The Devil Wears no Prada

|May 4, 2015 0
May be because the boss is wearing a smart software and an employee can flag the do-not-disturb sign - and sans all those headaches

PUNE, INDIA: It’s not every boss’s fantasy to snoop around cubicles and pick on employees for not doing what they are supposed to. It’s definitely not any employee’s dream moment either – to have a boss pop every now and then doing the exact opposite of helping to accelerate work – interrupting.

But assumptions, prejudices and some fair constraints on each side keep the tug of war going. And technology has only added a new tough plait of rope there.

The war stays the same – finding that utopian balance of wellbeing in a dystopian world.

When Towers Watson surveyed 74 leading organisations in the UK during 2012, it was revealed that employers able to measure workforce find 98 per cent of employees are impacted by stress and 97 per cent struggling with work-life balance regarding their health and wellbeing programmes and their future plans in this area.

Elsewhere a team of economists from the University of Warwick in the UK and a German university also tested the relationship between happiness and productivity to test the idea that happy employees work harder. It turned out that happiness made people about 12 percent more productive, as discovered in this 2014 study.

A team at another University, Goldsmiths recently shared interesting findings from a study analysing the impact of wearable technologies in the workplace on employee well-being, productivity and job satisfaction. Also findings from the Human Cloud At Work (HCAW) research showed that wearing wearable technologies increases job satisfaction by 3.5 per cent.

There was also a Vanson Bourne survey of 300 IT decision makers in the UK, wherein 29 per cent of UK businesses pointed at having some form of wearable technologies projects in practice. Grope for reasons there and you find that employee well-being (16 per cent), instant access to important information (15 per cent), and improved customer service (14 per cent) are top ones but at the same time there is a perceived barrier to entry for wearable technology at work. Having an IT infrastructure that could take advantage of the data being collected and analysed was noted by 20 per cent.

Consider the latest Pew Research Center report titled ‘Digital Life in 2025: Technology’s Impact on Workers, and we see that among online workers, the Internet and email are deemed the most important information and communication tools, while social media was ranked very low in importance and 61 per cent of American workers who use the Internet stated that email is “very important” for doing their job. Some four per cent reported that social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn were “very important” to their work.

A seven per cent section of these online adults pointed that their productivity has dropped because of the Internet, email, and cell phones, and 46 per cent reported feeling more productive.

There was also this survey by Evolve IP which showed that 95% of organizations are encouraging the use of mobility and BYOD (bring your own device) programs, which simply means being connected, when and where an employee is needed and how these policies have already helped in increasing productivity as well as a positive impact on their overall workforces.

Here very few viewed being “always available” as a negative, and some 80 per cent revealed that the “ability to work anytime/anywhere was a plus to the job and almost 80 per cent felt that mobile access is helping to improve the work/life balance giving them the flexibility to work from home when necessary.

Wait a minute! Can Technology do more than what it is already doing, without the unwanted effects? Can it also sort the Rubik Square of employee happiness and workplace-productivity?

Sapience Analytics, a software startup lingered upon this dilemma for a good stretch of time and came up with an interesting thought – what if bosses are invisible and not coming in the way of doing work and what if employees’ work can be watched upon without appearing too creepy?

The team has developed, what it calls, an innovative workforce management software called Sapience. We chat with Shirish Deodhar, Co‐founder and CEO of Sapience Analytics and learn more about why it makes sense in a climate of BYOD, employee-privacy, vague productivity issues, and employee ethics; and how it manages to touch upon re-engineering and new HR formulae at the same time?

Ok, we are more distracted than our parents were, and more stressed too – as you reason. What makes this product a solution to ‘this’ problem?

The conflict of today’s workplaces is so stark. On one hand, employees genuinely need a better work-life balance and on the other hand, employers need to be sure of productivity. We aim to bridge this gap between productivity and wellness, with the idea of mindful work supported with a new high-level analytics edge. In the past, people focused on work completely in the 10 to 6 time window. They had no distractions of the modern world – no phones, no WhatsApp messages. Their personal and work lives were also not as intertwined as they are today. This has not only led to productivity concerns but a high level of stress. Is it true to assume that people are working harder than they were five to ten years back? Experts tell – No. The reason is continuous distraction which is not only causing lack of productivity but also stress from consistent switching between different tasks and a much more distracted mind. That’s why neuroscientists are witnessing an unreasonable rise in cortisol levels during day hours.

