Microsoft wants to improve office productivity with this Office 365 app

Microsoft has announced that its Workplace Analytics feature is now available for Office 365 enterprise customers as an add-on, aiming to boost employee productivity – but possibly giving rise to some concerns about exactly how staff members can be monitored.

The basic idea of Workplace Analytics is that it takes metadata from Office 365 email and calendars and crunches that data, turning it into what Microsoft calls behavioural metrics.

In other words, the analytics solution takes data on who is sending emails where and when, and also for the likes of scheduled meetings via calendars, subsequently offering insights on how staff are spending their time, how many meetings they are attending and so forth – with a view to using this information to increase productivity levels.

Naturally, the first thought which may pop into the heads of staff members is that this is all rather ‘Big Brother’, but Microsoft notes there are built-in privacy and compliance measures here, and that the system leverages metadata which is aggregated and ‘de-identified’.

Fortune favours the analysed

That said, Workplace Analytics clearly does offer some level of insight into individual performance, as Microsoft cites examples showing this is the case. For instance, there is mention of the sales department in a Fortune 500 firm using the system to identify the ‘collaborative patterns’ of top performers, including the amount of time they spend with customers.

Those behaviours were then adopted by the rest of the sales folk, resulting in boosted figures for the company in question.

As TechCrunch, which spotted this development, notes, there is then the theoretical possibility of being able to pinpoint less productive staff members rather than the top guns of respective departments, but Microsoft reckons that not one company in the private beta went down this route.

Although that isn’t to say that this couldn’t happen in the future, of course…

Kathleen Hogan, chief people officer at Microsoft, commented: “Our HR Business Insights group is using Workplace Analytics across a variety of initiatives – from understanding the behaviours driving increased employee engagement, to identifying the qualities of top-performing managers who are leading Microsoft’s cultural transformation from within. We believe people analytics is a competitive necessity for any HR team.”

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).