Today's post comes to us courtesy of board member Mark Wales.  What's your take on the pros and cons of technology that knows where you are and what you're doing?

Workforce technology is meant to simplify the workplace and improve productivity – but when does it go from being cool to being creepy? I recently hosted a panel of industry thought leaders at an international Location Based Marketing Association (LBMA) conference. Amongst the topics we discussed was the emergence of location-based data and technology, and what the implications might be for employees. The rapid innovation and changing relationship between product companies and customers is having an immediate impact on customer expectations and as well as on what retail employees are expected to know.

For instance, an employee in a retail location today may be asked to understand:

Complexity for the employee is escalating rapidly.

And beyond just the customer, location-based technology is giving employers much more detail about their employees and overall operations.

For example, companies can now know not just if their employee has clocked in, but where they are and what they’re doing. Technology can now show where customers are in the store, whether staff are in the right place to service the customer, and whether employees have restocked the right products or sizes.

A pilot in the UK placed a large screen in the back of a retail store to show employees the customer demand and whether there was sufficient staffing in the right departments - a not-so-subtle way of trying to tackle the eternal retail problem of too few employees interacting with customers and too many in the back doing task work.

Technology can also improve the quality of work life, such as by reminding the employee that they’ve forgotten to punch out when they leave the store which simplifies life for the manager and employee.

But, as with all change, there is often risk and resistance.

The current backlash over the use of personal data doesn’t stop with Facebook. Many people are nervous about the vast amounts of data that enable just about anyone to figure out who you are, where you are, and what you’re doing.

Our panel was asked by the audience if anyone thought there might be a movement to buy back privacy. While this might be an option in a private setting, how it would work in a corporate environment is less clear. The interactive discussion with the audience exposed a generational issue, with older attendees leaning much more to desiring their privacy, and perhaps being willing to sacrifice functionality or pay for it. Meanwhile, the younger generations seemed much more accepting of the value derived by the sharing of information.

Personally, I think connection through social media, the service of automated bots and the curation from personalization are integral parts of our lives that I certainly don’t want to lose. However, it remains to be seen how corporate organizations will manage the human side of emerging technology.

Image courtesy of By jannoon028 / Freepik

The following guest post is courtesy of our board member, David Creelman.

Ray Kroc, who built McDonald’s into a global chain, is famous for saying “If you’ve time to lean, you’ve time to clean.” A better slogan for today’s front-line workers might be “If you’ve time to lean, you’ve time to learn.”

Training front-line workers has always been difficult because they are dispersed in many locations and are too busy to take a day-off (or even an hour off) to go to a training course. However, they do have little blips of free time: 3 minutes here, 5 minutes there. That free time could be used to clean, but it could also be used to learn.

Smartphones are what makes the difference. It would have been impractical to put a learning kiosk in, for example, every McDonald’s location, but now we can deliver excellent training via the person’s own mobile device. The technological leap of affordable smartphones, makes a new approach to training possible.

To take advantage of smartphones, training needs to be delivered in very short chunks—and that’s an entirely achievable objective. Manage the whole thing with the right learning management technology and you’ll have all you need to deliver and track the training a front-line worker needs.

New technology (smartphones) and new training modules (short chunks) are two of the pillars of change. The last pillar is mindset. Managers of front-line workers will normally be happier seeing staff doing something (even if it is just gazing outwards, hoping a customer will walk in) rather than looking at their phone. Companies will have to convince managers that ongoing training matters, and also find some way to visibly show that the person is accessing a learning module, not social media. Mindset is the toughest challenge, but that’s what change management is for.

Does ongoing training pay off? That should be an empirical question. A company could run all kinds of experiments to see what kind of training has the biggest impact on results. However, I must admit that one of the payoffs I would seek has little to do with better unit performance. The jobs of front line workers are threatened by automation. Their best hope for a bright future is learning new skills. If a company creates an atmosphere of continuous learning then that should have spin-off benefits in their employees’ confidence in their ability to master new things. A company can’t teach the specific skills these workers will need for future work; it can teach employees to be good learners.

