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Workplace Technology in the age of GDPR

This is a recent article I published on how businesses should consider deploying new technology in the light of upcoming new regulation.

There is a choice to be made based on "need to know" approach in deciding which technology to use. The new regulation will favour technologies that provide services without the need to identify the user. 

Freespace is well positioned to provide intelligence to smart workplaces by anonymously showing users available space on the floor in real time. Drop us a line to find out more.

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The God of Little Data

Every one is talking about big data. Big data is expected to be the revolution that will change the world around us. All the different bits of data being gathered and sent to the cloud. Clouds that usually deliver rain will now do the reverse – collect all the drops of data and put it into a super intelligent brain. And then the difficult work starts. The work of analysing terabytes, the work of identifying unconnected trends, the work of seeking out strange new worlds and exploring new civilisations!

All the while when this is being developed, little things that need attention are often going unattended. The broken light, the malfunctioning plug point, the spillage in the loo ……. Data has made its way to the boardroom, but seems to not have gone past the washroom. What is wrong with this construct? Lets look at some dynamics and the issues surrounding them.

Where is this data coming from

So why are people talking about big data. The big revolution underway is that of the Internet of Things. In the work environment this means data emanating from sensors, cameras, people actions, meters, switches, access badges etc. The volume of data being generated is enormous. This has created the need for a new breed of scientists – the data scientist. And they are all interested in analysing this data for extracting intelligence and getting this ready has become a major preoccupation.

Top Down vs. Bottoms Across

Traditional thinking says that the most valuable output of collecting a lot of data is to make them available in an aggregated form. Then one needs to be able to “drill down” and identify root cause of issues that are thrown up. A lot of time and effort is then spent building “cubes” of the data and enormous computation capability is kept on standby for the clever drill down. But this drill down happens only when the senior manager has time in their busy day. Very often this drops to the bottom of their priorities. Regular reports and presentations get prepared and filed away.

Meanwhile deep hierarchies are fast disappearing and organisations are becoming flatter. This leaves even less time for managers. In this new world information needs to be made available to the lower most levels of supervision. If every level of operations is empowered with actionable information, small decisions can be taken, timely fixes can be implemented and issues can be resolved before they become one. All this points to using data effectively at a local level.

Time to fix

Of course, empowering the front line with data has another significant benefit. Fixes can be implemented much sooner that otherwise. A user based study at a major FM company showed that using a simple web app to send alerts on a common FM dashboard can cut response times for small issues by 60%. Data for the sake of analytics needs to be managed in a certain way. Data to enable the front line needs a different approach.

Data structure required for local empowerment needs to include several characteristics to be effective. They should be real time or near real time. They should be based on push notification rather than a pull refresh. They need to be available to be distributed at an enterprise level with each local team having access to their local information only. And most importantly, this data needs to be converted to suggest a simple action that can be taken by an average user. This points to a user centric design approach in design of the solution and processing of the local data to convert it into a call to action.

Empowering the user

Automation can also be extended to an office user. With information at their fingertips space productivity for example can be dramatically improved. For example, our Freespace service enables office users to find spaces in real time. Data from occupancy levels across the floor and indeed the building is made available to office users to help them find the kind of space they need for the task at hand. This makes the office truly flexible with vacated spaces being auto released for the next user.

When every office user is provided information that can help them find spaces quickly, the impact for a business can be significant. The largest cost for any business is typically its employee base. Making them productive drives profits to the bottom line. Empowering them directly to become productive is the fastest way to achieve this.

Benefits of Little Data

The above explanation clearly shows the benefit of little data. While big data can definitely keep a lot of consulting companies busy, it is little data that can actually deliver what businesses need – increase in space productivity, improvement in user satisfaction and value to the bottom line. The simple math below illustrates this point:

Big Data x Few Execs x Once in a while = Questionable Benefit

Little Data x All Staff x All the time = Big Benefits

The devil is in the detail. God is in little data.

