How much time do you spend every day sending and answering emails and calendar invites? While these tasks may seem minute and often mindless, they consume vast amounts of time and energy—13 hours per week, according to research firm McKinsey & Co. At the same time, these daily responsibilities are rarely productive and can cost employers an average of $20,990 per worker per year.
For VoloMetrix, a Seattle-based "people analytics" company, these wasted hours represent huge chunks of time just waiting to be optimized. VoloMetrix builds software that monitors employees' email and calendar data to, in theory, give employers a better understanding of how workers are spending their time.
VoloMetrix's technology works by communicating with a company's email and calendar server, extracting data, then anonymizing and aggregating it, explains VP of Product Chantrelle Nielsen. "This lets managers see where people in different departments are spending their time," she explains.
How can managers put this kind of employee email and calendar data to use? According to Michael Housman, Chief Analytics Officer at Cornerstone OnDemand, there are three major possibilities: predicting employee flight risk, finding ways to save time and mapping out a company's internal social networks.
Q: Who's Looking to Leave?
Although VoloMetrix anonymizes all the email and calendar information it scans, the data can be useful for identifying teams where employees might be less engaged, and potentially looking to leave the company.
"We look at the different levels of insularity, whether it's geographical or departmental," Nielsen says, explaining that less communication between peers, offices and departments, and fewer meetings could indicate lower engagement and, potentially, upcoming departures.
It's then up to the manager to decide whether to dive into the data and investigate if something is really amiss. However, Housman warns that simply having that information at your fingertips doesn't mean you can always do something about it.
"If someone's already checked out and in the job market, it's really hard to pull them back in," Housman says. "You need to think of a way to engage them more, whether it's with a raise, bonus or something else entirely."
Q: Can We Stop Wasting Employees' Time?
Long meetings are another notorious productivity killer, as anyone who's been stuck in a conference room all day can attest. Studying email and calendar data can help managers zero in on meetings that go too long for no reason or that tie up too many people at once.
"You can look at this data and get a sense of who's a heavy waster of other peoples' time," Housman says. "For knowledge and creative workers in particular, you need undisturbed time to be able to focus and get work done. When you cut back on unnecessary meetings and set aside dedicated time for checking email, you get more done."
A heightened sense of productivity is also a good morale boost, says VoloMetrix's Nielsen. "When people are constantly emailing and in meetings, you feel like you're working harder and harder without getting anything more done. It becomes an employee satisfaction issue."
Q: Is an Employee Fitting In?
One of the least explored—but potentially most valuable—applications of studying a company's e-mail and calendar data is gaining a deeper understanding of how employees interact with each other and the networks that exist at work.
"This application has gotten the least attention, but I think it's the most exciting area for people analytics to really take off," says Housman. "We've done a bunch of work that finds that your tenure and performance is highly influenced by the social fabric that exists at work."
A commonly cited Gallup study confirms this idea that strong friendships predict productivity—employees who have a best friend at work are 35 percent more likely to report commitment to quality. What's more, according to Gallup founder Donald Clifton, employees with workplace best friends are more focused, more passionate and more loyal to their organizations.
For Housman, workplace camaraderie (or the lack thereof) can be one of the most telling signs of an employee's productivity and engagement. "It's not all about talent," he says. "A lot of it is about your relationships at work."