2017: What Mattered In IT?

2017 Was the Year the Quantified Workplace Hit Our Desktops

The quantified workplace faced growing pains in 2017.

The adage "work smarter, not harder" has always been a wonderfully pithy way to convey the idea that how you work matters as much -- if not more -- as what you produce. In a year where Microsoft's Workplace Analytics unrolled across the software suites of all Office 365 Enterprise customers, the adage made it to how you email and schedule your time.

The whole point to workplace analytics is to take a look at the data that you generate -- who you email, how often you email, how much time you're spending on email, who you meet with, how often you meet, etc. -- and find a way to optimize your time. Welcome to the quantified workplace, where crunching the numbers presumably leads to behavioral nudges.

As someone who's been on the receiving end of the Workplace Analytics … it's fun to see how accurately the numbers on my weekly summary emails reflect the week that was. What I find especially interesting about this is how inert the data seems to be. I learn a lot about my past behavior, but I'm not getting too many opportunities to engage with the data in a way that helps me shape my future work. For example, I can observe that my email response rate drops on a particularly busy week, but the tool doesn't attempt to refine insights by asking questions like, "Why did your email response rate go down this week while your total time spent answering email go up?" It does not log patterns or let me enter external contingencies to explain how the data came to be.

This gap between data collection and action illustrates one of the growing pains of the quantified workplace. We won't be working smarter until the tools that are meant to help us work smarter are actually smarter too.

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