The Future of Everything – The Future of Work podcast
Technology maybe revolutionizing the hiring process, but it’s also changing our workplace. Sometimes, getting your foot in the door is the easy part. Finding your way at work can be a lot more challenging. Just a few decades ago, open offices came into play. They’re supposed to be break down walls and hierarchies and inspire collaboration. Plus, you could see where everyone was all the time. But those assigned open office desks are giving way to unassigned desks, quiet booths and community rooms where employees work at different times a day. At the same time, some offices are getting bigger, a lot bigger. Well, if you’ve ever walked in circles looking for a conference room or even the bathroom, listen up, tech start-ups have developed wayfinding apps to spare workers from getting lost at work, but there are some trade-offs like privacy.
WSJ reporter, Sara Castellanos has more…
SC: In hospitals, a few minutes can mean the difference between life and death. Doctors and nurses don’t want to waste that time walking around maze like corridors getting lost.
Take the Jersey Shore University Medical Center, it’s huge! It covers about 3 million square feet. For Doctors like Faras Hajam (FH), a resident physician, that means walking 2 – 3 miles every day.
FH: Each building has its own routes and directions. So, you might get lost easily.
SC: When you first came here, did you get lost?
FH: Yes, it happened so many times. So, I was finding it difficult for the first few months with finding my way, especially for outpatient settings. It happened so many times they called me asking where I was when I was struggling to figure out which elevator I should take.
SC: But, Dr. Hajam is not getting lost anymore. A few months ago, a patient got sick in a wing of the hospital he’d never been to.
FH: I was on the other side of the hospital and I have to be there and I’ve never been to this place.
SC: Wow, and you were there in 3 minutes?
FH: Yes, I was the first one to arrive.
SC: That’s because Dr. Hajam was using an app called MediNav. It’s like Google Maps, but for hospitals. So, you were literally holding your phone up and running through the hallways?
FH: Right, the place I was telling you about is right there, so without using the app it would be hard to find.
SC: The hospital rolled out MediNav last year, and it’s not just for doctors and nurses. Patients and visitors use it too. And there are staff workers like Ali Arfa (AA), Director of Operations for Parking Services on hand to help them.
AA: This is the atrium where we are standing – this calibrates the app “Go straight for 30 feet and then turn right” Right there, you could’ve gotten very lost and ended up in the lunch room.
SC: It looks like there was a fork in the road there. The app doesn’t just work for rooms, it also let’s doctors and other hospital staff search for equipment like the nearest wheelchair, gurney or iv pump.
App “Go straight for 25 feet and turn left”
SC: The MediNav app was created by a start-up called CONNEXIENT.
MG: I’m Mark Green, CEO of Connexient.
SC: The app uses small battery powered radio transmitters or beacons which transmit signals over Bluetooth from the hospital worker’s phone.
MG: So, it’s actually the phone, the mobile device that’s doing all of the calculations. I’m taking advantage of the signal it receives from those beacons, as well as some of the sensors on the phone such as the compass and it’s able to position someone between 2 – 4 feet of accuracy.
SC: Connexient is one of several vendors making this type of indoor navigation technology. Workers in sprawling office campuses in companies as diverse as Exxon Mobil, Aruba Networks, HP Enterprise and software maker “VMware” are using them.
Employers say these apps help employees find everything from conference rooms, to restrooms and even the best routes to take to get there.
Some apps have an accessibility feature that can be helpful for people with mobility issues and need to avoid stairs.
And, the companies say there are clear security benefits for both employers and employees – they could use a worker’s location data during an emergency like a fire or shooting.
And the apps can also identify if a worker has gone where they don’t have security clearance.
SA (lawyer): What if they’re organizing with their labor union or meeting with a labor leader? That kind of tracking would be impermissible.
Samantha Atari is a lawyer at Kramer Loven. She advises on privacy and cybersecurity. She says that exposing that data can violate worker protections and could result in some very embarrassing situations.
SA: You could think of scenarios where it could be very damaging. So, one could imagine a situation where 2 employees are carrying on an amorous relationship but are married and would not want anyone to know they’re meeting on every break at the same location day after day week after week for years. That information could get breached and that would have implications on their home lives… their personal lives.
SC: And maybe not just their personal lives.; In recent months, a few companies have fired their CEOs for inappropriate workplace relationships.
So far, the companies say they are not mandating that employees use these apps and they only track workers when they’re on company property, but there’s no federal law that prevents employers from gathering and analyzing worker location data.
AS: But, the trove of data can be ripe for cyberattacks. Employees are right to be concerned, as they should be. What are the ramifications if this data is exposed?
SC: Hospital operators that run Jersey Shore University Medical Center (Hackensack Meridian Health) say data generated from the MediNav app is anonymous and cannot be tied to a specific worker, even if the data is breached.
And, Dr. Hajam says he is not concerned about data privacy issues. Some listeners and readers might wonder – you’re using this location tracking app…
FH: I don’t think it’s going to be a problem… it should be ok.