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Your Employer May Be Spying on You—and Wasting Its Time

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  • New technologies help companies monitor their workers’ every move. But do those data tell them anything useful?

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Within any large organization, some employee teams always perform better than others—but the reasons are often murky. In 2010 then doctoral student Ben Waber embedded himself in the offices of Travelco, an online travel agency, to figure out what factors make a team productive. He noted that all the employees worked in the same headquarters, sat in the same meeting rooms, and enjoyed the same snacks and Foosball tables. But when he observed certain interactions among them, he says, “there was something really weird”: he saw members of the most effective teams tended to eat in groups of 12, while employees from lower-performing teams usually ate in groups of four.

When Waber thought about this, it made sense. “If you ate lunch with someone, you were much more likely to talk to them later in the week,” he says, and more communication is often linked to higher performance. That is because people who eat with more colleagues at lunch forge more in-person connections, which they can leverage if they get stuck or need help on a task. So from a company’s perspective, millions of dollars could hinge on differences in lunch-table size. Travelco immediately changed its cafeteria seating.

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