The rise of wearable technology like the Apple Watch and Fitbit can now sum up our daily lives into an ongoing catalogue of decipherable data. These technologies can track how many steps we take, count the calories we consume, follow our sleep cycles and track our heart health.
Now, a team of researchers at Dartmouth say that wearable tech can also be used by bosses to track workers productivity and performance.
Using smartphones, fitness bracelets and a custom app, researchers have created a mobile-sensing system that can measure employee performance with around 80 percent accuracy.
It works by monitoring the physical, emotional and behavioural well-being of workers to classify high and low performers.
“This is a radically new approach to evaluating workplace performance using passive sensing data from phones and wearables,” said Andrew Campbell, a professor of computer science at Dartmouth. “Mobile sensing and machine learning might be the key to unlocking the best from every employee.”
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 spent at work and breaks from the desk.
The researchers believe that by levering the use of “passive sensors,” this type of tech could “promise to replace the surveys that have long been the primary source of data to identify key correlates of high and low performers,” said Pino Audia a professor of management and organizations at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
“This is the beginning step toward boosting performance through passive sensing and machine learning. The approach opens the way to new forms of feedback to workers to provide week-by-week or quarter-by-quarter guidance on how they are approaching their work,” said Campbell.
The technology was tested on 750 workers across the US for a one-year period.
The research team say that this is the first time mobile sensing has been used to identify high and low performance in workers across different industries.
Another oppressive surveillance system?
At a time when we are under constant surveillance more than ever before, it is unlikely that employees will be thrilled to have their every movement tracked by their boss, but it appears to be the direction we are going in.
In China, where facial recognition and other innovative tech is continuously being rolled out to keep watch on citizens, certain schools have started giving out smartwatches to track kids whereabouts.
Campbell, however, says that “the passive monitoring system is meant to be empowering. This approach could certainly benefit companies, but can also be helpful to individual employees who are looking to boost their performance.”
While the technology is not yet available in app stores, the researchers are working on it and will be presenting the system at the UbiComp Conference in London in September 2019.
So, it is likely that a high-tech solution that lets your boss keep tabs on your every move could be coming to a cubicle near you in the next few years.
Robert Scott Lazar