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Researchers Use Wearables, Mobile Devices to Study Workplace Performance

Nina Welding • DATE: February 12, 2018

Categories:  Press Release

Mobile devices help individuals monitor various aspects of their health and wellness, from heart rate to nutrition to sleep. Now researchers hope to find out if mobile sensor technology can also help individuals improve effectiveness at work.

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame are conducting an extensive $7.9 million, 21-month study focused on working professionals in cognitively demanding positions, such as engineers, programmers and managers in high-stress occupations. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) is funding the study.

“Survey assessments and qualitative observations made by researchers and supervisors have long been the way to address the question of what factors underlie outstanding performance in the workplace,” said Aaron Striegel, associate professor of computer science and engineering and member of Notre Dame’s Wireless Institute and leader of the study.“Using mobile sensor technology in conjunction with environmental sensors, we can now uncover in a more objective fashion basic differences that may have gone unnoticed in the way people approach their day-to-day activities in the workplace.”

Even Stephen R. Covey, the best-selling author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” relied on observations filtered by his intuition and judgment to come up with a compelling list of behaviors, Striegel said.

During the study, 750 participants will wear an activity tracker that is paired with a smartphone app to gauge biomarkers like heart rate, sleep, physical activity and stress, as well as daily patterns — things people normally track for their own personal health. All of these factors contribute to overall well-being and workplace performance. Passive sensors will also collect information about the workplace, such as ambient noise and light levels, to contextualize participant activity. Research began in June 2017 and will continue through May 2019.

The team at Notre Dame, along with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Dartmouth College, Georgia Institute of Technology, Ohio State University, University of California Irvine, University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Washington and the University of Texas, will analyze de-identified sensor data addressing activity and behavior within the context of the workplace.

“The new wave of mobile sensors produces an incredible stream of data ranging from sleep and stress to physical activity and the local environment,” Striegel said. “What we want to do is look at a variety of factors as they relate to the workplace. We will complement survey-based data collection with cutting-edge passive sensing data collection technology to develop a deeper and more accurate understanding of the factors that drive high performance in the workplace. Data gathering for the study is currently underway with early findings expected within a few months.”

The study team has enlisted the expertise of Notre Dame’s Wireless Institute and the Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications to help manage the data collection and analysis process. The expertise of the two centers will be critical to ensure data privacy and confidentiality as well as grounding the work with a firm ethical foundation.

— Jessica Sieff, Office of Media Relations

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