biggest challenge, users imposing restrictions on the technologies such as needing to satisfy business security or risk protocols is where things can get complicated. Fulfilling these demands whilst still enabling the technologies to integrate with each other will be the challenging part and cracking this is key, but the opportunities that present themselves once this data is collected is where it gets interesting (or scary!). Could health monitoring help employers understand how employees manage stress? Could employee temperature be linked to heating and cooling systems to condition the environment based on their temperature? Or could purchase history be used to tailor lunch offers to staff based on their past transactions? Clearly some people may see this as too intrusive, but used correctly, this data could be valuable in helping employers engage effectively with staff and create a work environment to suit.
Avoiding the ‘big brother’ label will be a challenge, however with UK law already permitting companies to track employee internet, phone and email business activity, how radical is this additional data collection? Organisations will need to be transparent and communicate with employees to establish where the ‘big brother’ threshold is and work within those boundaries, using opt-in and opt-in out schemes or incentives to encourage employee participation. Robust security safeguards will also be essential to comply with GDPR.
Our Internet of Things colleagues at Deloitte have already been experimenting, embarking on a project to make their office a connected space and explore the value of technology within real estate by testing off the shelf technologies to better understand what works. Check out what they have been up to here!
Given the potential value in collecting data on employees, it doesn’t look like these technologies will be going away anytime soon. In our 2018 Global Human Capital Trends survey, people analytics was the second highest ranked trend in terms of importance. With Humanyze landing in the UK last year and making the claim that companies lose over 2.1 trillion dollars in market value on failed organisational change, could we be on the brink of a workplace refurbishment revolution?