Track Stars: How the Internet of Things Is Improving the Workplace

by | 25 September 2015

Understanding the data of a business problem, then measuring the impact of course corrections through metrics is nothing new. Marketers and researchers have been assessing performance, identifying leading indicators of change, searching for insights, and then testing, honing and growing healthy enterprises for years. What is new in the past decade is the art of applying this Moneyball strategy to other parts of our lives. Whether it’s Major League Baseball roster moves, the efficiency of our buildings or the health of our people and teams, big data and the science behind it are impacting everything.

Tracking Health and Wellness

As with most innovation, new technology is driving rapid change. The low-cost availability of smart devices and connected sensors that are linked to near limitless cloud-based data storage and powerful number-crunching computers is accelerating the rapid adoption of the quantified self movement. Quantified self embraces the idea that we can improve individual health and wellness by measuring and monitoring our everyday activity.

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Fitness-related wearable technology is pervasive, along with the hope of improving individual health. Many of us are strapping on Fitbits, Fuel bands and Apple Watches to track daily physical activity levels, caloric intake, sleep quality and the like. The goals are incremental — eight hours of sleep a night or 10,000 steps a day — but the long-term benefits are undeniable: According to the National Institutes of Health, lack of sleep increases the risk of obesity, heart disease and infections. And the American Heart Association says walking the equivalent of 30 minutes per day is the simplest positive change you can make to effectively improve heart health.

While many monitor activity alone or among friends through social media, some companies are seeing the team value of this movement to enhance personal and professional productivity. Colliers International set out to measure the activity of its entire workplace in Seattle to drive employee wellness, enlisting its employees in a walking challenge: 10,000 steps a day, every day for two months. Colliers partnered with Pivotal Corporation, a local startup that produces a low-cost, Bluetooth-enabled, daily-activity tracking wristband called the Pivotal Living Band. Aside from providing the most affordable fitness tracker with a screen, Pivotal is also uniquely focused on enterprises, targeting workplaces and teams.

Also: Getting smarter about wearable tech | Three trends to watch in CRE

With Colliers covering the costs of the initial setup, teams were organized among three different Puget Sound-area offices and a wide spectrum of fitness levels and abilities. The quantified self quickly became the quantified company. Individuals and teams tracked their progress within the Pivotal Living app, and weekly reporting that aggregated team data was shared across the organization.

The results of the two-month walking challenge astounded everyone. Colliers’ employees had recorded nearly 28 million steps overall. That amounted to roughly 98 percent of the goal of 10,000 steps a day per employee. The winning team averaged nearly 12,000 steps each day per person, and, most encouragingly, the office saw a gradual increase overall in steps per day for all employees as the challenge progressed. The changes that individuals were making to their lifestyles were becoming routine. The walking challenge provided clear benefits to both the individual participants and to the company as a whole.

Tracking Business

But tracking activity doesn’t need to stop with health and welfare. There are impactful applications to benefit the individual wearer to be found in all industries and in every space in which we interact. The challenge will be to balance utility with privacy.

Some companies are beginning to tackle this challenge, although it’s clear that getting the right balance between privacy and data requires a mix of restraint and respect. One notable example in recent years is Nordstrom, which used smartphones’ unique Wi-Fi identifiers to track customer movements within its stores. The data measured which departments were most popular in traffic volume and time spent. Even though Nordstrom kept the data anonymous — and even though shoppers online have every action routinely tracked by Web retailers — this attempt at quantifying physical retail consumer behavior resulted in a substantial backlash, leading to the program’s demise. At the end of the day, at least for Nordstrom customers, the connection between the data that was being gathered and the benefit to them as consumers wasn’t clear.

In the future, any company successful in taking the next step beyond quantifying daily activity for health and wellness purposes needs to ensure the end user understands the value of the data gathering. The benefit from this information is potentially huge — in the workplace and elsewhere. Employers will be able to provide real answers to such questions as: How is office design really driving productivity? Are common areas, meeting rooms and coworking spaces being utilized effectively? How do work patterns shift over the course of the day or workweek?

That we’ll have the technological capabilities to learn more about our evolving workplace environments is beyond doubt. Lower-cost technology such as Bluetooth beacons is already helping us to measure and analyze these patterns. But what we do with that data, how we leverage data to improve our workplaces, stores and public spaces, and how we evolve and sustain programs that benefit organizations and individuals at scale, will be the benchmark for successful companies of the future.

Paul Booth leads the Digital Marketing team at Colliers International, where he’s responsible for strategic direction and tactical execution across all digital assets globally. He’s worked in the digital space for more than 15 years, spanning client and agency roles.

This article was first published in the Fall 2015 Knowledge Leader magazine. Download a digital copy today.