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The Water Cooler

A blog of fresh ideas and findings from organizational leaders and researchers on how they’re making work better, shared regularly.

Mapping employee chitchat can reveal information blockages

Filed under: People Analytics
Mapping employee chitchat can reveal information blockages
By measuring the day-to-day interactions between employees, organizations can map how information gets shared and actually make work, and their businesses, better.

Dr. Ben Waber, Founder and CEO of Humanyze, spoke at Google’s 2014 re:Work event about what organizations can learn by measuring their employees’ interactions. Humanyze makes a wearable ID badge that records who an employee talks with. By mapping those interactions, an organization’s social networks emerge and information pathways — and blockages — can be identified. “What I want to do is try to collect data on what is actually happening and use that to change how we manage ourselves and how we manage our businesses,” Waber explained.

Waber partnered with a European retail bank and equipped every employee at a few different branch locations with his tracking badges. The branches each “have the same training, they have the same employee demographics, but they have very different performance,” Waber said. “And so we go in there with these badges, and we measure, how are people collaborating with each other?”

The results were illuminating. The highest-performing branch had the most cohesive, interconnected social network, which makes sense. But it was what Waber and his team learned about the lower-performing branches that yielded real insights. In one location, a very tightly-knit employee group wound up excluding several new hires whose low performance brought down the entire branch’s performance. To solve for this, the bank started a program to give managers money to take new employees out to lunch to introduce them to other colleagues.

In another branch, Waber discovered a clear bifurcation where there were two separate social networks. The cause, it turned out, was architectural — one group worked on the first floor and the other was on the second. “It takes you 10 seconds to walk from the first floor to the second floor,” Waber said. “But nobody does it.” So the bank started doing away with multilevel branches where they could and rotated desks more frequently elsewhere.

And these approaches, from better integrating new hires to making physical workspaces more conducive to networking, had very real results for the bottom line. “We tested this with half of their branches, with these new procedures, and we actually had their loan sales go up by 11% relative to the branches where we changed nothing.”

Read more from Ben Waber - Data from the lunchroom could inform the boardroom