This article was first published on CoreNet Global’s Leader Magazine and was written by Ellen Nussbaum.
The first quarter of 2020 has revealed how complex the collaboration process can be in a digital workplace landscape. As a result of COVID-19, most organizations have undergone a near-complete shift to remote work and are increasingly reliant upon technologies like Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams to streamline communication while social-distancing from home. After all, communication is essential to collaboration, and communication via technology is proving quite different from what most employees are used to. More companies are turning to workplace analytics to better understand the impact that work-from-home orders are having on their teams.
In essence, workplace analytics allow us to leverage science to understand how people collaborate best, as well as how calculated changes to internal and external processes can impact organizational health. An organization abides by a set of structured guidelines for every aspect of its operation. The role of workplace analytics determines whether those guidelines should be modified to produce better results. With this expanded knowledge, businesses have the power to identify what works and what doesn’t – not just generically, but for their employees and their culture. This knowledge serves as a key component to an organization’s response to unforeseen obstacles. Companies are also trying to anticipate what the workplace dynamics will look like once offices reopen. Will employees return to their prior operating models, or will the draw of (at least partial) work-from-home permanently change the interactions of teams? Workplace analytics can inform companies’ return-to-work approach (Which employees should return first? How should the office layout be modified to balance health and productivity?) as well as inform management if the transition is not going as smoothly as anticipated.
Below are three key considerations for adopting workplace analytics.
1. Measure and improve organizational health
Organizational health correlates with organizational growth. In fact, research has consistently found that organizational health benefits employees, employers and the bottom line. A pair of studies by the Queens School of Business and the Gallup Organization concluded that companies with low employee engagement consistently experience higher-than-average absenteeism, employee errors, and on-the-job accidents. These research results are consistent with what we have seen at Humanyze. Academic and field research demonstrates that organizational health can be quantified and used to identify challenges in the areas of employee engagement, team productivity, and organizational adaptability.
- Engagement captures how socially connected employees are within the organization and how likely they are to experience burnout.
- Productivity measures how aligned communication patterns are with processes as well as the capacity for improvement.
- Adaptability captures how quickly an organization’s communication and work patterns can evolve as well as the strength of connections between different hierarchical layers.
The process of understanding your company’s organizational health doesn’t need to be intrusive or disruptive. Most companies don’t want to place additional demands on their employees during periods of high change or stress. As a result, they often turn to surveys to qualitatively assess organizational health. Surveys unveil important insights, but they also have weaknesses, such as low (or biased) response rates.
Conducting workplace analytics has the advantage of providing an objective, non-invasive, and detailed view into employee well-being while bringing improvement opportunities to light. Companies that leverage both surveys and workplace analytics will have an even better understanding of their organization and can better support their employees.
How have companies done this? Humanyze used workplace analytics to assist a global technology firm by taking an in-depth look at the composition and location of its teams. The primary goal was to determine whether its collaboration methods, company culture, and office floor plan met the needs of specific departments.
We first measured data from the company’s Microsoft Exchange suite, which included communication tools such as Calendar, Email, and Skype. After conducting its analysis, Humanyze proposed a series of suggestions based on trends the data provided. The first suggestion related to changing team placement in order to improve collaboration. It was noted that a mere 30-second walk between buildings was measurably reducing collaboration between the engineering and sales teams. This lack of collaboration was negatively impacting performance and productivity. The company took steps to address the issue by adjusting the locations of the teams to promote more frequent interaction between employees.
In addition to optimizing its office space, the organization also created new in-person collaboration opportunities and adjusted its meeting culture to take less time out of employees’ days while still driving necessary engagement and collaboration. We found that the changes ultimately strengthened the company’s ability to meet business goals, retain its employees, and attract new talent based on the culture of fostering organizational health.
2. Maximize the impact of your real estate investments
For many companies, real estate ends up being one of the largest costs on the profit-and-loss statement. And yet, its productivity has historically been difficult to measure. Will the workplace location of one team impact another team’s performance? Are there specific workspace designs that help or hinder collaboration? Can the current seating chart be improved? Without workplace analytics, these questions are often left unanswered and the resulting opportunities go unaddressed.
In the past, organizations have worked with Humanyze to improve returns on real estate investments by transforming their office space, making it both more appealing and more productive. In our experience, workplace analytics can help organizations make informed decisions about seating strategies and building designs that promote organizational health.
Workplace analytics also come into play when companies are approaching business expansion. Humanyze supported an international energy company that announced a multi-year plan to expand an oilrefinery plant, ramp up output by 200 percent, and increase headcount by 80 percent. This major financial investment, and the resulting rapid team growth, created challenges around space planning and assignment.
Our technology identified which of the teams in the study were most critical in their current location and which teams could potentially move to a new location without affecting productivity. Using the Humanyze platform, the company was able to measure the volume and frequency of team interactions and map out the amount of time employees spent in each part of the campus, thereby informing critical real estate decisions.
3. Companies have an obligation to protect employee privacy
Employees put trust in their companies to protect their privacy; any breach of this trust can lead to negative morale (and, subsequently, attrition). At the same time, corporate-owned data has the potential to unlock new perspectives on how our employees approach work, perspectives that otherwise wouldn’t be discoverable. Managing this tradeoff is a delicate balance of structuring the analysis appropriately and helping employees understand how (and why) their data is being used.
At Humanyze, we are committed to transparency (of use) and protection (of individual data). We work with our customers to educate employees on the use of data. Our solutions rely on aggregated data rather than individual-based insights; this protects employee privacy while not compromising on the ability to generate organizational insights at the team, region, and business-unit levels.
The use of workplace analytics to drive organizational health and performance is an exciting technology being adopted by many of the world’s leading corporations. The access to insights on the where, how, and when people work is changing the way leaders think about their organizations. I hope you will have the opportunity to discover any hidden challenges your employees are facing and use these insights to improve the health of your organization. As we’ve seen, it’s the key ingredient for your company to reach its full potential.