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Workplace Analytics: Breaking Down the Growing Trend

Enterprises are being asked to help employers meet their biggest challenge: maintaining productivity across their teams. One way to accomplish this is via workplace analytics. We examine this growing IT trend.

Tech has no shortage of buzzy new technologies – and cutting through the hype to see what will actually impact the enterprise can be challenging. We're here to help. Starting in 2021, our contributors will give a rundown on an emerging tech and whether it'll pay off to pay attention to it. For productivity in 2021, here’s our look at workplace data analytics.

To see the other trends highlighted in our IT Trends To Watch series, read our Emerging IT Trends To Watch report.

What Is Workplace Analytics?

There is one big Software as a Service (SaaS) company deeply engaged with workplace analytics – Microsoft. According to Microsoft documentation, “workplace analytics uses data from everyday work in Office 365 to identify collaboration patterns that impact productivity, workforce effectiveness and employee engagement.”

In other words, as employees answer emails, work their daily schedule of meetings, etc., general data is collected through the Microsoft Graph. This data is then collated for managers to get an overall sense of how their team is engaged. The data is generalized and not attributable to a specific employee but provides an overall view of the managers entire team.

Although they were not visible to managers previously, the company has removed usernames from what is collected. In addition, they have updated their workplace analytics dashboard to better communicate the general nature of the data.

Establishing standards for what data is collected and now presenting it to those reviewing it is critically important with a new technology like workplace analytics. It will also go a long way in reassuring employees that the data is truly anonymous and will not be used to establish performance norms.

How Long Has It Been Around?

Microsoft launched their official Workplace Analytics service back in July 2017 as an add-on to all Office 365 enterprise subscription plans.

Since then, they have continued to refine the data and its display for managers, including using the service to analyze their own teams. Recent additions announced at Microsoft Ignite 2020 focused on employee wellbeing during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic and its related lockdowns and remote work environments.


Microsoft's Productivity Score feature.

Microsoft’s chief people officer, Kathleen Hogan, stated that the service has provided actionable insights for the company's HR Business unit.

“Our HR Business Insights group is using Workplace Analytics across a variety of initiatives—from understanding the behaviors driving increased employee engagement, to identifying the qualities of top-performing managers who are leading Microsoft’s cultural transformation from within. We believe people analytics is a competitive necessity for any HR team.” Hogan said.

Why Are People Paying Attention to It Now?

The global COVID-19 pandemic suddenly forced organizations to have most of their employees’ home and so the daily interaction that normally occurs through an office environment was suddenly no longer happening.

Interactions shifted from face-to-face meetings, standups and presentations to everyone sitting in front of computer screens and using tools like Microsoft Teams, Google Workspace and Zoom to accomplish work-related tasks. Managers and executives still want and need some way to assess employee productivity and identify trends in the workplace, such as increased meeting frequency or reduced person-to-person communication. Workplace data analytics let managers see which tools are being utilized or under-utilized, which behaviors are flourishing in a team and which behaviors could use more encouragement.

Who Benefits From It?

Workplace analytics can fill in some of the gaps by providing managers insight into the productivity of their team. Using this data, as well as new approaches, policies and/or team discussions, they can then review the general productivity of the team and what might be hindering or elevating it.

David Merry, CEO of Coin Journal, uses workplace analytics to improve his team’s productivity, effectiveness and engagement.

“Managers should be using workplace analytics to accomplish three key items,” he said. “First, they should be forming productivity strategies to monitor for meeting fatigue. Second, work on employee engagement by seeing what time of day they are most productive. Finally, redistribute workloads if the data shows one department carrying the larger share of work-related tasks.”

Where Can You Get It?

Microsoft Workplace Analytics is available as an add-on for companies subscribed to Office 365/Microsoft 365 that also have an Enterprise Agreement in place with Microsoft. In addition, the subscription must include Exchange Online Plan 1 or Exchange Online Plan 2.

There are also Workplace Analytics limitations depending on the type of customer:

  • Government Community Cloud is not supported
  • Education only allows analysis of faculty and not students
  • Commercial customers can add this for enrollments in a tenant
  • Analysis of Firstline Workers is not available

There are third-party offerings for services labelled as workforce analytics, but these tend to focus on areas such as HR, payroll and benefits. Expect other major players in productivity software such as Google Workspace and Slack to begin establishing their own version of workplace analytics to enhance their own competing services.

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