Data-driven decision-making has become a buzzword that has truth to it. Using data to understand and improve what’s happening at your workplace (instead of just educated guesses) has become a common practice for many organisations. Data gives you many insights into the workplace and how to improve it. However, the type of data you gather can have wildly different effects on how you look and whether you actually improve your workplace, with all its accompanying consequences. In this blog, we show the benefits of using hard and soft data.
Differences between hard data and soft data
So the biggest division is the difference between hard- and soft data. And in a sense, this division is quite a philosophical one. With soft data, you gather information about the perceptions of people. You gather how they experience the workplace, or how they rate their own performance. With hard data, on the other hand, you gather information about hard facts; what is really going on. You (or a sensor) observe what is really happening and this is being collected. So hard data is, for example, data about how many people are present in the workplace or the current room temperature. Hard data is something that people can observe, while soft data is what people experience. So, the question is now; what is more important? Subjective experiences or objective facts?
Philosophers have many deep fundamental debates about objectivity versus subjectivity and its relation to truth, quantum mechanics and reality, but the final word hasn’t been said yet (as almost with every philosophical debate). But in organisations, this is quite a practical and common issue. For example, our studies often show a contrast between subjective experience and objective reality. For example when people experience the workplace to be very busy, but objectively measure low occupancy at the same time. But what is the most important?
Facility managers versus Human Resource managers
We might need to look at job positions in deciding what’s more important: subjective experiences through soft data, or objective facts through hard data. Hard data is often preferred by Facility managers. Facility managers need to manage buildings and workplaces which have more objectively measurable facts. While Human Resources managers work with people, and thus often prefer soft data collecting their subjective experiences. But they are strongly related. Through subjective experiences, the (objective) workplace is being used differently. Experiences of people within the workplace will shape how they objectively occupy and use it. While the objective workplace also shapes the subjective experiences of the people. Objective reality and subjective experiences are present at the same time, and they are interacting strongly.
|Facility management||Human resource management|
|Hard data||Workplace observation studies, climate sensors, door counters||Sales per month, number of targets achieved, times at the office, emails per day|
|Soft data||Workplace experience sampling, workplace satisfaction surveys, (smiley) space review panels
|Work experience sampling, engagement surveys, interviews|
Table 1. Examples of different hard- and soft data collection methods through two different perspectives: Facility management and Human resource management.
Connecting hard data and soft data
To really understand what’s going on at the workplace, and to make valuable data-driven decisions, it is thus important to look at the workplace from multiple angles. Combining soft experiential data with hard workplace data gives real meaning to your understanding. Hard data can be more used as facts, while soft data can guide employee wellbeing and performance. Doing the measurements at the same time makes it possible to perform advanced workplace analytics by cross-referencing the data and finding trade-offs. This truly brings HR and FM together; improving workplaces more holistically. Data-driven with hard- and soft data.
In one study, we combined a workplace observation study while performing a Habital study with work experience sampling. So while we had objective workplace observations using hard data for facility management, the users of the workplace submitted subjective experiences about aspects such as their performance and health. This combination gave several valuable insights into workplace experience and use.
In this combined study we saw that at low occupancy (between 10-20%), perceived performance and health were also lower. With some more investigation, we also confirmed this was independent of the time of the day. Low occupancy data is often a sign for facility managers to take action in reducing office space to save money, but now HR could get on board too, less space seems to be better for performance and health. However, keep in mind that these results might be different for other organisations. Each organisation is different. Read more about that in this blog.
Improving your workplace through data-driven decision-making can be done with hard data and soft data. However, using limited data can cause skewed decision-making and possibly have worse consequences. Combining subjective- and objective data leads to a more holistic understanding of your workplace and unites facility management with human resource management.