More employers track workers electronically
Seattle — Joyce Juntunen balances an open laptop on her left forearm like the appendage it has become.
It’s with her throughout the day as she checks the progress of her 20-person sales team at Bizible, a tech startup in Seattle that helps companies gauge the success of their marketing efforts. And it follows her home at night where, sitting on the couch with her husband, she can call up a series of charts and graphs to gauge the team’s success and view trends.
Juntunen started her career in sales when it was a numbers game: Call as many people as possible on a brokered list, and snag as many sales as you can. Now, she plays a numbers game of a different sort, one driven by data that are changing not just her workplace, but the way she works.
“It’s transformed the profession,” she says, calling up a screen on her computer that provides an up-to-the minute visual snapshot of what and how her people are doing.
In a matter of seconds, Juntunen can tell who’s killing it, and who’s falling behind.
Juntunen drills down even further to see how many prospecting calls each salesperson has made, the number of appointments they’ve made, the number of emails they’ve sent or had generated by a computer on their behalf. She can tell which emails were opened and when, and which got traction.
All told, Bizible uses about 10 software programs to analyze data about itself, its employees and its clients to improve productivity and determine which marketing efforts are paying off.
It might feel like Big Brother has taken over the office. But Juntunen says there’s nothing nefarious or creepy going on here. In fact, the salespeople have the same information, and can change what isn’t working to be more successful.
“Big data,” it’s called, and it’s recasting jobs in everything from retail sales and medicine to education and professional sports.
“There’s really big things going on,” says Ellie Fields, vice president of product marketing for Tableau Software, a Seattle-based firm that is helping create a new type of work culture — and a new type of employee — by making data easier to understand and analyze.
“We call it the culture of analytics,” says Fields, whose firm turns raw numbers into dashboards of tables, charts and other visuals to answer questions that can be quantified.
Amazon and Microsoft, along with Google, are driving the big data revolution with cloud storage, remote servers that allow massive amounts of information — everything from baby pictures to the financials of multinational corporations — to be stored off-site and analyzed from anywhere there’s an Internet connection.
The vast quantities of data being uploaded to the cloud represent a small fraction of the information that eventually will be collected and accessed from anywhere. Already, the tools for analyzing that data are changing work itself, leading to the creation of what one analyst calls “the quantified employee.”
Data analysis is far from new. Companies have done it for eons. The big change is the scale, the speed and the breadth of the information, and how it’s used. Instead of hunches and gut feelings, decisions are guided increasingly by data, and productivity measured by an increasing number of metrics.
There’s already a slew of examples:
■Amazon, perhaps the most data-driven company in history, measures everything it can, including the number of steps employees take to retrieve items in its warehouses.
■McDonald’s, a leader in analytics, uses data to predict customer behavior so closely that employee shifts and even where they will stand at any given time are driven by numbers.
■UPS delivery drivers are monitored by sensors in the trucks that track everything from driving speeds to stop times.
As analytics continue to infiltrate the workplace, some question whether it represents a fundamental power shift away from the employee.
“Data processing and storage speeds double every year,” says Elisabeth Jones, an analytics consultant and lecturer at the University of Washington’s Information School. “Over 10 to 20 years, we’ll have all the speed and storage we need to run this stuff. … It all comes back to the issue of power: Who gets access to the data sets? The people who can pay for them.”
The American Management Association says about 43 percent of companies monitor employee emails, track how much time they spend on the phone and whom they’re calling. Some companies use this information to predict who is likely to quit within the year.
Other companies use data analysis to determine who gets in the door.
Dozens of HR analytic companies, including People Analytics Corporation, have turned career tests into a massive database that companies use to select future employees based on the traits and characteristics that define their top talent. When candidates apply for a job posting, in the span of about 12 minutes, a company can use analytics to find the “best” candidates, comparing them to people already working at the company. You can be out of a job search before you even know why.
The fact is, employers already know a lot about us, and will know even more as analytics infiltrate more HR departments, giving employers information about what we’re doing for them, and how we’re doing it. They’ll know more about how we learn, what motivates us, when we’re most productive and whether we’re better in a group or flying solo.