The season for quantifying enterprise happiness

Well, with the happiness of Thanksgiving over we can enjoy, if enjoy is, indeed, the right word, a brief pause before the rather more forced happiness of Christmas is upon us.

So, in this extended season of goodwill, our happiness should be more or less assured. But, while your happiness outside of work may get a Richter Scale rating, it turns out that how happy you are in the office could probably do with a little engineering improvement.

Yes, according to a recent article on the IEEE Spectrum site, happiness can be engineered and, needless to say, computer technology makes this possible.

The way to begin understanding how happy people are is not, it turns out, to ask them, because people will usually distort the truth about their emotions or misinterpret situation. Nope, the solution is to monitor them.

According to the Spectrum article, it all started with studies conducted back in the early 'Aughts by MIT professor Alex Pentland using, by today's standards, primitive wearable biometric recorders. This led to a collaboration with Hitachi and, subsequently a product, the Hitachi Business Micrososcope (I have to note in passing that Hitachi's Web site for the HBM is impressively awful and almost completely fails to explain or sell what is, in reality, a very clever and powerful concept and service).

According to Spectrum, the HBM data collection is achieved by giving each employee a device the "size of a name tag [that] weighs a mere 33 grams." Spectrum explains: "You wear it around your neck on a lanyard, as you would a name badge at a conference. Inside its plastic case are six infrared transceivers, an accelerometer, a flash memory chip, a microphone, a wireless transceiver, and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that allows the badge to operate for up to two days at a time."

The device collects, over an extended period, the wearer's postural data (arm movements, head nods, etc.) along with voice pitch and volume analysis, as well as data on who is in the vicinity of the wearer and when, along with ambient temperature and light levels. Then, by doing some sophisticated analysis, it can be determined how people in an organization interact with each other and their levels of happiness.

The authors of the article, some of whom were involved in the early research work as well as Hitachi's development, are at pains to point out that, "You might think that happiness is something ineffable, an elusive state of being that defies quantification and analysis. But over the past decade [researchers] have conducted many studies that demonstrate that happiness can, in fact, be systematically measured."

In short, these guys are sort of like Santa; they know when you are happy, they know when you're awake, they know if you've interacted well, when you're tracked for corporate sake.

What is even more interesting is that from the analysis recommendations for re-engineering both the physical and social aspects of an organization can be made. While detailed case studies have yet to be published, the Spectrum paper claims some interesting results.

Imagine applying this kind of technology in your enterprise ... tracking everyone and their interactions and then doing things such as strategically modifying office layouts and reporting structures to improve the social atmosphere, as well as telling users about their own behavior so they know objectively what they are and are not doing to create a positive work environment.

While it may all sound rather ambitious and maybe even Big Brotherish, there's no doubt that many of us could be a lot happier at work even when it's not Happy Holiday time.

Gibbs is very happy in Ventura, Calif. Your analysis to backspin@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter and App.net (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

This story, "The season for quantifying enterprise happiness" was originally published by NetworkWorld.

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