Someone to watch over me

by | Mar 9, 2020

In George Orwell’s book 1984, posters saying “Big Brother is Watching You”, promoted the constant surveillance of the Thought Police.

More than 70 years on “Big Brother” still stands for the notion that we are all being watched and it’s not a good thing.

The irony is that while some people are still concerned by Big Brother, it’s become common to give companies like Facebook, Netflix and Google not only access to our personal data, but the right to commercialise it!

But give it some thought. It’s not all bad.  Think of CCTV’s role in preventing and often solving crime. And then there is some game-changing work going on in tracking people and their reactions which is leading to significant changes in the way buildings are designed and people are in them.

A fascinating piece in Harvard Business Review’s last edition for 2019 shows how using forms of surveillance is uncovering some unexpected truths.

The Review cites work by Mori, the Japanese giant in property management, when their building-environment-development division staged an experiment to see whether architecture and design to influence collaboration.

It created a floor on which desks were arranged by specialisations – interior design, real estate consulting, sales and located a control group there. A second group, with the same specialisations were given free space with no assigned desks and more open areas. Here interactions between teams increased, those within teams fell drastically as team members just put their heads down and got to work. Everyone thought this was great.

However, the rise in interactions came from people wanting to work around managers, who were seen as bottlenecks, to get things done. In reality, managers were the guardians of quality and the freestyle approach led to quality failures, lower productivity and client complaints. Mori went back to assigned spaces, by team, and reduced the amount of open space.

It’s an interesting study and there’s more being done. The Review also notes how GlaxoSmithKline is using monitoring on an advanced scale to pilot a workplace performance hub. Results will inform the architecture of a new corporate HQ.

Teams working in the pilot space are being measured, through wearable technology and kinetic sensors.  These measure the physical, such as steps taken, heart rate, lung function and posture, as well as well-being collaboration and performance.  Involved in the project is Humanyse, which uses science-based analytics to improve performance, business processes and working environments and is regarded as pioneers in this field.

All this data will inform how the new building functions, from lighting, temperature, aroma, air quality, acoustic masking, ergonomics, and design. The aim is to create an ideal working environment that meets GSK’s people’s professional and personal needs during the working day, including encouraging interactions.

In developing our technology to support companies to efficiently meet their health and safety obligations, we thought about the Big Brother aspect. What would workers think about monitoring?  In most cases, they value it because it makes their job quicker and safer.

Our electronic tile detects a worker’s mobile on arrival on site, welcomes them and delivers on screen a current and updateable health and safety induction. It requires the risks to be acknowledged by the worker, who is invited to estimate the time a job will take. There’s a good reason for this.

Our technology alerts them 15 minutes before the time estimate expires. If they need more time, they can extend it. But if there is no response to the prompt and a subsequent one 15 minutes later, then an automatic escalation is triggered to ensure the contractor is safe.  That means minimal delays in getting emergency help if its needed and lone workers can always be confident someone has their back.

Monitoring technology is neither good nor bad, it’s how it is used that makes the difference. Safer workers, better interactions among teams, greater productivity, easier compliance with health and safety requirements as all benefits. Big Brother might be watching, but Big Momma is taking care.

Want to know how Forsite can help you take care of your team?

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