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Hot Desks and cross department teams are making workplaces trickier to get around. For Exxon Mobil, and others the solution is a wayfinding app

January 7, 2020

NEPTUNE, N.J.— Firas Ajam has been a resident physician at Jersey Shore University Medical Center for three years, but he’s still unfamiliar with parts of the 26-acre, 3 million-square-foot campus.

When a patient got sick a few months ago in a unit where Dr. Ajam had never been, he navigated using a Waze-like app on his smartphone. He ran through the hospital listening to the app’s directions and watching the map as it tracked his location, down to about 3 feet, to guide him through the labyrinth of hallways.

“I was there within three minutes, and I was the first one,” Dr. Ajam says.

GPS and satellites help people navigate on streets but can’t penetrate through walls. The MediNav app, built by startup Connexient Inc., helps hospital workers get to their indoor destinations. It uses small battery-operated radio transmitters, or beacons, which transmit signals over Bluetooth from the tiny accelerometer and compass components of Dr. Ajam’s phone. The app also lets him search for the nearest wheelchair, gurney or IV pump, and guides him with on-screen and voice directions. It’s free for users; the hospital paid an initial setup fee and undisclosed annual licensing fee.

Wayfinding apps similar to Waze and GoogleMaps could someday spare workers from getting lost inside mazelike workplaces. A few companies already use them to help workers find conference rooms, restrooms, even colleagues. In the future, the apps could become commonplace, prompted by advances in location-detection technology and trends shaping the workforce. The rise in remote work means that offices are less familiar. People from different divisions, such as marketing and technology, are collaborating more. Assigned desks are giving way to “hot desks,” quiet booths and communal areas. And employees, particularly Gen-Z and millennials, expect their work tools to be as intuitive as the apps and websites they use as consumers.

Wayfinding apps similar to Waze and GoogleMaps could someday spare workers from getting lost inside mazelike workplaces. A few companies already use them to help workers find conference rooms, restrooms, even colleagues. In the future, the apps could become commonplace, prompted by advances in location-detection technology and trends shaping the workforce. The rise in remote work means that offices are less familiar. People from different divisions, such as marketing and technology, are collaborating more. Assigned desks are giving way to “hot desks,” quiet booths and communal areas. And employees, particularly Gen-Z and millennials, expect their work tools to be as intules/its-the-realitive as the apps and websites they use as consumers.

Wayfinding apps similar to Waze and GoogleMaps could someday spare workers from getting lost inside mazelike workplaces. PHOTO: NICHOLAS CALCOTT FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

In the coming years, employers could use location data to assist during emergencies, like a fire or shooting, or to identify when people are in areas they shouldn’t be. Companies could also use the apps to ensure workers use their time effectively, lawyers say. “I would think that the main impetus behind these apps is really for tracking of productivity,” says Ifeoma Ajunwa, assistant professor of labor and employment law at Cornell University. Eventually, wayfinding apps could work on augmented-reality headsets or smart contact lenses, if those technologies catch on.

However, a worker’s location data could be exposed in a cyberattack if it hasn’t been properly secured and anonymized, says Samantha Ettari, a trial lawyer at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, who advises companies on information governance, cybersecurity and data privacy. Revealing the exact location of workers could uncover elicit workplace relationships, confidential business deals and secret union meetings, lawyers say. It also isn’t clear how many employees will use the apps.

Exxon Mobil Corp. plans to offer a wayfinding app by the end of March for 10,000 employees at its Houston campus, which covers 4.5 million square feet across 23 buildings. The app, made with Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc., or Esri, can detect a worker’s phone position within about 3 feet using Wi-Fi signals and beacons.

Workers at the company, who mostly lack assigned offices, can choose from four different types of workstations, including glass-encased quiet seats and huddle spaces. “Having the ability to find where people are when they’re not tethered to their desks is huge,” says Charles Whiteley III, a technology supervisor at Exxon’s environmental and property solutions division. The app will also give workers the best routes to minimize time outside in a rainstorm or summer heat, or if they need elevators or ramps.

Ultimately, Exxon plans to use the app to optimize routes for technicians fixing broken equipment, saving them time, Mr. Whiteley says. If enough workers use it, the app could generate data that, along with data from identification badges and WiFi-connected devices, could help determine how to allocate office space, he says.

Aruba, a subsidiary of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. , uses a wayfinding app to prevent employees at its Santa Clara, Calif., office from running over time in conference rooms. Lights flash five minutes before a meeting is supposed to end if sensors that communicate with the app find employees are still in the room, says Keerti Melkote, president of intelligent edge for HPE and founder of Aruba. So far, employers say use of the apps is optional, and they limit how they track workers.

Data generated from hospital staff using the MediNav app is anonymous and isn’t stored on Connexient’s servers, says David Reis, chief information officer at Hackensack Meridian Health, a hospital network that includes Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

For the entire article, click on the following link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/waze-for-work-navigation-apps-come-to-the-office-11578398400?mod=foesummaries

Connexient CEO, Mark Green is featured in WSJ reporter, Sara Castellanos’ Future of the Workplace podcast on January 15th

The MediNav app at Jersey Shore University Medical Center uses small battery-operated radio transmitters, or beacons, which transmit signals over Bluetooth from the tiny accelerometer and compass components of workers’ smartphones. PHOTO: NICHOLAS CALCOTT FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

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