Using Sensor Data for Improving Worker’s Wellbeing

With the right data we can create better work environments that foster a positive culture and more productive space for our talent.
July 19, 2022
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Did you know that over 94% of executives and more than 80% of employees believe that a positive work environment is an essential part of a company’s success? And why wouldn’t it be, considering that a good environment is directly correlated with less stress and more productivity, creativity, and engagement?

Achieving a positive work environment is a multivariate task, involving psychology and mental health, corporate culture, solid communication, diversity, and opportunities for career growth. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Just like a plant can’t flourish on bad soil, a positive work environment cannot be accomplished if our physical environment isn’t up to par. As Abraham Maslow shows with the hierarchy of needs, human beings need to fulfill their physiological and safety needs before seeking their social and personal desires. 

In other words, no matter how friendly and good-natured we are, no matter how amicable our team is, it’s hard to appreciate it when our office is uncomfortable. This is twice as important in a context where most have grown accustomed to working from home, so much so that working remotely has become one of the most sought-after benefits by professionals.

Even companies that have already returned to the office are finding that their employees are less motivated, more prone to stress, and more likely to quit in search of a better opportunity. If we want to keep top-tier talent in our office, taking care of the work environment and promoting a positive culture is a must. 

Why Environment Matters

Let me talk from personal experience: up till a few years ago I used to work in a great office at a College, my coworkers were amazing, and I had the most flexible schedule I’ve ever had in my entire career.

But I dreaded going to the office. First, my equipment was old, so old in fact that I had to carry my personal laptop to the office every day, so old that when an IT guy came by and asked me what was wrong with my PC I replied: “It’s running Windows XP”. 

But the worse was the cold. Due to an issue with the HVAC system, we had to cope with freezing temperatures. It was like spending my whole workday inside a server room. Every single time I went to the office I ended up with a runny nose and shivers.

To no one’s surprise, our productivity plummeted. Something as simple as outdated equipment and a bad thermostat was destroying our workflow. And to be quite fair, it wasn’t even the equipment, once the AC got fixed our KPI started to go up again. 

Environment matters because humans need a certain level of comfort to reach their peak performance. The problem is that comfort is subjective and one’s refreshing breeze might be someone else’s Antarctica.

Fortunately, this is an area where technology can be a great asset.

Using Sensors and AI

Smart buildings and retrofitted buildings have been the talk of the tech industry for quite a while. The Internet of Things is creating opportunities to make buildings safer, more comfortable, and more intelligent. 

Fortunately, we don’t have to invest in a smart system to create a better environment, all we need is a few sensors and some automated equipment. For example, by strategically placing sensors around our office, we can keep track of temperature variances throughout the day and make adjustments as needed.

But we could go one step further, what if we saved the data in the cloud and we started correlating temperature with other variables, like the number of workers in the office, the temperature outside the building, the humidity, and so on?.      

What if we could build a model that controls the HVAC system based on environmental data? In fact, think of a model that would take into account personal preferences, so depending on who’s in the office the temperature could change. 

It might sound like science fiction, but you are probably halfway there, since most offices already have HVAC solutions and “punch clock” solutions. It’s just a matter of engineering an interaction between both systems.

You could also use sensors to track CO2 levels. Cluttered areas with poor ventilation tend to accumulate high concentrations of carbon dioxide. While it’s very unlikely that someone will experience poisoning, people may feel fatigued or have trouble concentrating in such areas. Especially when they spend more than a couple of hours. 

For example, laboratories use environmental sensors to keep track of these kinds of variables to create a controlled environment for their work, and changes trigger environmental systems that try to regulate the conditions while sending an alarm to the relevant crew.

One more example: companies are using sensors to track employees’ movement throughout the office, and while that may sound a bit Orwellian, there are some very interesting benefits coming from it. Proximity and Motion sensors can track how frequently individual desks, restrooms, offices, and meeting rooms are used by employees.

By analyzing the data, cleaners can be dispatched to areas that are heavily used for more frequent cleaning. Or even better, with the right data, we can predict which areas will be used in the future and preemptively send cleaning crews to prepare the place.

Sensors and Mental Wellbeing

With motion sensors, face recognition, and biometric data we could potentially manage our employees’ emotional state, keeping a close eye on their behaviors for any signs of stress or anxiety. Imagine a system that automatically sends a message to an employee when it recognizes that they are under duress, asking them to take a small break or if they would like to talk with someone.

Something as simple as an automatic message that plays when someone stares at the screen for too long, or when they spend too much time sitting down is enough to help people become more aware of their behavior. It’s easy to lose oneself in work, and before you realize it, you are feeling stressed, in pain, and on a fast track to burnout syndrome.

Where To Start?

While there are hundreds of companies offering these kinds of services on the market, start by looking at what you already have. There is no need to turn your building into a cyberpunk utopia overnight. 

Begin one step at a time, by automating systems little by little, and follow through with questionnaires directed at your employees to gather feedback and make informed decisions. In the end, they are clients, and you are in a way, the service provider.

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