Years ago employers used to only track the time employees work. Now big data is employed to track workers, and the technology is raising privacy issues, according to the June 22, 2014 New York Times article by Steve Lohr, “Unblinking Eyes Track Employees.” For employees, one question remains: How does it affect your health when every move you make, every word you communicate is tracked by big, smart data, and sent back to your boss, except for the word-by-word content of your private phone conversations at work? You also may wish to check out the NYTimes.com article, “Big Data, Trying to Build Better Workers.”
Even when you’re working from home, most likely online, your working movements and behavior can be tracked. There has been a steep rise rise in working from home. Some of that work at home online comes from people who work in the office some of the time and at home some of the time. This flexibility is prompting more companies to use tracking software and other Big Brother checks to see whether people are really working.
Even though some of the work may be done online from one room of your home, you can be tracked
Every move you make, every word you write or say can be tracked. And if you’re driving all day making sales calls and not always online, you could be on mobile phones or on the road, and still be tracked in your behavior, communications, and work productivity. Employers increasingly are monitoring their employees’ activities from the back offices, in some instances, with a live video feed. Some workers are calling the new technology digital Big Brother. But you have to opt in, and usually, your private conversations on the phone can’t be recorded and handed to your boss. But the statistics and other behavior can be tracked, photographed, turned into software data, and communicated by smart devices.
What it’s about are advanced technological tools that make it possible to measure and monitor employees in ways that change how people work in the workplace. Will it come to online home-based workers next? And how does such technology affect the health of employees? You may wish to see the Wall Street Journal article, “Meet the New Boss: Big Data.” Or take a look at the site, “Bits Blog: Workplace Surveillance and the ‘Transparency Paradox’.”
Concerns are about unchecked surveillance in the workplace
The high tech tracking tells employers that workers are more productive if they have more social interaction. The only problem with this is that introverted works who really enjoy working alone and become sick at the hustle and constant interruptions or noise of foot traffic all day may not like the idea of a lot more social interaction since people drain them emotionally and physically, whereas extroverts are energized by constant social interaction all during the workday.
Introverts might prefer the privacy of coffee makers where they can brew their own herbal decaf teasans instead of drinking coffee with the crowd and socializing with small talk. But extroverts working with people all day and less afraid of constantly meeting new people day after day for hours at a time might enjoy a coffee break shared with other employees in a larger cafe area.
On the other hand, the shy person might be concerned that the workplace bully would have more access during break time to intimidating or diminishing the introvert’s desire for privacy to do his or her work with more accuracy. Then again, if the employee is an extrovert and works in a call center or as a telemarketer and enjoys the constant social interaction with people, there may be increased sales and less turnover of workers. It depends on the personality traits of the workers.
Fine-grained, digital monitoring of workers’ behavior worries privacy advocates, explains the NY Times article
Employees want to be told how much they’ll be monitored. It’s their right to opt in to the monitoring process, most people say. You may wish to check out the NYTimes.com article, “Big Data, Trying to Build Better Workers.”
Then the issue becomes more like unleashing the lawyers. Some employees don’t like being watched by software because the software has gotten smarter. It’s a digital giant eye tracking every movement of a worker, looking for patterns to pass on to the boss. Patterns could signal a more productive worker or a thief on the payroll.
For example, if you work in a restaurant, the smart software tracks every ticket you write, every dish or beverage you sell, how long you take your break, how many times you go to the bathroom, and other movements, including your communication with other employees, customers, and private phone calls. The only item not listened to and passed onto the boss is what you say in your conversations on the phone with others. But how long you spend on each phone call would be monitored and who you speak to.
What the boss gets is a whole lot of detailed information. The smart software puts you in the spotlight and generates a computer profile of how you measure up in productivity as a worker.
The new field is known as workplace analytics
Maybe you should get into the business of workplace analytics and spy on others while others spy on you working with or designing the smart software. What’s needed most here are what rules pertain to privacy. The industry is new, and employees don’t like to be timed and monitored when they use the bathroom at work, make phone calls, or have recorded every move they make, every word they utter, or their gestures, voice tones, moods, tones, and textures, as if they were being inspected as products on a factory conveyor belt.