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The future of the workplace must be lead by HR

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The future of the workplace must be lead by HR

 

According to research from Leesman, activity based working is on the rise. And indeed, while the trend was initially spearheaded by renowned boundary-pushing brands such as Lego and Google, we’ve recently seen greater numbers of more traditional Professional Services organisations adopting the approach. From Big Four consultancy Deloitte’s Amsterdam-based smart-building, The Edge, to 5 Broadgate, Swiss bank UBS’s headquarters in Liverpool Street, even firms from typically risk-averse sectors are now embracing non-allocated seating.

However, despite this widespread uptake, the approach still receives criticism. Authors such as Inc.com’s Geoffrey James regularly condemn open-space offices, claiming that they make employees unwell, cause political turmoil and decrease productivity. In his articles, James cites an Exeter University study claiming that unassigned office seating can lead to a 15 percent reduction in productivity.

Setting aside the fact that this study was published almost a decade ago and that both workplaces and attitudes have changed since then, the claim is difficult to prove. Economically, productivity is linked to the yield or output of each worker – indeed, the GDP measurement was initially developed during the industrial age when it was logical to calculate prosperity in this way. In a modern office setting however, where businesses sell assets such as services, insights and networks, it’s just too intangible to measure.

So, when claims are made about the negative impact of hot-desking or non-assigned seating on productivity, we have to question how those claims are justified. Arguably, it is far more important to look at the happiness and comfort levels of staff, and ultimately how the space affects their ability to do their jobs.

As these aren’t “hard metrics”, they are difficult to quantify. Employees’ opinions and the way they use their workspaces need to be measured through ongoing observation, feedback and interaction. This is further complicated by the variety in ‘culture of working’ within an organisation and the ability of employees to adapt to changes in work environment.

However, as new technologies such as sensing and visualisation mature, some powerful tools are emerging for businesses to build upon. These solutions are providing managers with incredible insights into how workplaces are really being used. More importantly this technology can prove how effective a workplace change management program has been. This insight can then be used to incrementally optimise the space until the final transformation outcome is fully delivered. 

[This article originally appeared on HRreview.co.uk. To read the full piece, click here.]

 

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When workplace technology helps without compromise

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When workplace technology helps without compromise

As workplace sensor technology becomes more pervasive, we readdress the delicate balance of benefits vs. privacy.

Earlier this summer, we heard of a Wisconsin-based tech company ‘microchipping employees’ to enable contactless access to buildings, computers and even cafeteria purchases. And while the thought of a rice-sized RFID chip implanted under the skin may sound like a sci-fi nightmare to some, others seem to be embracing it. Almost two-thirds of the company’s workforce volunteered to be chipped. This just goes to show how identity linked sensing technology is very much on the rise in the workplace.

It may sound like an extreme example, but it is far from the only one. Colleague finding apps, GPS monitoring tech and other ‘people analytics’ tools have been making their way into the world of work for some time now, usually in the name of productivity.

However, privacy experts raise serious questions over the security of these technologies and how they could be used to track how long employees spend on breaks or in the bathroom for example. It’s a delicate and emotive issue, especially where ‘monitoring’ comes into play.  

 

Risk aversion vs. reaping the benefits

When it comes to occupancy measuring technology – i.e. sensors that monitor the use of office space – there is a fear that the tech might damage staff morale or lead to reputational risk.

Indeed, cases where sensors have been installed in workplaces without employees’ knowledge have created media firestorms in the past. The issue here however is not the sensors themselves, but rather a matter of data privacy, purpose and of consent. You can read my comments on this issue in a recent Financial Times article, here

Sensors carry numerous benefits. Many blue chip organisations, including those in typically risk averse industries such as financial services, have used them to benefit employees, improve their productivity, visualise space availability and step change employee engagement.

The subtle difference is to ensure how technology can be deployed in flexible spaces where personal identity is not relevant or applicable. Moreover, employers can demonstrate their disinterest in personal tracking by only installing products that do not require log-ins or user identification.

The purpose of using sensors must be to characterise spaces, not to monitor individuals. Providing timely and valuable data about flexible workspaces can not only help staff have happy and productive days at work, but also serve to improve overall property utilisation.

