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Biometric tracking in the enterprise: what is it, who is using office wearables and what are the concerns?

Scott Carey | Feb. 15, 2017
Tracking employees via biometric badges is a growing trend in the enterprise

office istock shironosov 2
iStock Photo: Shironosov via Computerworld UK

From company issued Fitbits to staff ID badges equipped with microphones, the field of employee biometrics has developed a great deal over the past few years.

While many companies track workforce data, this has traditionally been basic HR information like headcount, succession plans and competencies. Now, with wearable biometric technology companies can start to dig a lot deeper into how their staff operate on a day-to-day basis.

Naturally the first thing that comes to mind when discussing this subject is the "creep" factor around your employer knowing not just where you are during the day but the possibility of cross-referencing it to your state of health at the time. So could your boss connect a heavy Thursday night to late attendance on Friday morning?

This is where vendors, employers and even governments have to ensure that the right guardrails are put in place to ensure that personal privacy isn't being threatened by this practice.

This should include measures to ensure that biometrics information isn't being abused; that the data is secure and only being seen by the relevant people; ensuring that employee participation isn't obligatory; and using the information for positive reasons such as increasing inclusion and not simply for benchmarking.

So what does biometric tracking look like in the enterprise, who is using them, what are the benefits and drawbacks?

What is biometric tracking in the workplace?

Basic people analytics has been around for a while, with major vendors like Microsoft keen on giving employees better metrics to measure themselves with products like Delve, an app which provides employees with feedback on productivity. We even saw CEO Satya Nadella demo the software on stage in London in 2015, with the CEO showing that he spends too much time on email and not enough with staff.

HR software has tended to focus on digital metrics, such as email usage or time spent in meetings. Now, newer vendors like Humanyze are looking to incorporate physical world data into the equation, such as where employees spend their time during the workday, who they talk to and stress levels.

Humanyze is an MIT spinout that supplies badges and software to organisations that want to understand how their employees interact with one another in the physical world. The badges look like a normal employee ID badge but are equipped with RFID and NFC sensors, bluetooth for proximity sensing, infrared to detect face to face interaction, an accelerometer and two microphones. The badges 'talk' to beacons set up around the office to detect proximity.

The microphones only monitor tone and volume, not content. CEO Ben Waber told our sister title Techworld that everything is processed in real time and nothing is recorded, because "from a privacy perspective it is the wrong thing to do," he said.


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