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June 11, 2015

A manager making decisions based on yesterday’s information is a dinosaur

Have you ever wondered just how huge flocks of birds can fly in a homogenous group without hitting anything? It’s a question of watching out and adjusting when required, without one leader needing to indicate which way to go. This occurs entirely based on the “now,” with pair of eyes that register everything, so that they can adjust instantaneously.

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And this is exactly how agile workplace management works.

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

Real-time data from sensors has been used for some time outside the office environment. A simple example is the online rain radar: people view the data and decide for themselves whether to go outside at that moment or not. The information they have available for this is much more appropriate for them (location-based, after all), than the weatherman can predict in his general weather report based on patterns. With the increasing digitization in their personal lives, employees are already used to modifying their behavior independently according to real-time information from third parties, and now it’s time that the professional world does likewise.

The introduction of sensors into the office environment is stimulating this independence, as long as the information is not only used by managers to analyze the past, but is also used by all staff in the “now.” Where is space available now? How long is the lunch line right now? What’s good about this is that it engenders self-management among employees. They organize themselves on the basis of current information, adapt to the availability of space and at the same time spot new availability, because a meeting which has ended early or a work-day not running as planned leads to a free space which is immediately visible and available to anyone. The huge benefit for organizations 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 place 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 what 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 current information make employees as free as birds, thus turning the organization into a powerful whole.

David Stillebroer
Director Product Management