It’s hard to break out of the idea that learning takes place in classrooms. That old model still can deliver results, but it was never suitable for front-line workers. At last technology has created the opportunity to provide great learning that fits neatly into a front-line workers day. Let’s embrace it.

Employee-MonitoringDo you check your work email as soon as you wake up? (Spoiler: It's not good for you).

Tablets, smartphones, and other on-the-go technologies make it incredibly convenient to check-in with work responsibilities at all hours of the day – not just first thing in the morning. And while it seems productive to constantly be available to your colleagues and managers, it may not be the most efficient.

Here are a few pros and cons as to how mobile technology can make - or break - the workplace:


The Ultimate Flexibility

Whether you’re a remote employee or someone who spends the majority of their time in the office, mobile technology definitely provides a new level of flexibility that employees have never had before. No matter where we are or what comes up, we can still be accessible to our teams and managers. It gives us the freedom to live our lives while still being able to do our jobs effectively.

Higher Morale

Thanks to the increased flexibility that mobile brings, it can also help to increase employee morale. Employees get to spend more time with their families, feel less pressure to be tied to their cubicle all day, and feel less stressed when they have to leave the office – because they still feel connected to their colleagues.

Improved Communication            

As a manager, having employees constantly connected to mobile devices makes communication easier than ever - with both remote and in-office team members. The convenience of mobile allows for a quick response time no matter how critical the email, text, or phone call may be.


Loss of Work/Life Balance

The traditional 9-5 schedule assumed that employees were accessible to their employers mostly during set hours.  With mobile technology, it's more likely that work will intrude on downtime.


Unplugging is essential to giving our brains time to turn off from work.  Always being connected to what needs to be done can easily lead to burnout, which, in the end, doesn’t make us any more productive. Taking a break from our various mobile technologies outside of work helps to refresh our minds, giving us more bandwidth to come up with new ideas and be sharper when we’re actually in the office – leading to better productivity.

Unrealistic Expectations

Some managers can take advantage of their always-connected employees by sending emails or texts after hours that require a quick response - or worse, calling their employees on the weekends. Respecting your teams’ personal lives is critical, but the convenience of mobile can make it difficult for some managers (and colleagues) to recognize those boundaries.

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Last week, I spoke with our board members Sharlyn Lauby (aka the HR Bartender) and William Tincup (so many aliases, I don't know where to start) about the future of mobile workforce management.  At Kronos, we've invested in smartphone and tablet solutions that enable managers and employees to take action on common tasks like punching in and out, scheduling shifts, approving  timecards, and the like.  Frontline managers are thereby freed to "manage in the moment" while going about their daily routines, untethered from their office computers.

We're seeing rapid adoption of mobile technologies at Kronos and in the world at large.  As consumers become more wedded to the conveniences of mobile devices for communication and entertainment, they increasingly expect to experience similar conveniences in the workplace.

We talked about the following questions that are top of mind for organizations using (or thinking about using) mobile technology to extend their workforce management environment:

You can listen in on our discussion here:

Are you using mobile technology on the job?  What are the pros and cons?

I'm off to HR Tech on Sunday to represent Kronos, catch up with old friends, and check out what's new and exciting in our industry. I'm also leaving my laptop at home and relying solely on my iPad (and her kid sister, iPhone) to keep up with my computing needs. Although I've had the iPad since Christmas, I haven't had the courage yet to leave my laptop at home during business travel.

My first "portable computer" was the one I used for my job as a Systems Marketing Rep at Control Data in 1983. It was as big and heavy as a sewing machine to carry, yet I felt as cool as Lt. Uhura on Star Trek with that baby. I'd swish into a customer's conference room in 3 inch heels and shoulder pads worthy of an NFL player. There would be audible gasps when I'd establish a phone connection to our mainframe in Ohio with my "mobile" device - a 1200 kilobyte per second acoustic coupler.

The power and portability the average citizen carries around today was inconceivable then, and the notion of a universal computing network was a brand new concept limited largely to defense and academic applications. I've been fortunate to have had a front row seat with leading edge software companies for almost 30 years, but still find certain computing habits hard to break. So, wish me luck as I put a couple thousand miles between me and the Dell next week.

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