Featured News Article

Telstra uses belt to track employees

Published 10 July 2014 13:17, Updated 10 July 2014 13:22
Patrick Durkin

If it is not enough that your boss tracks you on social media, scrutinises your expenses and what time you start work, employers can now track your every movement.

A new electronic belt tells your employer information such as when you sit and stand, walk to the kitchen for a coffee or even sneak out of the building to lark off work, helping to lift productivity at telecommunications giant Telstra. In designing their new Sydney headquarters at 400 George Street, Telstra has taken the unprecedented step of strapping the belts, known as the ­Actigraph tri-axial accelerometer-GT3X, to volunteer employees.

“They asked me to wear an elastic belt with what looked like a small ­heart-rate monitor attached,” Doug MacDougall of Telstra’s corporate affairs team said

The telecommunications giant says the belts have been invaluable in designing their new office fit-out and tightening their own “corporate belt” by reducing rental space through ­hot-desking and activity-based ­working, including working from home. Despite continued scepticism over the merits of activity-based working – corporate jargon for not having fixed desks – Telstra claims the results ­compiled in collaboration with University of Sydney from their willing employees proves activity-based ­working works.

Sitting time per work week was 16.4 per cent lower in Telstra’s new offices, standing time per work week was 12.5 per cent greater.

Walking time for a work week was 3.1 per cent greater, according to data provided to The Australian Financial Review’s BOSS magazine, which is due out on Friday.

Whether or not the staff were only on the move more than usual because of the big brother-like scrutiny, Telstra said self-reported ­musculoskeletal discomfort fell because of a 30 per cent increase in “sit to stand” height-adjustable desks.

The research convinced managers to build internal stairs to connect floors to encourage staff to “bump” into each other and foster collaboration.

The push to work together is based on the Allen Curve theory, which ­predicts that “once people sit more than 50 metres apart, the chances of ­interacting with each other is almost zero”, said Cai Kjaer, co-founder of ­Optimice, which provides companies with a related social networking tool to track staff ­connections.

“The question for us is how do you save $14 million each year and not piss everyone off,” said Lend Lease’s Natalie Slessor, who heads up a new workplace team at the property giant.

Ms Slessor said the Barangaroo development on Sydney Harbour, which will house corporate tenants including Westpac Banking Corp, KPMG and HSBC Bank Australia, is considered to be the first wholesale test case for the success or otherwise of activity-based working.

“Should we go flexible? Should we go home-working? Should we go open plan? Who still needs an office?

“There is a lot of emotion and a lot of legacy issues about what we have always done before,” she said.

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