Painting by numbers: developing the real productivity picture

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Smart technology is an increasingly integral part of daily life, revolutionising everything from health and fitness, to travel and transport. And the workplace is no exception. Smart offices are gaining momentum as employers realise their potential to drive efficiencies in areas like lighting, climate and security. 

But what if companies took a similar approach to their most valuable resource – their people? Could employers use technology and data analytics to improve working environments and make employees more effective company assets?  

Quantifying happiness

Studies have shown that when employees are happy, their productivity is boosted. In fact, research from the University of Warwick suggested happiness could make people around 12 per cent more productive. 

It’s no surprise then that some employers have started deploying technology to measure workplace happiness. Software developer, Atlassian, has placed iPads at office exits and asks employees one question per day to record their mood with real time results fed back to senior management.  

Tech giant, Hitachi, took a similar approach – distributing workplace wearables to employees. In-built sensors monitored how much time they sat for, walked, nodded, typed and talked. The data collected was used to create an algorithm that measured happiness. 

Understanding the real-time happiness of employees could certainly help employers identify how people are engaging with their workplace and what the best office conditions are. But what if employees don’t work in the office? How do you measure the wellbeing of the whole workforce, wherever they’re based?

Going one step further 

To understand this, employers need to look at how employees are engaging with their digital workplace. 

Benefits take-up is a great gauge for this. If employees are regularly interacting with their digital benefits portal, they’re much more likely to be satisfied with the company’s rewards offering. They’re also more likely to feel they’re getting full value out of their employment – and stay with their company longer.  

Mapping benefits data against information generated by other HCM platforms, or even the workplace itself, can allow employers to go beyond gathering workplace satisfaction metrics. It can help to identify gaps and trends that could feed into future approaches to benefits, people and business strategies. 

The opportunities here are endless. As an example, looking at office attendance and login rates over a 12-month period could help employers see peaks and troughs in employee sickness and divisions that are more impacted than others. In future, if employers know when these peaks are coming they can launch targeted wellness communications ahead of them. 

Introducing wearables into the equation would take this one step further. If employers could understand whether employees were staying in the office longer than other colleagues, losing sleep or moving around less, they could pre-empt physical and even mental health issues. 

Access to knowledge like this is invaluable. It presents real advantages to employers, but also provides employees with the level of personalisation they’re increasingly craving from working life. 

Successfully tailoring the workplace experience 

Clever use of technology is key to personalising workplace benefits. But to be truly effective, the complete benefits experience presented to employees needs to feel familiar and accessible, or it could create barriers to engagement. 

A benefits portal that is visually inviting, uses familiar iconography and is simple to operate is much more likely to be used by employees. 

But employees don’t just want a good user experience, they want to access benefits that make a real difference to their lives. The connected workplace and employers’ growing ability to collect employee data from multiple sources is increasing their ability to provide this. 

If we start with a wearable; this could tell us that its wearer is more active that most, from Facebook we could tell that they’re working towards a triathlon, while onboarding information might say that they don’t have children and are several decades from retirement. Pooling these data points, an automated solution could then prioritise a cycle to work or fitness reimbursement scheme in communications, ahead of conventional risk benefits.   

Analysing benefits data, such as that produced through our Darwin platform, would also allow employers to spot usage trends linked to specific demographics. We see that younger people typically get very little value from private medical insurance (PMI). With this information to hand, employers can make more informed decisions about where to attribute spend – whether they continue with PMI or channel funds into preventative activity, better suited to their employees’ individual needs. 

Hurdles to overcome 

While being able to tap into, compare and correlate multiple pools of employee data would benefit employees and employers, there are two significant hurdles that would need to be overcome. Employee comfort with their data being collected and used is one. Many people are understandably nervous about their employer having access to personal data – even though they must comply with recent GDPR legislation demanding transparency on how this data is used. 

Technology – and more specifically the integration of different technologies and the data generated – is the second. Until technology providers work together to establish a data format that works for themselves and clients, data from multiple sources will need to be cleaned and converted to a usable format before being fed into a central system. This process takes time and is one few employers are undertaking. 

While challenges exist, the pace of technological change means that an integrated future may be closer than we think – and forward-thinking employers need to prepare for this. Ensuring that any enterprise software adopted has a relatively open API that will enable other applications to work into it in future is one way of doing this.

The modern workplace is becoming a fluid concept that’s harder to define and will differ from employee to employee. Having the means to collate and analyse all the data from multiple touchpoints will put companies in a better position to tailor the workplace experience to all, ultimately encouraging staff productivity and loyalty. 

James Akers, Director of Product Management at Thomsons Online Benefits

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