Spy in your bedroom


Work from home (WFH) drives an increase in employee surveillance & raises deep questions about worker privacy 

Back in April 2020, as we wrestled with lockdown one, we published a Purple Paper called: Working from Home Undoubtedly Creates Risk & Competency Challenges for Employers. It certainly polarised LinkedIn and I got me my (un)fair share of hate mail, each one from an individual who had yet to read the article!  The paper was well received by those who actually read it and is still proving a popular download.

In the paper, I raised the inevitability that some employers will likely increase the use of employee surveillance in a more semi-permanent WFH scenario.  According to a recent YouGov survey, 1:5 firms has introduced or is planning to introduce software that can track employees’ work or can monitor their productivity.  Much to the disgust of Unions and many of those employees polled on this matter.

Living at work

It raises deep questions about an employee’s right to privacy, both in the traditional office and the home office, which for the vast majority of “normal’ people is not like Tarquin’s purpose-built garden office, with coffee maker, and views of the Thames at Richmond.  In fact, for most of us, it is not working from home; rather living at work! 

Is it right that because employees are WFH, either through choice or through necessity and Government edict, that they are subject to levels of scrutiny greater than when they work in the office?  And is it right that employers in general are using surveillance type technology to spy on workers and use the data to inform redundancy decisions?  Surveillance levels greater than that deployed in most UK prisons I might add.  

There are many out there who would perhaps argue, “If they have nothing to hide, then what’s the problem?”  The contra argument might be this is a very slippery slope to a modern day “work-house” (quite literally).    

Like many firms, we at Elephants Don’t Forget use technology to protect our business, but we do not – and will not – use technology to monitor every waking minute of our WFH employee’s day.  I personally don’t want to be monitored like that; in fact, I can think of nobody who does.  In my humble opinion, it is an invasion of my privacy and I won’t do to others what I will not tolerate being done to myself.    

At your discretion

“Discretional effort” is what every employer hopes to get from every employee.  This is the “extra mile” that employees go to in order to get the job done and done really well.  Philosophically, we would suggest that perhaps those firms buying spyware should instead invest in technology that supports and helps their employees be the best they can be and reap the discretional effort rewards, rather than implement tech that seeks to ensure every employee is chained to their screen for 8 hours a day.  

Spying on employees every working minute is likely to lose all discretional effort, force employees to find workarounds, cheat the system and fuel a toxic work culture.  (And who really believes that these “controls” will be turned off as we exit the Covid nightmare and return to the office or to a hybrid version of WFH/WFO?).     

Elephants Don’t Forget are world leaders in the use of Artificial Intelligence that augments employees’ performance and productivity. It is gentle, supportive, collaborative and entirely personalised to be super relevant to each individual.    

I am not advocating that firms simply “leave their employees unmanaged”. Rather that firms choose a more collaborative and less punitive approach, particularly with so many employees juggling health, care responsibilities and even home schooling.  Provide technology that helps every employee perform to the best of their ability should they choose to do so, and then measure employee outputs.  But deal individually and fairly and firmly with employees whose output is unsatisfactory.  

I coincidentally saw a Which Survey looking at the best and worst brands for customer service – admittedly in 2019 – and I was left asking myself the question: which of these brands were now or previously, deploying spyware and which of these brands were treating their employees with respect and providing them the support they need to be the best they can be?    

I don’t know the answer, but as a consumer I might make some informed guesses based on my personal experience!  

Adrian Harvey

Elephants Don’t Forget

Working From Home Undoubtedly Creates Risk & Competency Challenges For Employers

At the beginning of the pandemic, we released a popular Purple Paper called “Working From Home Undoubtedly Creates Risk & Competency Challenges”.

In the paper, we challenged firms to revisit their governance practices in Training & Competency and review the particular negative and disturbing changes to individual employees’ risk-taking and rule-breaking — a phenomenon not restricted to junior employees but equally applicable to Senior Managers & Certified staff.

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