Digital Performance: 'Alexa, How Is My Team Doing Today?'

Alexa, what’s the weather like and how is my work team feeling today?

As strange as it may sound, human resource management teams and line managers could soon be asking devices such as Amazon’s Alexa app, questions just like this about their employees’ behaviors, moods and stress levels.

A report from Forrester highlights a new class of technologies that make performance management tracking more intuitive, including robots, wearables and apps that track behaviors and feelings, all the while motivating employees to improve work.

The Forrester Report on "workforce quantification" reads like science fiction, except that these innovations are just around the corner. New ways of tracking and encouraging high performance come at a great time to provide a boost in declining employee productivity, a measure that has been stagnant in recent years.

The report’s list of new technology includes:

  • Applications that create a map of communication patterns between employees, partners and customers.
  • Algorithms and biometric wearables that analyze data from emails, calendars and chats to better understand employee emotions and behaviors in different situations.
  • Software that can analyze the movements of employees and robots to suggest more efficient actions.

According to Forrester: "The ability to monitor what employees do, both physically and with their technology, isn’t new. But the potential to correlate that data with new data sources, such as their tone of voice, breathing, and brain wave activity — and by extension, their stress levels, fatigue, and emotions — is mind-blowing. You could, in theory, begin to understand how different activities, such as attending meetings affect employees’ stress levels and ability to perform creative work later in the day or the degree to which employees are being regularly interrupted by coworkers, instant messages, or noise. It’s the combination of environmental, physical, and electronic activity with biological data that will eventually generate the most powerful new insights into knowledge-worker productivity."

New performance technologies will also come with many new challenges and concerns. While collecting data is easy, applying it is not, Forrester notes. Privacy concerns will be raised to a new level. Complaints of "big brother" are sure to rise.

"Is this creepy?" asks Daniel Enthoven, Vice President of Marketing at Enkata, in Wired magazine. "It shouldn’t be as long as employers approach it the right way." Enthoven believes that sophisticated, data-driven performance measures are the future. The challenges will be for HR managers to pull the right and only the meaningful data that can lead to constructive insights.

At InterconnectHR, a recent event sponsored by HR Certification Institute® (HRCI®) and Top Employers Institute, Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder of Bersin by Deloitte, calls the current period a "disruptive time" for organizations and HR teams. New cognitive technologies, including artificial intelligence, require a "new way of thinking" and a change in management style, he said. (Read more about the event and view Bersin’s webcast at InterconnectHR.)

Efficiency, for example, may no longer the right goal for a digital workplace, notes a Cushman & Wakfield report. "This means providing a greater range of work preferences and activities than ever before, and focusing on collaboration and experience rather than just efficiency," the report suggests.

Swapping more freedom and openness to work styles, along with more interconnected work spaces and design, may be just the elixir to help employees buy into more pleasant work experiences in exchange for more data about their working behaviors.

Cushman & Wakefield predict the adoption of enabling technologies that will help bring workers together in digital clusters, no matter where they are physically. This includes internal social media apps, mobile technologies and robotic personal assistants.

For HR, this time is now to practical steps, Bersin notes. HR will be at the center of this next digital revolution, and the organizations that make the most of new digital tools ― to empower people, build better cultures and improve the workplace experience ― will be the winners.

Alexa, please bring me another cup of coffee.