Book Review: People Analytics by Ben Waber

Collaboration is a 21st century buzz word. Ben Waber uses science to prove how collaboration adds significantly to a company’s bottom line.


If I told you that “changing how people spent 15 minutes of their day” could yield $15 million in profit, would you believe me?


You should because Ben Waber et al. proved it in the their experiments namely the water cooler effect during his research at MIT. He wrote his findings as a fantastic read called People Analytics: How social sensing technology will transform business and what it tells us about the future of work.


Waber collected data from modified employee worn id badges and analyzed the effects of human interactions. While email data can easily be mined to produce a description of written office communication, Waber and his team at MIT wanted to capture the ‘hidden’ communication in office settings.


The value of the coffee break

Waber et al. studied the effects of synchronized coffee breaks for call center employees at Bank of America. The results showed conclusively that employees were more cohesive and less stressed as a result of taking their ‘coffee’ breaks with colleagues. The experiment did not require employees to communicate, they did that naturally. The orchestrated communication made employees feel more cohesive. These factors increased productivity and significantly decreased employee turnover. All significantly increasing BoA’s bottom line.


Co-location and outsourcing software development

Next, Waber investigated remote teams working together. Obviously, teams working together, at the same location, is ideal. But, what about remote teams? How can we increase their productivity? For instance, Is it worth it to fly everyone in and meet face to face before starting a project? Does that expense increase the remote team’s productivity. Waber proved an emphatic yes. When teams met face-to-face before the project they understood each other better, trusted each other better, and were better at collaborating afterwards.


Waber sums up the importance of collaborations as follows:

“In additional to doing away with this individual view of productivity, we need to get rid of the notion of the lone genius. An easy way to think of our creativity, and our impact on our colleagues as a whole, is to think about how much work we can actually get done by ourselves. Imagine you discover a way to increase your performance by 10%. Assuming you work 40 hours a week, you can end up saving 4 hours of your time every week by using this new method you’ve discovered. If you keep it to yourself, over one year you will end up saving about 200 hours.


But, what if you shared your discovery with 5 of your closest coworkers? Maybe it takes you a while to teach them this new method, say 20 hours. In that case, individually you would only save 180 hours, but collectively everyone would save 1,200 hours in that first year. On top of that, however, you’ve now created a community where sharing tips is expected… etc. (199-200)


Of course, as Waber emphasizes, we must be very careful about privacy employee privacy issues.

I recommend the book.

Some links:

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