World Reimagined

How Big Data Can Help Businesses Drive Innovation and Productivity

Abstract image of technology
Credit: Shutterstock

With many workforces now operating from home, there’s a new challenge in determining the changing needs of employees. And determining when those workers will feel comfortable enough to return to the office (and be productive when they do so) is just as complicated.

For many companies, though, the answers to both questions are already in their hands in the form of Big Data.

"With powerful analytics, organizations can transform data into decisions that improve lives and results,” says Steve Bennett, director of the global government practice at SAS. “They can also reimagine how their businesses operate, with a blend of digital, virtual and agile."

Since the start of the pandemic and the shift to working from home, the amount of employee data available to businesses has been tsunami-like. And companies that dig deep into the information can prevent burnout and boost confidence about an eventual return to the workplace.

“We’ve met more chief HR officers in the past nine months than we have in quite some time,” says Lerry Wilson, senior director of solutions, IoT and BA at Splunk, a data analytics and monitoring company. “They want to see when people are spiking. How much time are people in meetings? When are they back online? They’re pushing out reminders, saying ‘you might want to disconnect’ or they’re setting up policies for no meetings during these time frames.”

The tools to gather worker data are multifold. Many companies are sending out blind, open-ended survey questions. Some are leveraging behavioral information based on when meetings are scheduled and when the company’s network is accessed. And there are machine algorithms that scan monitor internal social platforms, like Slack. There’s also a wealth of pre-pandemic data that might not have been studied before – such as that collected from badging systems, security cameras and the company WiFi system.

“What we’re encouraging our clients to do is look at that data you already have through a different lens because now you’re solving a much more comprehensive issue,” says Wilson. “The important thing is to recognize that the more you can pull those pieces together, the more effective you’re going to be in making decisions.”

Some companies, especially those in competitive fields that were jockeying for market position, were already studying these key performance indicators (KPI) before the pandemic. But for others, it’s now a critical tool.

“The pandemic triggered a lot of work cultures to break or crumble, and the adjustment to a new way of life and a new way of work in organizations where pre-existing cultural challenges exacerbated them, suddenly became a vital survival need for many companies to begin the journey of actively caring for workforce wellbeing in a data-driven way,” says Arthur Shectman, founder and president of Elephant Ventures, a software and data engineering company. “In any crisis, or period of uncertainty, the most important thing you can have is quality data.”

Elephant Ventures is using that data internally, as well as helping clients. The company, in August, began testing four-day workweeks for its staff, giving working parents and others a chance to better balance their work and home lives and improve morale.

Utilizing data analysis to understand employees’ state of mind can also prove useful as businesses attempt to decide when to bring people back from their home offices and how to handle staffing, particularly if they re-open with a fusion of on-site and at-home workers.

“We see most companies going to a hybrid workplace,” says Wilson. “But how many people will be online vs on-site? Are there health issues? Or is there a situation in which we have a team of 25 people who are managing this dock, but we only have 13 in today, so do we need to shift them around? These are the types of insights people are now realizing are possible with the data. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

Data analysis also allows companies to have a situational response in case of a COVID breakout at the company (for instance, does an entire 10-building factory have to be shut down or was the exposure limited to just one or two of those buildings?).

There’s one other upside. Data shows hard numbers and there’s a science to its collection, which can refute the politicization and polarization of the pandemic and give employees confidence that they and their families will be safe if they return to work.

 “Showcasing data analytics when determining bringing people back to the office is a way of cutting through to noise to offer a sound and reliable source of truth that can be trusted,” says Shectman.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Chris Morris

Chris Morris is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience, more than half of which were spent with some of the Internet’s biggest sites, including, where he was Director of Content Development, and Yahoo! Finance, where he was managing editor. Today, he writes for dozens of national outlets including Digital Trends, Fortune, and

Read Chris' Bio