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Summary

The recent spat over desk-occupancy sensors at the Daily Telegraph highlights the broader use of sensors in the workplace. Hospitals use the exact same technology to spot unoccupied consultation rooms and reduce patient waiting times. Use cases and how they play out differ from place to place, and managers should talk to their staff before they assume that what has worked elsewhere will work for them.

Talk to your staff before you jump on another tech bandwagon

On Monday (January 11), news outlets across the world reported the uproar in the newsroom of the UK's Daily Telegraph after management installed heat and motion sensors under employees' desks. Within only a few hours of the story breaking, the Telegraph told its staff that the sensors would be removed. One might wonder whether the concerns of Telegraph journalists would have been addressed so quickly had their colleagues throughout the industry not drawn special attention to their case, because even if this is a first in the newspaper industry (it probably isn't), several hospitals and local authorities in the UK use such sensors.

The technology, OccupEye, is designed to monitor in real time how many people are using desks or meeting rooms. The Telegraph wanted to use it to find opportunities to save on lighting and heating; most likely by having staff share desks, which would explain the angry response. However, in the overstretched NHS, doctors often book rooms for private conversations with their patients, only for them to be left empty when patients miss appointments or when consultations finish early. This leaves other patients waiting for rooms to become "available." Sensors allow staff to identify which rooms really are available without disturbing patients or breaching confidentiality.

You probably know the maxim of the boy with the hammer who thinks everything he sees is a nail. This often holds true for managers and new workplace technologies, but so does the caveat that one can't do much that's useful with a genuine nail without a hammer. There are good arguments to say it is worth spending a little extra on heating to let journalists keep their own desks, but letting doctors and patients use unoccupied rooms is hard to argue with. Of course it is good to learn from how other organizations use new technologies, but managers should always consider their own use cases and how they might play out. When in doubt, a good way to figure out whether what you are about to wallop really is a nail is to do what the Telegraph did not do, which is talk to staff and find out what they think before you swing the hammer.

Appendix

Further reading

Enterprise Case Study: Securing the Mobile Frontline, IT0007-000850 (November 2015)

Steering the Ship of State from Devices to Apps, IT0007-000786 (November 2014)

"Government can't afford not to manage BYOD," IT0007-000788 (November 2014)

“The mobility journey is only just beginning,” IT0021-000079 (April 2015)

“Reducing the security perimeter can minimize risk and improve the user experience,” IT0007-000812 (April 2015)

“There is no one secret to building the digital enterprise,” IT0021-000073 (April 2015)

“Federal agencies should welcome the release of the OMB data index”, IT0007-000802 (February 2015)

“UK government embraces “sacrifice your own device”, IT0007-000769 (September 2014)

Author

Nick Wallace, Analyst, Public Sector

Nick.Wallace@ovum.com

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