Thanks in part to the increase in hybrid and remote work, Workplace Analytics has become a must-have competency for modern organizations that wish to remain competitive by embracing a data-driven approach to enterprise decision-making.
Workplace Analytics (WPA) is the quantitative measurement and analysis of behavioral metadata from corporate-owned systems where employees conduct work, such as email, calendar, and chat tools, as well as workplace sensors and other collaboration tools. Not to be confused with “Workforce Analytics,” which deals more with analyzing HR metrics like retention rates and costs-per-hire, Workplace Analytics focuses on collaboration and how work gets done within and across teams.
Compared to more established corporate systems, Workplace Analytics is relatively new, with most vendors offering solutions that are less than ten years old. There is also quite a lot of variance in quality, capabilities, and credentials across vendors. Anyone closely evaluating Workplace Analytics vendors will see large differences in how the various solutions on the market support and enable data collection and interpretation, tailor (or don’t tailor) insights to specific use-cases, their stance on and handling of personal data, and the overall reliability of their metrics and insights. Because of this, and the lack of many proven evaluation templates for selecting a vendor, it can be daunting and difficult to assess which vendors to trust for which use-cases.
Enterprise leaders, managers, and analysts who (rightly) want to incorporate workplace analytics into their organizational toolkit should consider the following criteria before making a selection:
1. Is employee data privacy protected? How?
Employers are increasingly under the microscope for harmful employee surveillance practices, which damage employees’ trust and compromise the organization’s bottom line. While most Workplace Analytics vendors meet basic privacy requirements, in this new world of work, where regulation cannot keep up with the speed of innovation, that does not necessarily mean that they fully protect the individual. Protecting individual privacy goes beyond complying with GDPR and other basic privacy requirements. It also means going a step further to create checks-and-balances for protecting privacy, and considering the possibility of misinterpretation based on individual-level insights, which are often not indicative of overall effectiveness.
When done well, vendors should not need or have any access to personally identifiable information, such as individuals’ names or email addresses. Additionally, their insights should be delivered in aggregate form to protect against misinterpretation, wrongful use, or possible identification of individuals. Finally, when evaluating a WPA vendor, ask questions about the steps they take and the content they create to educate their employees, their customers, and the industry on ethics and privacy in the industry. Based on their answers and the content they have created, you can get a clearer picture of whether they will serve as a trusted partner in navigating data privacy and ethics, or if they are simply making unsubstantiated marketing claims.
2. Do they integrate data from essential corporate systems?
Your Workplace Analytics provider should be able to provide quantitative insight based on representative data from employees’ complete workday. This requires analyzing as many data sources as possible where employees spend their time interacting with colleagues to get work done. This could include digital collaboration tools, and in certain cases, in-person data sources, such as meeting room sensors.
There are some vendors who offer analytics capabilities as a supplement to a data-generating product they already offer. While this has advantages for ease of data collection if your organization uses only that tool, there are several disadvantages that are important to consider before choosing a vendor like this as your primary Workplace Analytics provider. The most obvious consideration is, if your teams use more than one collaboration tool to do work, these analytics tools will likely not be able to easily or effectively integrate well with other sources that are not their own products, particularly if they might be competitive. This means you will not have a full picture of how work gets done, severely limiting the value of insights. Additionally, analytics solutions that provide insights on their own products are inherently biased toward increasing or continuing usage of their own tools. If your goal is to obtain objective insight into how and where to act in order to improve organizational effectiveness, if your analytics vendor has ulterior motives that may contradict your organization’s best interests, it means its analytics cannot be fully trusted.
3. What are their credentials?
All vendors will claim to have meaningful insights, but very few can fully prove that they are scientifically validated and backed by peer-reviewed research. Workplace Analytics is an unregulated industry, so until there are more established industry-standards, it is critical to assess a vendor’s credentials and push them to substantiate their claims, particularly if they offer automation, predictive analytics, and/or scaled nudging capabilities. While asking them directly for case studies, citations, and other evidence of their scientific credentials can be a good start, you can also get a sense of a vendor’s legitimacy by searching for how often they are published in trusted publications. Additionally, if they offer benchmarks, ask for deeper detail about how extensive and representative their database is. Ideally these benchmarks should be relatively stable over time and be drawn from a representative dataset whose statistical properties are well understood. Data scientists in your organization should interrogate these claims and ideally read peer-reviewed scientific papers from the vendor’s team to further validate their credentials.
Another red flag of poor scientific backing is if a vendor makes absolute claims about their product or metrics’ as a silver-bullet solution. While Workplace Analytics is a very important contributor to decision-making in organizations, if a vendor positions themselves as the only answer for workplace decisions – without considering the complexity of work and the importance of context and other, more subjective, data sources, it can be a sign that they their product is oversimplified and not thoroughly vetted.
4. Is it “one-size-fits-all”, or tailored to different stakeholders across the enterprise?
An investment in Workplace Analytics is only as good as the actions that are taken from insights. Generic insights that cannot be acted upon or that do not make sense to the person or group receiving them are not actionable and therefore, do not have value.
Typically, an effective Workplace Analytics campaign involves multiple layers of stakeholders, from analyst to executive. Depending on your reason for investing in Workplace Analytics, it is important that whatever vendor you choose has a tailored solution for the users and stakeholders who you intend to use and act on it. This includes tailoring which insights to deliver to which audience, adjusting the visuals, language, and features to appeal to different audiences, and offering multiple ways of accessing information to suit different workflows.
5. What implementation & ongoing interpretation support is offered?
At each stage of implementation and delivery of insights, there can be many questions, both technical and strategic, which arise. Especially for those who are first getting started, it’s important to look for a vendor who can serve as both a trusted tool and a strategic partner in your implementation and usage of workplace analytics. This means that they offer support and services, and are also designed with long-term usage in mind.
Any vendor in this space should be prepared to offer guidance and support in the long-term, and should offer this as a service as part of or alongside a subscription. Additionally, they should offer features and capabilities which evolve based on the maturity of a customers’ analytics program. When assessing options, look for vendors who offer educational resources, advise on best-practices, and support smooth delivery – from data extraction and cleaning to interpretation and action on insights. Additionally, they should have the capability to monitor changes and allow customers to continuously compare and improve over time.
Workplace Analytics will only continue to develop from a strategic capability to a must-have tool for any future-proof organization. As it does, it is on both vendors and customers to set the criteria for quality analytics and best-practices, so the industry can continue to grow ethically and sustainably. By approaching your search with conscious attention, a critical eye, and a focus on what will put your people first, you can ensure that you get the maximum benefit from your Workplace Analytics investment.