• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
  • Editorial Calendar 19-20
BW Businessworld

Technology In Workplaces Helps Understand Human Needs Better: Sodexo

"Organizations need to focus on people’s needs, understand them better and adjust the workplace", Thomas Jelley, Sodexo

Photo Credit :


Thomas Jelley, VP of Sodexo's Quality of Life Institute talks about technology in workplaces, developments in the company, and evolution of workplaces.  

How are AI and IoT shaping the future of workplaces? What is Sodexo doing in this area?

AI and IoT help us to understand even better the way people work, their environment, and respond more effectively in real time. The whole purpose of using these technologies in the workplace is to serve human needs better, to make the workplace more comfortable and efficient. 

For example, you can have sensors telling you about occupancy, temperature, lighting conditions, humidity etc. This data can then be analyzed using artificial intelligence and algorithms to understand the data in a predictive fashion. With better-analyzed data, we can understand the usage patterns and therefore respond in the best way to the people in the workplace. Response to the needs of people in the workplace is traditionally full of anecdotes. Combining perceptions of people in the workplace with real data from scientific observation gives us a fuller picture.

In 2016, Sodexo launched a venture fund to invest in technology and help accelerate our introduction of technological innovations around the world with the aim of enhancing the quality of life of people, whether service users or employees. We have experts working in different sectors such as healthcare, education, remote sites etc. in more than 80 countries around the world. Even in the most advanced locations, the purpose of technological innovation and investment remains clear, for example, I was recently in India & Singapore hosting a round-table for clients where the message was very clear: they value hugely the ability for their people to be flexible in terms of time and space with the help of technology. 

Share some global examples of how Sodexo has improved the quality of life of employees through digital innovations?

Currently, we are working on new technology, for our maintenance technicians, based on smart glasses. These glasses are equipped with a video camera, microphone, and speakers connected remotely to an expert. The expert can see what Sodexo technicians are seeing in real time and help out immediately. For example, with the glasses, the technician, using augmented reality can see instructions, diagrams, hear the remote expert’s guidance, and act accordingly. Previously, without that, if they came across something unfamiliar, the technician might have to stop the task, get back to the office, look something up on the computer, all of which would take time. Now, it can all happen in real time in one go. This is something we are doing to augment service delivery and the capabilities of our Sodexo technicians.

Also, with one of our major clients in the energy sector, we are working towards limiting the number of failures with Air Conditioners, through predictive maintenance. Historically, maintenance was done at scheduled intervals. We are now piloting predictive maintenance by analyzing the failures on more than 30,000 work orders. By that analysis, we can understand and predict the failure depending e.g. on the asset, the climatic conditions, past performance. Through predictive maintenance, we can aim to see fewer failures, ensuring greater consumer satisfaction, lower maintenance costs, and longer air conditioning unit lifetime. 

A further example is how Sodexo helps organizations understand workplace space utilization better. We help people to use and organizations to manage workplace space needs better. When our clients understand space use in greater detail, they can make better decisions about the workplace, for example how to define the split between activity-based spaces such as desks, social areas project spaces, meeting and conference rooms, leading to better optimization of real estate resources, more productive and happier employers. 

The sense of belonging for Sodexo employees is enhanced by everyday tools. Over the last few years, Sodexo has rationalized its communications technology so that now, all Sodexo employees who use IT for work are connected everywhere in the world to the same communications software and platforms.  For example, we can have video conference calls from anywhere in the world where there is an internet connection, document and project sharing has never been easier. This has improved our quality of life at work immensely: for a global organization like ours that has offices in different countries but is organized by market segment rather than by country, the ability to communicate face to face by video link from anywhere, anytime and on any device, marks real progress.

How have workplaces evolved over time? How would you compare workplaces in UK vs in India?

There have been huge changes in the last decade itself. In terms of office spaces, previously, spaces tended to be built around an individual, for example, closed offices or segregation by the team. Today, we understand the value of community and cross-pollination of ideas for innovation and we see activity-based workplaces. These still have individual spaces, small project meeting rooms, large project meeting rooms and even spaces that are more like cafes for times when we like to work with buzz and people around. 

Workplaces in India and UK are very similar in some respects. This is because organizations everywhere are acknowledging the fact that for the progress of individuals, as well as organizations, they need to focus on people’s needs, understand them better and adjust the workplace according to their activities. The workplace doesn’t exist for its own sake, it exists to provide environments in which people can do their best work. Workplaces that have an emphasis on health and security, on tech-enhanced human social interactions, on flexible, adaptable activity-based learning, workplaces where crucial soft aspects like emotional intelligence, gender balance, and corporate responsibility - these are the workplaces that help people to bring their whole self to work, and therefore work better. 

Do you think AI will eventually take over jobs done by human beings?

I don’t really think about the future of work and technology in terms of jobs, I think of it in terms of tasks. Each job is made up of lots of different activities and tasks. There are some tasks that are better done by technology, for example, tasks that involve a lot of computation or tasks that involve danger. For example, at Sodexo, there are many activities that involve heavy loads or working at height and they are increasingly enhanced by technology e.g. a drone for a roof inspection.

There is a case for dangerous tasks being done by technology to increase people’s safety. There are endless tasks in services that involve human interaction and this can be augmented by technology but much of the essence will remain human owing to our creative, empathic nature that understands the subtleties of language, body language, human emotion, and culture. So, there is plenty of room for technology to augment human capabilities rather than replace them.

Talk to us about Sodexo’s market outlook for 2020?

Sodexo is a company that is built on people which operate in the world of incredible technological changes. Therefore, at the same time as it continues to develop its people, Sodexo is investing in new technology and in understanding its best uses. We are collaborating with startups to bring all sorts of new technologies in the workplace, to healthcare and education. The market outlook of Sodexo is balanced by tremendous market opportunities and a very open mind as to how technology can make the workplace safer, more efficient, and help us to understand and respond more closely to the consumer needs. At Sodexo, we will continue to leverage technology at the service of human beings and quality of life, to be ever more client and consumer-centric.

What kind of Employee Engagement activities does Sodexo engage into internally?

My favourite one in this area is what we call the ‘digital passports’, launched earlier this year. Digital passports are a series of E-learning tools that help us to learn how the digital future will impact Sodexo’s services, anticipate clients’ future needs and understand better how the world is changing. The tool is essentially a form of employee engagement programme that is about understanding the digital world better, our role and contribution to it, and how it will transform our future. The digital passport e-learning modules are sponsored by our global CEO, who happens to have been our first chief digital officer – they are creative, engaging and stimulating.

It is interesting because a lot of our services are mostly face-to-face and, at the same time we know that technology is evolving fast. While we are a people-company serving people, we live in a digital world and we are doing everything we can, for example, through our tech venture fund, to understand better how technology can serve our people’s, clients’ and consumers’ quality of life and deliver.

Tags assigned to this article:
sodexo workplaces artificial intelligence iot