Putting trust to work – Unlocking value in the digital workplace

Published on the 11/02/2019 | Written by Justin Gray

Trust data collected on employees_Accenture

How to harness workforce data, and keep your staff onside and happy…

New Zealand organisations are realising the growth potential of collecting data on their employees and their work, yet there is a reasonable degree of uncertainty about whether the data is being used responsibly and ethically.

In a global survey of 10,000 workers, Accenture found that almost 80 percent of business leaders said using workforce data will help them grow their existing business.

With the development of technology, business leaders have new levels of visibility into their workforce thanks to an ever expanding digital trail. Data can be mined from a number of sources such as email, calendars, social collaboration tools, mobile phones, laptops and wearables, and converted into insights, decisions and actions through analytics, artificial intelligence and human analysis.

“Only 30 percent of business leaders are very confident that their organisation is using the data in a highly responsible way.”

Such data can be combined with other sets of information to give a vivid and real time picture of the workforce – from the quality of a developer’s software code, to the accuracy of a reporter’s news article, to the efficiency of a courier’s route.

However, as most people know, collecting data is contentious – from a privacy and trust point of view. Data misuse could compromise privacy or individual rights, prompt incorrect decisions or a misapplication of skills and, at its worst, drive a significant loss of employee trust in an organisation.

The research shows that 62 percent of businesses are using new technologies and sources of workforce data extensively. But only 30 percent of business leaders are very confident that their organisation is using the data in a highly responsible way. While employees have concerns, however, they are overwhelmingly in favour of the practice, if the data is collected responsibly and benefits them.

In New Zealand, organisations face the same issues – how do they use workforce data to grow their business to compete globally, and do it responsibly?

It’s no surprise that building trust in an organisation is the way forward. Our research has identified the factors of workforce data practices that employees say most influence their level of trust in employees.

One key to earning trust by providing more control is to let employees choose if they want to ‘give’ data to ‘get’ particular benefits.

About 92 percent of employees are open to the collection of data on them and their work in exchange for an improvement in their productivity, their wellbeing or other benefits. For example, fairer pay, customised learning and development and improved safety at work.

Also, 73 percent of people want to own their work related data and take it with them when they leave. Employers should consider using new technologies like blockchain to help employees make greater use of their data.

The majority of employees are unwilling to let employers collect data if they did not keep it private when the expectation was that they would. It’s a good idea to agree with employees which data should be shared and to aggregate and make data anonymous when it is shared beyond the individual.

A single C-suite executive should also be accountable for ethical workplace data initiatives. Today, only 19 percent of business leaders say that is the case, but a further 48 percent plan to appoint one. One option is to hire a Chief Ethics Officer.

There is no doubt that technology is a double edged sword. It can be harmful if misused, but an enormously helpful tool if used well and responsibly.

Our advice to New Zealand businesses is to open opportunities, don’t constrain them and reduce bias where you can. For example, AI can identify gender bias in job postings and rectify them and 80 percent of employees say having reliable, factual data gathered by new technologies would improve fairness in hiring decisions.

Resist the temptations of surveillance, and use data to improve how teams work, or to personalise training.

The new relationship developing between machines and people generates a wealth of data. About 70 percent of business leaders say measuring the joint performance of people working with intelligent machines would be extremely or very important to improving organisational performance.

If business leaders in New Zealand leverage the vast amounts of available data in the workplace, they will create value and realise new levels of productivity, agility and speed. However, trust and fairness should lie at the core of all decisions – a balance between privacy and performance must be struck.

Justin Gray

Justin Gray is country managing director for Accenture New Zealand.

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