PROJECT M
Q&A

Q&A: Ben Waber

Having developed digital "dog tags" called "sociometric badges," Ben Waber measures workforce interactions and communication patterns

© Berto Martinez

Q&A: Ben Waber

Having developed digital "dog tags" called "sociometric badges," Ben Waber measures workforce interactions and communication patterns

Carrying sociometric badges to determine communication paths in the workspace seems like a measure of tight control. How have people reacted?

It’s important to recognize that the companies that commission us have no access to individual data and that we do everything on an opt-in basis. We’ve had a 90% participation rate so far.

If you analyze your findings, how will they affect the future of work?

Companies like Google create communities around work, with people living next door to each other, deepening their relationships with fellow workers. Work in the future will resemble work 200 years ago, with less distinction from private life. Technology like ours helps to navigate that landscape.

One thing you measure is how and where workers are most productive. How can companies improve?

What yields success is collaboration with colleagues. It should be less about meetings and mass e-mails and more about how the office is physically laid out, which groups sit near each other, and letting colleagues mix easily.

As social interaction is so important, what role do coffee machines play?

Coffee machines can create great cross-team interaction. You’ve got to get people talking to colleagues from other departments, not just the same people they already talk to.

And if face-to-face interaction improves productivity, was Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer right to ban telecommuting for her employees?

Yes. We don’t work so well when we work remotely. However, working from home once a week doesn’t have any significant impact.

What about data scandals, such as the one involving the NSA – how is your work affected?

It actually helps us: people’s understanding about data collecting has improved. We’re at the forefront with this technology and are pushing for legislation to be introduced to guarantee participants’ rights.

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