Can mobile sensing tools boost worker productivity?
Using smartphones, fitness bracelets and a custom app, researchers have created a mobile sensing system that they claim distinguishes high performers and low performers in the workplace with 80 percent accuracy. The research was supported by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) within the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
In the new system, a smartphone tracks physical activity, location, phone usage and ambient light. A wearable fitness tracker monitors heart functions, sleep, stress and body measurements, like weight and calorie consumption. Location beacons placed in the home and office provide information on time at work and breaks from the desk.
The information is processed by cloud-based machine learning algorithms trained to classify workers by performance level.
“Mobile sensing and machine learning might be the key to unlocking the best from every employee,” said Andrew Campbell, a professor of computer science at Dartmouth, in a statement.
The accuracy was tested by monitoring 750 supervisors and non-supervisors at a high-tech company and a management consulting firm over a one-year period. Continuous monitoring using the sensor technology was combined with traditional questionnaires to categorize performance.
Passive sensors promise to offer a “more objective measure of performance assessment” of workers to the benefit of both employers and employees. Traditional review techniques that require manual effort can be burdensome, but also potentially biased and unreliable.
Employees would gain insights into whether their levels of stress, sleep, phone usage or other non-obvious factors are holding them back from becoming more detailed-oriented and disciplined. Future versions could be tailored to specific jobs, provide workers with insights into their mental states during meetings and offer suggestions for reducing stress each week.
The tool could be used solely by workers to gain a private, objective assessment of their performance.
Employers, however, could face privacy and security challenges as well as potential charges of discrimination for using a tool tied to personal data for business decisions. Researchers believe that with incentives and precautions, mobile sensing tools could benefit both employees and employers. Mr. Campbell told The Washington Post, “I’m hopeful this passive sensing technology will be used to empower the workforce rather than used against them.”
- Phones and wearables combine to assess worker performance – Dartmouth College
- Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies – ACM Digital Library
- Wearable technology started by tracking steps. Soon, it may allow your boss to track your performance. – The Washington Post
- Is monitoring employee data the right move for retailers? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see employees and employers both benefiting from mobile sensing technology that offers insights into worker productivity? Where do you see the obstacles to acceptance?