These office sensors can track employees wherever they go
(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)
It happens all the time. The owner steps away for a few hours and all semblance of order in the office breaks down. Everyone jumps up and socializes. Hey, why not? he boss is gone for a while. She’s never going to find out, right?
Not so fast. The Internet of Things age is here. Sensors are now entering the workplace, tracking inventory, monitoring temperatures, turning off lights…and keeping an eye on when employees are at their desks and when they’re not.
BloombergBusinessweek’s Rebecca Greenfield reports that sensors hidden in lights, ID badges and other places are collecting data at up to 15 percent the Fortune 500 companies. What kind of data? How about tracking employee whereabouts and how long someone goes without speaking to another co-worker?
You’d think there’d be backlash. But surprisingly, a Pew Research Center survey last year found that a majority of U.S. workers are actually OK with the surveillance if at least for safety reasons. But business owners have another reason: profits. All of this technology is geared to increase office efficiency by better tracking movements of employees throughout the day. It’s also intended to maximize space and better control lighting, heating and air conditioning systems to make the most of energy usage.
For example, one company saw a 25 percent savings in its energy costs after implementing a sensor-based system that tracked employees’ behavior patterns and then adjusted lighting. A consulting firm is testing a system where about 100 volunteer employees wear badges with embedded microphones and location sensors so that the company can track verbal and physical interactions to “see how office design affects employee communication.” Another company is keeping tabs on its employees’ locations throughout its offices because it’s easier to find someone this way then just by sending a message or email.
“It is a little bit invasive,” an employee at one company said but, according to another “you get used to it.” Do you?