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Using Workplace Data to Create Connected Communities 

Life in a connected world produces a constant stream of data—from purchasing our morning coffee, to sending emails throughout the workday, to streaming music on our evening commutes home. This catalog of data provides a powerful tool. It codifies behavior, details how resources are (or are not) used, and supports analysis that can bring to light tacit information and trends. Activating the increasing ubiquity of workplace data opens new opportunities to add real value for employees and for the organization as a whole.

Workplace data is being put to use by corporate service groups (such as Human Resources and IT) to provide a better employee experience and empower the businesses that are their customers. Smart environments can help improve professional networks, build healthier workplaces, and foster social connections between disparate employee groups.

Spatializing human networks

Any professional will tell you that their network of relationships is their single most valuable asset; however, the quality of this value is inherently difficult to measure and quantify. Informal interactions, social networking, and the regular flow of emails make up the heart of a professional network, yet there is almost no measurement of the quality of this foundational professional element, beyond subjective feedback and opinions.

Gensler recently worked with a leading professional services firm, which took advantage of their move to a new building in order to tackle this challenge. A group of employees opted-in to wear Humanyze smart badges, which capture data on who is talking with whom, the frequency of their interactions, who is doing a majority of the talking, and even the tone of interactions. All data was anonymized to protect employee privacy, and a focused, individual report was given only to individual employees involved in the survey.

Synthesis of the information collected provided insight into collaboration and delivery, teamwork and engagement, and diversity and inclusion. This allowed individuals to better understand the strengths—robust relationships, productive conversations—and weaknesses—time wasters, gaps in their network—and to respond accordingly.

The benefits to employees were augmented by the value this insight provided to both managers, in assembling productive teams and to operations groups, such as IT and corporate real estate.

Demonstrating the impact of healthy environments

We all want to work somewhere that makes us feel great and perform at our best. To better understand the specific conditions that make up a healthy environment, Harvard and United Technology (UTC) teamed up to scientifically test environmental workplace variables and their impact on performance. In this experiment, participants worked within a controlled space that was conditioned to represent a variety of office environments. They found that “participants experienced significantly better cognitive function” in conditions that mimicked green buildings and buildings with enhanced ventilation systems.

By quantifying the impact of the built environment on employees’ performance, the study provided metrics to help corporate service groups offer new value to business leadership, value that supports employee productivity and well-being rather than just cost savings.

For individuals, the ability to quantify what was only intuitive opens the door for self and group advocacy within the workplace. Wellness efforts that are grounded in conversations about productivity move the discussion from being about the investment in talent to being about creative output and topline revenue.

Connecting people across organizational gaps

Culture and community are among the main drivers of a positive work experience, yet they can also be the most difficult to maintain in large organizations or those that grow very quickly. Ever walked into the office pantry and thought to yourself… “who are all these people?”

To help expand existing employees’ networks and speed up the process of new employees meeting their colleagues, Gensler piloted an app called Never Eat Alone. This app enables anyone to connect over shared interests with colleagues who may sit outside their immediate group. At Gensler New York’s office of 650 employees, we’ve jumped on this new opportunity to connect with coworkers, as evidenced by 159 outings and 269 new connections in a three-month trial. Much more than just “Tinder for the office,” this app is part of a larger platform of office connectivity called Workwell that provides access to resources, while encouraging a connected and collegial culture.

With a thoughtful collection of features for end-users, corporate support groups can leverage social platforms, whether public or custom to the company, to overcome some of the previously insurmountable challenges of managing large organizations. It’s possible to support community development through identifying common interests and communicating broadly while maintaining a sense of personal connection.

As our lives become more and more fully connected, there are discernible privacy concerns, as well as more subtle changes that are taking place as we begin to rely on systems and algorithms to make decisions for us. However, as this evolution shows no signs of abating, we must also find ways to put it to work for our teams. New technologies can unlock opportunities to empower growth and development, provide a language of advocacy, and build meaningful relationships.

Johnathan Sandler is a principal in Gensler’s Consulting Group and a Global Leader of the Media Practice. He works closely with leaders and employees on projects that transform their work environments and advance their work practices. Contact him at johnathan_sandler@gensler.com.
Luke Rondel is a strategist in the Gensler New York Consulting practice. He works with global clients on workplace, digital, and organizational strategies designed to improve the end-user experience. Luke came to Gensler with experience in construction, facilities management, and management consulting, as well as a Master of Architecture and an MBA from the University of Michigan. Contact him at luke_rondel@gensler.com.