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11 June 2015

A manager making decisions based on yesterday’s information is outdated

Have you ever wondered how huge flocks of birds can fly in a homogenous group without hitting anything? It’s a question of keeping an eye out and adjusting when required, without a leader indicating which way to go. This occurs entirely based on instant information (the ‘now’) communicated through sensors (aka a pair of eyes) which register everything, so that they can adjust their trajectory instantaneously.

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And this is exactly how agile workplace management works.

Growing numbers of offices are using sensors to measure attendance. A system registers which desks are occupied and when they become available. But many organisations only use this information for subsequent analysis by building managers. This is a classic management approach: collecting data, trying to understand patterns to then influence the actual practice by shifting desks and creating extra meeting areas. Plan-Do-Check-Act by the book.

Collecting real-time data from sensors has been used for some time outside the workplace environment. A simple example is online rain radars: people view the data and decide for themselves whether to go outside or not. The information available is much more accurate (based on their location after all), than the forecast the weatherman predicts in his general weather report based on patterns. With the increasing digitisation in their personal lives, employees are already used to modifying their behaviour independently according to real-time information from third parties, and now it’s time that the professional world does the same.

The introduction of sensors in the workspace  environment is stimulating its independence, as long as the information is not only used by managers to analyse past behaviours, but is also used by all staff  ‘now’. Where is space available now, where can I now have a meeting, how long is the catering queue right now? What’s good about this is that it prompts self-management amongst employees. They manage themselves on the basis of accurate information, adapt to the availability of spaces and at the same time spot new availability, because a meeting which has ended early or a training not running as planned leads to a free space which is immediately visible and available to anyone. The huge benefit for organisations is that it enables quicker reaction to changes, and the number of workstations can be reduced significantly without disrupting productivity. This is about adapting to the ‘now’ and the workspace which matches it at that precise moment.

The bird in its flock doesn’t have a fixed place, is not given a route in advance and doesn’t know where it will be flying over in five minutes. But one thing it does know: not a single bird will collide with another one, and as a fast-moving flock they are safe from external dangers. Sensors and accurate information make employees as efficient as a flock of birds, thus turning the organisation into a powerful whole.

David Stillebroer
Director Product Management