Although it feels like it sometimes, I don’t believe that I am the only person on the planet that regularly works far too many hours behind my PC?  On stretches of more than a few hours in a day that can easily extend beyond 11-12, my eyes begin to ache and my brain becomes fuddled and I begin to use the backspace key more and more.

I recently heard that a group of German scientists have identified universal human behavioral patterns that can accurately signify tiredness. “that’s not too difficult”, I hear you comment, “one would imagine, the yawning would give it away”? 

I also heard that computer designers are now incorporating their results into the proto-type designs of their new generation laptops.  By utilizing built in cameras and microphones, coupled with the use of the backspace and delete buttons, they say they can accurately detect when the user has had enough.  I understand that it is their intention to warn users to take breaks and if necessary, forcibly shut down their laptop!  For me this is going way too far.  If my laptop ever told me “you are too tired – this PC will shut down” it would probably be in pieces on the ground before the logging off Windows logo even appeared.

Obviously in cars and dangerous machinery, this kind of technology could be considered as very useful. But this got me thinking as to how and where it could be effectively used in the office?

  Firstly I thought of when I have to have a serious word with an employee or colleague.  Often I can tell when the recipient of my criticism is not happy with what I have just told them but I sometimes wonder just how unhappy they are, on a scale of 1 to 10?  Today I tend to ask delicate questions to people I trust that might be sitting at a nearby desk to give me some balanced feedback – did I push them too hard this time?  But this technique does not always work, for the lack of a sufficiently well spread, reliable network.  Besides who wants to spy on their employees?  It may be useful to have an indication as to how much people can take, but I do not think it will ever be useful to witness their stress releasing actions.

The role of a sports coach is to get the absolute best out of their team.  And yet a coach can never accurately know where the limit is, therefore they need to use multiple techniques to ensure the continual motivation of their individual team members.  The best coaches also have proven methods for repairing emotional damage when they have pushed too hard.  Perhaps this new behavior detection technology could be useful for monitoring the stress and anger levels in employees?  Perhaps the employee, would not mind showing how cross they are when in the comfort of their own office and apparently alone or in front of their companions?  Ethically, they would obviously have to be consenting to the technology – but  there is still the question of the microphone, sadly, I guess that it would have to be switched off (although it would become a great source for ‘You Tube’ videos)?

The question as to how hard to encourage and push one’s team members is never easily answered.  Because (thankfully) our colleagues are humans and not machines their thresholds can vary from day to day, depending on a whole bunch of meta data that we are often totally unaware of: Have they just had a row with their partner? Are they going through a rough time for some other reason etc.?  In addition – how many of us know our own limits, if we did I wouldn’t be writing this article!

I wonder when we will start to see emotionally intelligent PC’s that read our emotions and coach us through the day and night, making us more efficient and productive?  Until that day comes, I will refer back to rubbing my eyes, swearing a great deal and pressing the ‘Ctrl S’ buttons in a vain hope to save something important before my head hits the keyboard!

Have a good week,