People Analytics: How can this emergent discipline inform workplace design?

PLASTARC recently attended the April 2016 Wharton People Analytics Conference (WPAC) to see how conversations about people analytics are currently intersecting with design analytics.

One of the highlights of the event was the interview with Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, facilitated by Adam Grant, author of Give and Take. Hsieh discussed several of the ways he’s incorporating people analytics into his leadership approach—for example, with Zappos’ development of a new metric called collisionable hours to quantify probable interactions between employees per hour, per acre. Using this metric, Zappos can create performance-based targets for the ambitious investments they’re making in their workplace environment and surrounding community, such as the Downtown Project. Hsieh’s advocacy of such new metrics builds on a larger conversation in the design and corporate real estate worlds about how to measure the impact of space on people and business. At PLASTARC, we are dedicated to shifting the metrics associated with workplace from ‘square feet and inches’ to ‘occupant satisfaction and performance,’ and therefore are pleased to see these advances.

Another distinguishing feature of Hsieh’s leadership style is his embrace of the anti-hierarchical management theory Holacracy, which is intended to encourage creativity and innovation. As a philosophy, Holacracy relies heavily on the workplace environment to support increased autonomy for occupants as they navigate their work day. In other words, a successful Holacratic organization is supported by a workplace that endows each team member with a sense of control over their workspace.

Many modern methodologies—from Holacracy to crowdsourcing to fail fast—can have a profound impact when integrated into workplace design and management. PLASTARC recently worked with Mozilla to integrate their own organizational and tech methodologies, including fail fast and open source, into their workplace design and employee experience. Such participatory strategies are critical to engaging employees in a more purpose-driven workplace that extends from design to space management to new behaviors.

One of WPAC’s brief departures from the business school context was a presentation by journalist A.J. Jacobs, known for his contributions to *Esquire *and for his “lifestyle experiments” —such as living according to the moral and legal code of the bible for a year. Jacobs discussed his current project: constructing an immense family tree that will connect him to everyone on planet Earth. This project is now more feasible than ever, thanks to the affordability of gene sequencing and the availability of data on crowdsourced genealogy websites.

On one hand, it’s important to respect people as individuals; on the other, there is an emerging belief that work is best done in collaborative groups

In an interview with FiveThirtyEight, Jacobs claimed that Barack Obama is “his aunt’s fifth-great-aunt’s husband’s brother’s wife’s seventh-great-nephew.” This project seems consistent with current business school thinking and a general cultural shift towards seeing the collective, rather than the individual, as the primary unit of analysis and focus. Intensified interest in the collective was further reflected in a panel discussion about studying teams as the predominant workforce unit. One conundrum that arose for the panel was the difficulty of aligning the princip