The future of the high-performance workplace is taking shape behind closed doors and kept quiet by nondisclosure agreements.
Across Britain, hedge funds, banks, call centers and consultancies are installing tracking systems to link biosensing wearable devices with analytics tools once the preserve of elite sports.
“There isn’t a competitive sports team in the world that doesn’t adopt high-end analytics tracking the athletes on the field, off the field, at home, when they’re sleeping, when and what they’re eating,” said Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation at Goldsmiths, University of London. “The workplace is heading toward that model.”
The tools help link human behavior and physiological data to business performance. It’s a departure from typical wearable technology strategies, which tend to focus on operational efficiency or safety.
The power of the new tools is being evaluated privately, partly to avoid accusations of intrusive behavior, partly because those running the tests believe it gives them a competitive edge.
“Yes, it’s already happening, starting off with some of the big hedge funds,” said John Coates, a Cambridge neuroscientist and former Goldman Sachs trader, who is actively working with companies to link biological signals to trading success.
His research focuses on understanding the physiological drivers of risk preferences. “It used to be assumed that most things that you learned at business school were pure cognitive activity and if you’re not doing well you need better information or psychological training,” he said.
However, science is starting to show that some hormones — including naturally produced steroids and testosterone — increase confidence and make us take more risks. Meanwhile stress hormones like cortisol produce the opposite effect.
Wearable technology — be it heart-rate monitors or skin response sensors — can give this underlying influence more visibility, said Coates.
Equivital wireless human monitoring equipment comes from the battlefield. The firm’s Black Ghost chest-mounted wearable sensor measures heart rate, stress levels, breathing, skin temperature and body position.
Founder Dan Zelezinksi has worked with people at Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and various hedge funds. He gives clients wearables to track stress physiology while keeping a journal of activities.
“High net-worth individuals, portfolio managers and owners of organizations on the buy side are looking for any kind of edge,” he said.