 

Who can benefit?

Businesses that would most benefit from this technology include those moving into a new flexible space, those experiencing space related HR issues such as dissatisfaction and poor productivity and those planning to reduce real estate without negatively impacting staff.

The design of the solution has to take into account the business’s working culture. Offices are structured differently from one organisation to another, and even within different departments of the same company. Some offices may have tight-knit teams that need to work in close physical proximity, while others may be open to fully non-addressed seating.

These aspects must be considered, both when selecting a technology provider and when setting up the solution in situ. Not all space needs to be monitored after all, and the ideal set-up will need to be highly bespoke.

Versatility is a critical success factor of this technology as it must be adaptable to a variety of non-allocated working spaces such as meeting rooms, solo working and collaboration areas. What’s more, hardware with the in-built capability to measure environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, light levels and air quality will add more to the user’s overall experience and provide facilities and real estate teams with valuable insight.

 

How to make the most of it

In order to get the most out of a sensing platform, a carefully communicated change management programme is essential. Using clear language to express how flexible spaces are supposed to work, the change management team should set unambiguous expectations and ensure people's questions are addressed early in the process.

In addition, and perhaps most importantly, the senior management team within the organisation must demonstrate their confidence in the efficacy of the solution and be seen to be embracing it themselves, or leading by example. By doing so, they will show their commitment and inspire trust and buy-in from their employees.

One of the key, and in fact most important, measurements of success for the deployment is employee satisfaction. Has the system been easy to use, have staff seen benefits such as reduced time finding working space and an overall improved office experience? The crux of this technology is to make workspaces better, with the added bonus of reducing real estate costs, so if staff are happy then it’s clear the solution is working. 

At Workplace Fabric, we have seen corporate users benefit from our Freespace solution by delivering space utilisation increase by almost 30 per cent. Floor users have enthusiastically embraced the solution largely due to the fact that it gives them instant live information while requiring no additional training to undertake, credentials to input, or apps to download.  The intelligence gathered is helping real estate teams to make strategic decisions on their portfolio strategy.

Many of the concerns around this technology are based on instances of misuse and poor communication regarding its purpose. By deploying the solution as described above, privacy aspects can be safely laid to rest. When the benefits of improving productivity andspace optimisation are taken into account the solution stands out as a clear winner. 

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Freespace CO2 Monitoring

Peak CO2 calculation from various sensors in two separate rooms

Peak CO2 calculation from various sensors in two separate rooms

Workplace Fabric is pleased to announce the launch of Carbon Dioxide monitoring on the Freespace platform. The solution is based on the same Freespace parent module connected to a child sensor that incorporates the CO2 module. Our CO2 sensors are based on high accuracy dual channel pyroelectric detector that feature very high signal to noise ration and temperature compensation. As a result Freespace CO2 sensors are available to perform air quality measurement applications that require high levels of accuracy and response. 

Sensors deployed across a floor plate give real time measurement and deliver alerts and escalations when predetermined levels are crossed. Frequency of measurement is controllable remotely and so are any set points using our web interface. Access to analytics and data is available on the online portal along the same dashboard which allows you to view real time occupancy statistics.

Our sensors have been independently validated by a 3rd party for accuracy, repeatability and consistency.

The is increasing evidence that air quality affects people productivity. With heavy dependence of people activity, air quality is increasingly being monitored on a continuous basis to understand variations through the day so that appropriate intervention can be made. Freespace CO2 is a valuable addition to delivering the best workplace environment for the office user.

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Multifloor Signage

Multifloor signage allows you to see availability across multiple floors from any screen on a floor. The approach taken does not require any action from the user nor does it deviate from the main purpose of showing the image of the current floor. 

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The screen shows relevant availability across floors based on categories. So if your floor meeting rooms are all gone you can easily view on the screen which floors have the available meeting rooms and make your way there.

Multifloor screens have now been deployed across a number of sites and have proven to be quite popular. For more information on multifloor signage please drop us a line from the Contact Us page and we will get immediately in touch.

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