Where do analytics and technology come as saviors here?

Self-quantification is a good aspect that wearables have brought in. Why can’t that be used here? IT companies sometimes use a completely wrong approach by increasing work hours to eight to nine hours each day and when you add a typical commute time of two hours every day, you can see the stress it can cause. That may not necessarily achieve the work outcomes expected from employees. Our solution sits on the top of an employee’s computer and tells him his work habits, slices less important work, personal work from proper work. There are tools to reduce interruptions like emails or messages and to offer some compact silent time for work. We call it the work Yoga. It’s about work-life balance by creating better work harmony. Some day they work more, some days they work less. Some days they finish work from home too. A lady who leaves office early to get to her family may be more productive than a person who is visible in the office for 11 hours but is basically wasting time. How do you track actual productivity and also make room for work-life balance? As long as there is a reasonable balance, work gets done without side-effects.

Why would not an employee resist the idea? Is it not micro-managing him/her all the time?

Exactly. That’s the big difference between data and policing. There are a lot of employee monitoring tools and they did not work too well for the precise reason of the approach. We have done it differently. We know today’s employees are stressed so how can we merge high-level data with complete respect for personal privacy. We balance transparency with privacy. That helps us in navigating any initial resistance and once people understand how this actually works, with anonymous data that is good enough for top management to spot patterns and take decisions, if required, things roll well. There is no access to personal details but the company can have analytics helping on problem areas – like too much time being spent on a particular project phase. The company can see workload distribution and analyse stress areas with complete user anonymity. The idea is to empower the individual and not police him/her.

So it fits well for work-from-home or flexi-time formats? What about BYOD?

It works well as whenever a person logs in, that is recorded, whether it is while a person is working in the car or at night hours or on weekends. BYOD is ensured with security mechanisms in place. The idea is to empower the employee – you decide what is right for you? When and where from you want to work is irrelevant – as long as quality and productivity is ensured. Location does not matter, and companies with flexi-hour policies align well here.

Will it cause any process-reengineering with these new barrels of data available?

Now lean management experts can look at the data, do a root-cause analysis and compare projects. They can detect if let’s say, design is taking less time than testing phase and correct aberrations.

And no regulatory or privacy issues to confront?

Legally there have been no issues and we have successfully deployed this in Germany, Poland etc where the strictest privacy laws operate. We are very sensitive to privacy. There is an app store vs enterprise app format. Anything within the boundary of company network is observed in that very manner. We ensure that private info or actions of an employee are not seen by the company.

Like the case with all good technologies, wouldn’t the potential of this solution rest with the actual application ideas that companies come up with?

Yes, a company has optimized its cafeteria work facilities, for example. Earlier, employees wasted time by going to a common pantry floor and without realizing spent unnecessary time there. Now there is a canteen on every floor. A company can create good work habits by improving convenience and efficiency simultaneously. Best practices, like silent-time windows are acceptable and welcome at many places. Simply disabling IM pop-ups for a particular silent hour or disallowing impromptu meetings can create wonderful results. Just the way that simple asnas in Yoga create wonderful results. It’s all about creating mindfulness.

Tell us something about the company.

We are headquartered in Pune with team and offices US, Sapience is currently the only player globally in the ‘Enterprise Effort Visibility and Analytics’ space. I am proud to say that within a short of time, Sapience Analytics has expanded its presence both in India and globally with over 20 patent pending claims, 60 clients and over 100,000 users across five countries. The company recently raised Rs. 450 mn for expansion.

What’s the product’s footprint so far?

About three of the world’s top 200 companies and five of India’s top IT companies are using the product.
It is a good example of confronting changing work lifestyle of employees and the need to effectively manage the productivity in hectic schedules. We are planning a global foray in US market, and sales efforts in the US.

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