Barclays PLC recently installed sensors that tell them when its desks are occupied and when someone has gone for a stroll. The new OccupEye sensors are meant to help Barclays understand how often their employees are taking advantage of flex time by working at home, or how often they’re working out of other offices, says the bank.
The introduction of sensors is ostensibly a cost-saving move. According to Barclays CEO Jes Staley, hot-desking has already saved the company millions. But not only that, it’s made them money too. Last year they started subletting some of their unused office space on Canary Wharf to the British government, a deal which is set to net them about $45 million a year.
But does anyone need an elaborate sensor system with live updating dashboard just to help them get a better sense of how many workspaces they need? This seems like something that could be more effectively accomplished by talking to employees directly, and learning about their hopes in addition to their actual current behaviour. While the sensors will give extremely accurate data about what desks are in use on a given day, they don’t produce the kind of data that can help predict what employees would do if Barclays changed flex or remote work policies. They don’t know why those desks are in use if employees want to be there.
This isn’t the first move Barclays has made to get more raw data on employee behaviour. It, along with other investment banks, has moved more and more towards assessing employe performance on metrics. The good side of that is that using metrics helps to eliminate bias in performance evaluations. But metrics are only one part of understanding your team. It’s surprisingly hard to connect simple data like what the OccupEye sensors will provide Barclays, to more complex data about employees really think, feel and need. Relying solely on metrics – or flashy new technology – gives you a warped understanding of your employees needs and behaviours and it keeps you from seeing simple solutions.
In the case of Barclays, there are easier ways to tell how many hot desks you need. You could walk around the office and count people, while checking in with them. You could track logins or phone usage.
Installing a complex network of sensors that could potentially be used to track employees like they’re pets with a tendency to run off is absurd – and frankly, a waste of money.