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Workforce analytics: the top tech stack must-have of 2021

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(Image credit: Shutterstock / Round Pebble Design)

The Covid-19 pandemic radically changed the workplace when businesses around the world adopted work from home policies. Out of necessity — and overnight — the use of new cloud-based collaboration and communication tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom became the everyday norm.

Covid-19 has influenced a new era of work. According to Gartner, 74% of companies plan to stick with remote work permanently, even after the pandemic has subsided. Microsoft, Dropbox, Twitter, and Slack have all announced plans to make working from home permanent.

A study by Mercer found that 94% of employers said their company productivity was actually the same (67%) or higher (27%) than it was before the pandemic. And while remote work is functioning, organizations are making investments to enhance digital work strategies. Without the visibility in-person workplaces provided, businesses are looking to gain insights, optimize processes, and identify and reinforce positive work behaviors using new workforce analytics tools. These data-informed insights help teams track performance trends, identify productivity roadblocks and bottlenecks, and better design and manage work for distributed workforces.

About the author

Javier Aldrete is Vice President of Product at ActivTrak

Evolution of employee monitoring

Workforce analytics evolved from employee monitoring software — with the notion that understanding productivity is not a one-sided exercise focused on surveillance or tracking, but rather a collaborative process between employers and employees focused on capturing deeper insights from digital user activity data. When analyzed transparently, this data can provide insights into how teams interact, how employees can learn and improve in their jobs, and how workflows can be optimized to support business goals.

Understanding workforce productivity lies in an entirely new set of metrics based on user interactions with collaboration/communication tools, SaaS applications, and websites, and how those actions tie to desired outcomes. These new metrics can help answer questions, such as:

  • How can we make work easier through process improvements?
  • Which employees are closely aligned to goals and expectations?
  • Which employees are at risk of burnout?
  • How do our most productive members work and can we model their behavior for the benefit of other members through training and/or mentoring?
  • Is our team online and engaged during critical business hours or do we need to adjust workloads across teams with more capacity?
  • Do distracting and wasteful practices exist?
  • How does application usage vary by individual and team?
  • What tools are not being used? Are too many tools being used or is context switching slowing productivity?

Measuring what matters

Businesses define and measure productivity differently and it often depends on the type of role, function, and/or intended outcomes. While employees use a variety of different applications to get their work done, a common set of metrics or key performance indicators is emerging. A few of these indicators defined by 451 Research, a part of S&P Global Market Intelligence, include:

Alignment - Alignment around the right goals, expectations and workflows.

Focus - As workers contend with a rise in digital and home distractions, this measures engagement in important, high-value activities vs. low value tasks or distractions.

Effort - Spending enough time, at the right time, on the right activities.

Capacity - Having capacity beyond active and focused time to troubleshoot and take on net new activities.

Conversations - The time spent collaborating.

Automation - The amount of time spent on manual tasks.

Process - The number of steps to complete a workflow.

Focus - The number of times employees switch between their different applications.

Rework - The number of times individual workflows are revised and amended.

Velocity - The time it takes to execute against a goal.

Technology considerations

Workforce analytics provide on-demand views into employee performance both individually and across teams. The most advanced solutions leverage AI-driven insights and ensure usability for larger organizations via role/group support and third-party data integration (identity, location, etc.). These insights can be delivered in the form of productivity leaderboards, activity reports, and benchmarks that provide an objective measure of the performance of team members in a given week, month, or other custom timeframe.

The following considerations can help organizations evaluate products before choosing a workforce analytics solution provider:

  • Is the technology cloud-native? Cloud-based technologies are often easier to deploy and manage across a distributed workforce.
  • Does the technology have an open architecture that allows it to easily integrate with a number of tools and data sources?  The ability to integrate data from multiple systems provides much broader context and value.
  • Can it be purchased as a subscription?  Flexibility is a must-have in today’s economic environment.
  • What steps has the provider taken to ensure security and privacy of user data? A solution should have multiple layers of protection across a reliable, distributed infrastructure, including data encryption, single-sign on and multi-factor authentication.

Embracing best practices

Remote teams dictate a new type of work culture, which requires new types of workforce analytics and performance indicators — expanding beyond HR-focused operations to encompass areas such as IT operations and lines of business. These functions are always looking for ways to streamline and optimize employee processes and workflows to propel the business forward more effectively and efficiently.

No matter what you’re looking to achieve, workforce analytics best practices must prioritize insights (vs. oversight) to help teams build trust, respect, and responsibility. They must also include individuals as active participants in setting goals and measuring progress — with managers serving as coaches and enablers.

As we enter a new era of digital work, businesses that embrace workplace analytics as the foundation for a culture of continuous improvement and productivity will create more rewarding employee experiences, engaged teams, and successful businesses.