Big Data: does it have a role in the workplace?

Posted by Hayley Blacker on 28/11/2018

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By 2020, new information generated per second for every person could amount to around 1.7 megabytes…

With this in mind, and leading on from our earlier blog on Artificial Intelligence, we thought we’d share our insights into the new technological-driven phrase that we’re hearing time and time again: Big Data.

Big Data in the Workplace | Interaction Insight

We're fast becoming a data-driven society, and the workplace could see some significant culture changes as a result...

What is Big Data?

Big Data is the large volume of statistics and information that can reveal patterns, trends, and associations – particularly those relating to human behaviour and interactions.

The manipulation of the data collected is often known as 'people analytics'. This involves gaining insights from the Big Data collected in order to identify trends and patterns in employee effectiveness, productivity, and motivation or engagement. These insights are then used to make business decisions.

Well-known companies that are utilising Big Data:

○ Coca Cola uses Big Data analytics to drive customer retention, through collecting feedback by phone, email and social networks.
○ Using the data collected from tracking what customers search for or watch, Netflix is able to make recommendations and targeted adverts for what its customers should watch next.
○ Through looking at information such as location, traffic, area demographic and customer behaviour, Starbucks is able to make educated guesses as to how successful a new café opening would be in a particular location.
○ Google works with the U.S Center for Disease Control by tracking when people are searching online for flu-related topics, which helps to predict which regions may experience outbreaks.
○ Uber’s business is built on Big Data, with user data on drivers and passengers fed into algorithms to set fare rates and to find suitable and cost-effective matches.

Big Data in the Workplace | Interaction Insight

It's not just large corporations who can use Big Data. Smaller companies can track staff members' screen time or personal Internet usage.

Pictured: Rocketmakers, Bath

Big Data in the Workplace

It’s not just multi-national companies that can utilise Big Data and people analytics. Every employer is capable of gathering data on its staff members: this could include tracking attendance, personal Internet usage, smoking breaks and screen time. However, there are varying opinions on whether this surveillance-based data collection is leaning towards a more utopian or dystopian working environment...

Change for the better: the pros

In order to make decisions that will positively influence productivity and even wellbeing, it may make sense to use factual-based evidence. Collecting data can highlight negatives and positives.

Take the example of clocking in; when compiled, this data highlights those staff members that are often late, but also those that always get to work on time. In this way, perhaps Big Data can help to make the workplace a fairer environment - as there's more explicit proof of team members who align (or don't align) with a business's culture and code of conduct.

Also, Big Data can play a positive role in people's work/life balance. As well as the traditional collection of employee satisfaction information (whether that be through surveys or other means), technological advances mean employers can track information that can effect people's health and wellbeing: are employees spending too long at a computer screen? Are they logging in too frequently at weekends?

A data-driven workplace: the cons

Despite the positive information that may be gained from tracking employees, is this outweighed by the mistrust that could be created? We are already living in a society that is fearful of the unlawful collection of data - take apps for example. People are wary that Internet searches, location and even conversations are being tracked. If similar tactics are used in the workplace, the same negative culture of suspicion could be created. This could become particularly prevalent if employees do not understand how their workplaces use collecting information, or if they feel they cannot go to a designated individual or department to ask questions.

Equally, if our workplaces become even more reliant on data, trends and analytics, we may risk the commodification of team members. People analytics may show trends in people's productivity and help to analyse people's work/life balance, but what about the ambiguous human traits that can't be measured? Satisfaction surveys may miss emotional cues that only be picked up through human interaction, or someone may be clocking in late due to changing personal circumstances that they haven't told anyone about. Humans and their role in the workplace are fluid - so can we really gain true insights from black and white data?

Big Data in the Workplace | Interaction Insight

Insights can be gained from Big Data, but here at Interaction we prefer to prioritise people over data...

Pictured: Runway East, Bristol

Interaction's take on Big Data

Interaction's view is that data is useful when it comes to  design – thorough workplace analysis can indicate how people use their current workplace, and we can then design accordingly and implement change for the better. Take desk usage for example; by assessing which desks are used (or not used) in an existing workplace, we can make more efficient use of space when transforming a workplace. The real need for desks and space in general is usually less than the perceived need; especially when an existing office can be reconfigured to better meet a company's requirements.

However, we question the ethics behind the overuse of Big Data when it comes to surveillance - we prefer an open workplace culture based on trust, hard work and collaboration, rather than tracking people's every move.

If you have a workplace culture and environment that caters for and rewards your staff, then team members will naturally feel valued and purposeful - and we think this will always be a better basis for enhancing productivity than data-driven surveillance.

We are firm believers that workplaces should be people-driven. To find out more about our workplace design and build approach, get in touch.