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Best Behaviour: Is behavioural analytics the new productivity frontline?

Of all the many advances suggested by the Internet of Things, behavioural analytics could easily emerge as the new productivity frontline, and one with particular resonance for facilities management. Following people analytics expert Ben Waber’s presentation at ThinkFM 2017, FM World editor Martin Read delves deeper into his keynote session.

Imagine a world in which everything you do in your working day generates actionable data. Not because you’ve triggered sensors as you pass through the office, but because your personal behaviour gives something away about what you do and sends it to a database to be assessed.

The number of calories you’ve consumed, how much liquid you’ve imbibed, your speech patterns, the amount of stress you’re under at exactly 3.35pm, your resting heart rate at midday, the time you spend on your feet compared with sitting down…everything about your mood and, ultimately, your likely productivity levels.

This is the science of behavioural analytics – and according to one of its leading practitioners, its ties to the Internet of Things, via the latest generation of sensor-enabled ‘wearables’ represents an opportunity for facilities managers to help improve productivity in ways hitherto unheard of. The problem is that workers will need to open up to pretty much everything about their every workplace interaction in some perhaps unnervingly intimate ways.

Ben Waber, of behavioural change organisation Humanyze, speaking at ThinkFM suggested that when organisations collated and analysed data to measure how people collaborate with each other and use their time, “we can transform our understanding of business”.

Humans are recording devices, reasoned Waber (“If I asked you who you spoke to yesterday, you’d be 30 per cent accurate at best”). So, there’s a huge opportunity to make more of the interactions we conduct and yet nonchalantly consign to history immediately after.

“If we use data to see how people collaborate with each other, and how they use their time, we can transform our understanding of our business,” he said.

The reason that organisational change is typically difficult to achieve, says Waber, is that human beings tend to focus on issues of organisational hierarchy and established processes rather than on the individuals and their personal interactions that affect core performance metrics.

“Who is the social centre of your company?” he asked. “That’s an important factor to understand.”

Waber’s consultancy uses behavioural data to change how companies are managed. “Everything you do in a work day generates data,” said Waber. “How much you speak, how much you listen, how much you walk, drink etc.”

Ever cheaper microphones, infrared sensors, accelerometers and wireless communication methodologies, such as Bluetooth, mean managers can only measure not only the performance of equipment, but also of individual workers, a ‘dynamic conversation assessment’ that can include how long each speaker talks and who’s talking to whom, even assessing levels of engagement from an assessment of a worker’s active posture.

“Through analysing a user’s tone of voice, I can even figure out how stressed you are,” he said. Not only that, but the speed at which someone talks can also provide valuable indicators. Waber even showed a conversation between individuals in which it had been analysed not just who was speaking to whom and when, but how many times each person had spoken and for how long. If this sounds like Big Brother, what’s interesting is the extent to which this was not remotely picked up on in his presentation.

By way of example, Waber cited the case of a call centre where analysis of individuals showed that how those people related and interacted with their co-workers was a stronger determinant of success than how they communicated with their prospects at the other end of the phone line. Changes to when breaks took place boosted collaboration and overall productivity, also reducing stress along the way. Staff churn in this example organisation had been cut from 40 to 12 per cent each year.

The key here is that the real indicator of productivity was to be found in how often people had the opportunity to talk with their co-workers. This level of corporate social cohesion – engagement – turned out to be a greater indicator of productivity than any of the other ways in which people were organised to carry out their tasks.

Knowing who communicates with whom, and when, provides what Waber calls a “social x-ray” of the organisation and its communication dynamics. “I’d argue that the value in an email and calendar system is almost greater from the perspective of a data collection tool than they are as straight communication tools,” he said.

And this data could change how companies are managed. Waber suggests behavioural analytics could challenge long-held patterns of work – individual behaviour determining corporate behaviour, if you will.

However, next year’s introduction of new General Data Protection Regulations will give individuals at work the right to be informed about what data is being kept on them, and to have that data deleted. These regulations are likely to be a key component in the conversations between organisations and suppliers about the potential, and indeed limits, of behavioural analytics in the workplace.