The Eyebrow-Raising Way These Companies are Cutting Out Useless Emails

How tracking employees could boost productivity.

Some companies are taking a surprising tack to cut down on overly-long meetings and time-wasting emails: tracking employees’ digital correspondence, chat logs and face-to-face conversations, according to this Wall Street Journal article. The idea is that by better understanding who’s talking to who and when, companies can help information spread through an office more efficiently.

The WSJ article explains how the Boston Consulting Group gave 20 percent of their approximately 500 New York-based employees ID badges with sensors that tracked how they moved through the office along with who they talked to and for how long. (It’s important to note the actual conversations were not being recorded.) The company started the six-week experiment just before they changed offices in hopes that the findings could inform the design of their new digs.

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Ross Love, a managing partner at BCG who led the project, told WSJ that the data showed employees were spending an inordinate amount of time with bosses and direct reports, which in turn slowed down information sharing among teams.

The findings suggest that encouraging employees to mingle naturally is the more efficient way to spread information. Workers who frequently stopped to chat with a random colleague spent an average of “five fewer hours in long meetings.” Love told WSJ that this may be because coworkers can spread news or updates better in person than in an email or formal meeting. The research even inspired BCG to create a lounge area in their new office where people can leave their desks and engage with their coworkers (and, of course, grab some snacks).

As the WSJ outlines, the growing drive to study workplace interaction is in part due to a changing and more collaborative work environment. And the ID badge-trackers aren’t the only tool being used. WSJ points to Syndio, an analytics startup that uses employee data to create a “constellation” of connections and conversations to help ensure that no one’s left out of the loop.

Another program, Volometrix (now called MyAnalytics and acquired by Microsoft in 2015) uses email and calendar events to look for patterns that might be keeping colleagues from collaborating. According to WSJ, MyAnalytics even offers a friendly reminder to unplug and recharge: Late-night email senders might receive a prompt to wait until morning to send a non-urgent email if the program thinks they’re working late just to manage their inbox.

If all of this screams of Big Brother to you, rest assured that the employees being tracked and using these tools appear to be totally on-board. Katya Siddall, the co-founder of Syndio, told WSJ that employees were also “more willing to have their communication monitored when they knew it was being used to improve relationships.”

It’s a good example that while we should always be mindful of our relationship with technology to keep it from veering into unhealthy territory, sometimes tech and the data it produces can be very beneficial. After all, who doesn’t love fewer meetings and emails?

Read more on WSJ.