The Opportunities and Blind Spots of Data in Workplace Design

The panelists from left to right: Zachary Edelson, digital content strategist,  Metropolis ; Arlene Ducao, CEO, Multimer; Jeanette Bronée, author and founder, Path for Life Inc.; and Kelly Bacon, America’s Practice Lead, Strategy Plus, AECOM.

The panelists from left to right: Zachary Edelson, digital content strategist, Metropolis; Arlene Ducao, CEO, Multimer; Jeanette Bronée, author and founder, Path for Life Inc.; and Kelly Bacon, America’s Practice Lead, Strategy Plus, AECOM.

The end goal of workplace design has always been about increasing productivity. But according to Jeanette Bronée, a performance strategist and culture coach, “Half of our productivity is wasted on not feeling good.” This comment was made at a recent Think Tank discussion that focused on wellness as a growing consideration in work environments.

The panel, which was hosted by AECOM at its Manhattan office, began by outlining new methods of tracking biometrics within a workplace. When every aspect of an office environment becomes measurable—from light and air quality to space usage and noise levels—how do you avoid engendering paranoia among employees? How might employers use data to make the links between well-being and design concrete? And to what extent are people willing to embrace collection of their personal data?

Answering these questions requires “merging the social sciences and design,” said Kelly Bacon, who leads AECOM America’s Strategy Plus initiative. “Work is innately stressful. If you realize that you have a headache emerging around three o’clock, is it because you’ve been in the same room, you haven’t changed location, you need more oxygen, or you haven’t had enough water? Those are all actionable things,” she explained.

For Arlene Ducao, CEO of location analytics system Multimer, biosensor data transmitted by wearables can help identify such actionable items. Because of the nature of her work, the panel turned to her to address issues of ethics, privacy, and best practices. “There is always this aspect of informed consent,” Ducao said. “A big part of that is understanding how your data is being collected and how it will be used—the whole flow of the data, not just the data itself