7 Ways to Maintain Employee Privacy While Improving Workplace Analytics

More and more companies are interested in improving the quality of their workplace analytics to better understand space utilization, inform portfolio planning, and guide the development of high performance work environments. However, companies seeking to deploy more accurate and granular workplace analytics are often thwarted by concerns about the use of so-called ‘personally identifiable information’ (PII). The recent Wall Street Journal article Tracking Sensors Invade the Workplace is only an example of this increasingly important debate. Privacy concerns may be voiced by employees themselves, or may emanate from the legal, HR, IT or security functions within the organization.

The climate of concern about PII has risen following multiple revelations about the unprecedented scale of government spying through data gathering from cellphone, email and other service providers. Additional revelations about abuse of personal data by social media companies, online advertisers, and even brick and mortar retailers, have further fueled the debate, as have the increasing occurrences of theft of databases of PII by criminals. All of these events have encouraged some to seek to roll back what they consider to be the compromise of their right to privacy. But even 15 years ago, Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems acknowledged, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” (Manes, Stephen (April 18, 2000). “Private Lives? Not Ours!”PC World 18 (6): 312. ISSN 0737-8939. Retrieved 2009-05-27) While we may be reluctant to accept it, if this was true fifteen years ago, it’s even truer today.

The use of many of these data sets becomes problematic in the absence of employee trust. There are ways to address the legitimate employee privacy concerns, while ensuring that the potentially reasonable uses of company-owned data sets for utilization analytics are not thwarted by concerned employees and managers. Below are seven best practices to diminish this risk:

  1. Share Purpose – executives should clearly communicate their goals regarding why they are employing utilization analytics. These may include rightsizing space usage or reallocating resources from empty workstations to higher quality workplaces for greater collaboration and productivity.
  1. Don’t Attach Hardware to People – making employees and visitors wear bracelets or pendants with sensors that track them is probably the most invasive means for measuring utilization. Even if this is possible in some countries, it will not be legally or culturally permissible to use such an approach in all countries, thus limiting its broader application.
  1. Eliminate PII From Data – ensure that no PII is collected directly or indirectly as metadata. It is important to understand what constitutes PII as this varies from country to country based on local employee privacy laws. Legislation about how PII is defined and protected is evolving both in the US, as reflected by recent news from the Electronic Privacy Center, as well as abroad.
  1. Anonymize Data Sources – potentially legitimate employee privacy concerns can be addressed by further anonymizing or encoding data after PII has been eliminated. Ensuring that sensitive data is anonymized before it is used for workplace utilization analytics is critical.
  1. Encrypt and Secure All Databases – ensure that all databases are encrypted and that all data transfers are secure, especially if working with 3rd parties on data collection, aggregation, cleaning, or analysis. This may seem self-evident, but in practice there are too often gaps that can lead to breaches and loss of trust.
  1. Aggregate Results – displayed results in reports or web-based dashboards need to be aggregated to show trends rather than individual employee behavior. What matters is anonymous aggregate results, not whether person A is in a specific location on a certain day.
  1. Share Outcomes – whenever possible, being transparent about the results of an analysis and sharing the value with affected employees will also help maintain trust.

In conclusion: executives can obtain the data they need for quite granular workplace utilization analytics without compromising employee privacy or violating employee trust. Contact us for more info on how to protect privacy while optimizing your workplace http://localhost/rif-export/request-information/