business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The Washington Post the other day had a story about a new technology that allows employee badges to measure virtually every aspect of the wearer's performance - from how long they sit, how much they fidget, how long they spend away from their desks, and who they talk to.

According to the story, "A Boston company has taken technology developed at MIT and turned it into special badges that hang around your neck on a lanyard. Each has two microphones doing real-time voice analysis, and each comes with sensors that follow where you are in the office, with motion detectors to record how much you move. The beacons tracking your movements are omitted from bathroom locations, to give you some privacy."

The company, Humanyze, says that the system "doesn’t record the content of what people say, just how they say it. And the boss doesn’t get to look at individuals’ personal data. It is also up to the employee to decide whether they want to participate."

Company CEO Ben Waber says that "the company is careful not to divulge personal data to the employer, preferring instead to stick with broad analytics. Employees get to see their own data, but managers do not get to identify the employee with the specific data."

Indeed, he describes it as "exactly like a Fitbit for your career." In other words, an Eye-Opener.

But...

It also may be seen by some employees as a little too "Big Brother" for their tastes. I know I'd feel that way ... and I'd worry that while the intention might not be to link specific behavior to specific employees, the temptation might be a little too great under certain circumstances.

The Fitbit metaphor is a powerful one. I live in a household full of people who spend all their time tracking footsteps and stairs and burned calories, and so I know this can be a strong motivator.

I just think that while it is terrific to have technology that can improve productivity, it is equally important to create a culture that has faith in the people who work there. Most people respond to being trusted and empowered ... and I think that companies ignore this at their own peril.
KC's View: