I have often told this story, so if you have heard it, I ask in advance for your patience.  When I was a data solutions specialist at a carrier, one of our customers was a large steel mill.  They had noticed over the years that their on-premise trucks (the ones that never went more than a few minutes, if at all, from the property) had seen their gas and repairs costs skyrocket.

Now, it wasn’t because of the cost of fuel itself.  While that was a factor, the volume of fuel used per truck had increased dramatically, despite the fact that they were not doing any extra work.  As well, the cost of maintenance per vehicle and the number of times that a vehicle had to be serviced annually had also gone up considerably for no apparent reason.

The company had determined that the cause was likely related to vehicles idling unnecessarily for excessive amounts of time.  However, since their employees belonged to a strong union, they had to be careful as to how they proceeded.

The company decided to work with the union to install a GPS system, one that also tracked things like hydraulic usage and engine idling.  They did this with one catch – a small part of their fleet had the units installed a week before they said they would.  They did this because they figured that it would give them a true sign of the usage, as opposed to the usage when the team knew they were being watched.

The result?  Engine idling was 30-40% higher during the week that the workers were unaware the GPS units were installed as compared to when they did know.

How IoT is changing the office

What this story hopefully signifies is that people tend to act differently when they are being watched.  Employees simply behave better – they take less unscheduled breaks, browse less personal material on the Internet and tend to be a little more focused.

One company wants to take this to a new level.  Humanyze, a company with offices in Boston and Palo Alto makes a new kind of employee badge.  While most badges are simply used for identification and/or access control, this badge is much smarter than that.

The badge combines microphones with proximity and motion detectors to see not only where employees are but to also gather information on their activities.  Now, before you make comments like, “why don’t they just put a microchip into their skin?” (I know that I did), there are some restrictions as to how the data is gathered and used.

First, information is omitted in particular areas, such as bathrooms and prayer areas.  As well, the boss isn’t able to see any one particular worker, but rather an aggregate of their entire team.  Finally, the employee themselves is able to see their own data in its entirety.

So, does it work?  In their testing and early deployments, Humanyze has claimed that it does allow both the company and the individual employees to better understand their behaviour and in many cases, it has been very well received by both.

The Bottom Line

I think to anyone that follows this space, this was inevitable.  However, I am choosing to look at it on the bright side.  If done correctly, it will improve productivity, let the true star employees stand out better and even increase the safety of workers.  Sure, there will be some bad employers who may use this data in bad ways, but I think it has the potential to allow companies to better themselves. The reality is that we are all at work to actually do work, so time will tell how much this tool improves things.