Agile working

A mood barometer for the wrist

If the mood within the team is good, then the collaboration also works. The working atmosphere is set to get even better in future with the help of artificial intelligence.

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‘Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success,’ according to the US entrepreneur Henry Ford, who revolutionised car manufacturing at the start of the 20th century by introducing assembly line production. At the start of the 21st century, in the transition from the industrial to the digital age, the primary significance of collaboration as an important success factor remains unchanged. Key factors influencing the quality of collaboration in teams include the (emotional) mood within the team and the stress levels of the individual team members.

Stress, mood, success and efficiency are all connected

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been alarmed for quite some time and has warned that every other case of an employee absent from work due to sickness will be attributable to stress by the year 2020. But how is it possible to tell whether someone is stressed themselves or whether their colleagues are stressed? When working together in ‘real time’, observant team members can tell how other people are feeling on the basis of their body language and facial expressions. Or – using an old-fashioned approach – they can simply ask how somebody is doing. After all, at work the opportunity still exists to talk to one another about sensitive issues such as stress or the oppressive mood within the team – in theory at least. In practice, however, everyday working life is often characterised by the pressure to meet deadlines – hardly the ideal basis for discussing the important subject of communication and dialogue.

Digital speech analysis: stress and mood can be measured via a plug-in

It is already clear that analogue working in real time is not that straightforward in terms of gauging the working climate. The challenge is even bigger, however, when it comes to working together in teams in the virtual world. How is it possible to assess the mood of the other person(s)? Slack, a start-up from San Francisco, is heading in a new direction to improve communication within teams. And how exactly? One of the new Slack team chat functions uses a plug-in and speech analysis to reveal whether the employees and colleagues involved in the chat are stressed or whether there are any other irritations. The algorithm works more or less like a silent listener that analyses speech patterns and identifies and displays moods such as happiness/good mood, irritations, disappointments and stress.

Future vision: a mood barometer worn on the wrist

A mood-predicting wearable AI system is also currently being developed at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It is a kind of fitness watch for the wrist that can identify people’s conversations and their emotional state. Such an algorithm could in future provide support in the daily lives of people with Asperger’s syndrome or anxiety disorders, for example, and help them to feel more secure when interpreting other people’s social signals, according to the MIT. The wearables are still in the development stage, but the first tests are already under way. Perhaps it will soon be quite normal in the working world of the future to use meeting algorithms to record communication, moods and stress levels within the team in order to analyse and improve them.

‘Please consider your health. Lower your stress level now!’

Will everyone from the CEO to the intern then be wearing a small mood barometer on their wrist that maybe looks like a bigger version of a fitness watch? A kind of mini coach with artificial intelligence that helps to better gauge and understand the mood and personal situation of colleagues as well as the wearer’s own mood in real time? A barometer that will probably then provide direct instructions and tips on how the mood and communication within the team can be improved and made more efficient? Perhaps a message will suddenly appear on the display that reads as follows: ‘Stress levels are very high! Please consider your health. You and your team need a break. Why not take your colleagues out for a drink. Freshly squeezed orange juice is available just 550 metres away from your office …’.

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