It’s something software is supposed to do to robots, but it’s being done to human workers, the constant monitoring as the smart software picks out the patterns and reports them to the boss. You’re being spied on at the workplace. Will it soon extend to work done at home? That’s also a concern of stay-at-home parents who work online when they’re not doing family chores, preparing meals, shopping, carpooling kids, or cleaning house. You’re being cybersnooped, spied upon as you work, communicate with other workers or clients/customers, and your productivity measured, whether you serve in a restaurant, work in retail, in offices, at home, on the road, sell, handle data, or talk on the phone, and compared regarding your productivity.
You may wish to check out the website of Sociometric Solutions, a start-up that grew out of doctoral research at M.I.T.’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, which conducts research in the new technologies. Sociometric Solutions advises companies using sensor-rich ID badges worn by employees, says the NY Times article. You also may wish to check out The Atlantic magazine article by Don Peck,” They’re Watching You at Work.”
The company signs a contract with each one guaranteeing that no individual data is given to the employer (only aggregate statistics) and that no conversations are recorded. That’s why privacy rules are so important for employees and employers to agree upon before anyone opts in to be watched at work. If someone is highly productive, the individual probably would want those statistics to be known, especially if there’s a chance of a desired promotion.
What the sociometric smart software has are microphones, a location sensor and an accelerometer, and they monitor the communications behavior of individuals — tone of voice, posture and body language, as well as who spoke to whom for how long. Sociometric Solutions is already working with 20 companies in the banking, technology, pharmaceutical and health care industries, involving thousands of employees. The workers must opt in to have their data collected, says the NY Times article. Would you opt in? And what if you were required to to keep your job?
Human dynamics research says that is that people are social learners, so arranging work to increase productive face-to-face communication yields measurable benefits
On the other hand not all people are social learners. Some people are most productive working alone, especially alone at home. And people who are not social learners may want to opt out of driving to work because they can’t afford a car, never learned to drive, or have physical disabilities that prevent driving. They may become less productive when told more face-to-face communication will result in measurable benefits.
Tell that to the burned-out teacher who leaves face-to-face teaching for online teaching to avoid the discipline issues that usually come with teaching in numerous public schools. Or what happens to the burned-out social worker or psychologist who is tired of the stress of having very angry people explode at them, for example prison psychologists who long to stay home and write columns online rather than face another day of intimidation from other people at work or the stress of heavy client overload or cuts to grant money for research.
Even though studies show a lot of people are more productive in tight-knit communications groups, there are still highly productive works who prefer the serenity of working alone to be able to think, create, and explore, to edit and take time to perfect their work or craft.
If the smart software says workers sitting at larger tables in the company cafeteria are communicating more, and are more productive than workers who sat at smaller tables, that’s one result of the smart software monitoring
The smart software can be of help in scientifically designed work environments such as office design that has been shown to increase productivity. In the NY Times article, what worked well emphasized stationing workers at communal bench-style tables and constructing work cubicles with lower dividers. But no one really knows whether these changes in office environments work with most employees, unless you ask the employees first what they want that will lead to more productivity while not putting the employee’s stress levels and overall health at risk.
The end result is the workplace is headed for more digital tools for workplace surveillance, if the employer can afford the tools. But there’s no mention of paying the workers more because no one knows in the long run how much more productive the workers will become or how much more worn out. The monitoring software is used in some restaurants and focuses often on employee behavior. You may wish to check out the articles, “How Big Data Is Playing Recruiter for Specialized Workers,” and “Analytics, Big Data, and Moneyball for Recruiting – What Big Data is.” It’s about tracking sensors on employees.
The workplace is moving toward having software tools to capture, manage, and process the data about the behavior of employees. Will software also capture data about the health of employees as pertaining to their employability or insurance costs? And will that lead to hiring those who poses the least financial and insurance risks to employers? You also may wish to see the Financial Times ( FT.com) article, “Big data: are we making a big mistake?” Interestingly few, if any employees are using big data to track their employers behavior or cash flow, regarding their ability and willingness to pay the workers what they’re worth.