If the company you work for doesn’t yet use surveillance technologies to track your activity, it probably will soon. However, surveillance can erode trust and damage already fragile corporate cultures.
Whatever the challenges, many organizations are turning to tracking technology to measure productivity, especially with an increasing number of employees working from home. This trend is increasingly common for all types of workers, even those for whom tracking may seem difficult. The popularity of surveillance technologies, shrinking physical work, and pressure on business bottom lines seem to have created a perfect storm for tracking to become the new norm.
The consequences of these capabilities and systems (intended or unintended) are significant, and the growth of sensing technology will have far-reaching implications for social norms and systems. Data collection is not bad in itself, it all depends on how transparent companies are in collecting the information and the choices they make about how the data is used.
Many forms of surveillance are common, from tracking emails, phone calls, or keystrokes, to counting the number of badges received in the office. Facial recognition and audio and video recordings are becoming commonplace. Employers say they need these tracking systems to monitor productivity, but also to ensure policy compliance or the protection of sensitive data. They also use this data to make business decisions or improve processes.
According to research by Top10VPN, global demand for employee monitoring software grew by 78% in January 2022, which is the biggest increase in years. A research conducted by Gartner showed that within the next three years, 70% of large companies will use tracking software. Another report estimates that eight out of ten of the largest private companies use it today.
Still, workers are resisting, according to research by Morning Consult, which found that around half of tech workers would quit their job or avoid taking a new one if they knew they were being tracked. Other research by Gartner found that 10% of employees attempt to trick tracking systems into modifying or compromising their data.
Surveillance poses many problems, but it may also become part of everyday life in the future and people have to get used to it. In a world where your data is everywhere, devices listen to your words, cameras track your face, and GPS systems know your whereabouts, pervasive organizational tracking may be unavoidable.
However, as with many things, the question is not what, but how. If companies must resort to employee surveillance or vetting, there are ways to make it less damaging to company culture and maintain trust throughout the process.
- To be open
In all types of relationships, whether with people or with organizations, trust is based on transparency. Therefore, if an organization uses tracking software, it is wise to let employees know about it. The latter may not want to be tracked, but when this monitoring is done without their knowledge, it can erode trust (even more).
Companies can balance security and privacy needs by explaining to employees why they collect information and being as transparent as possible. Trust and a positive culture are also enhanced by providing more choice and control, including giving employees the ability to opt out of data collection when possible. Let employees know what activities are being tracked, and let them know when they are being monitored and under what conditions.
If the follow-up is done for the purpose of helping employees or improving processes, being open about it shouldn’t be a problem. However, if monitoring is done as part of a strategy to catch or punish misbehaving employees, employee relations and culture will pay a heavy price.
- To be realistic
Companies are also well advised to recognize the limitations of tracking systems. They may be able to count keystrokes, but not monitor how well an employee has a good team spirit, or how a worker contributes to company credibility by providing exceptional customer service. Productivity is a small picture, while performance (which includes all sorts of less quantifiable skills) is the big picture.
Surveillance systems are not as effective as the assumptions behind the algorithms. If a system monitors an employee’s email reading speed, it may not take into account the need to take notes or reflect on email content. If a system measures the effectiveness of a meeting by counting the number of hierarchical levels, it may not account for a culture in which leaders participate or contribute appropriately. It’s hard to resist the call of Plato, the classic philosopher who asserts that if people don’t understand their tools, they are destined to become the tools of their tools: ancient wisdom for sure!
Tracking systems also fail to capture the work done by employees when they are away from their computer, i.e. the hours a worker spends thinking about an issue offline, what allows him to move forward in his work, or even the time an employee spends on professional reading or building networks, which are important for efficiency, but which are not taken into account in speed typing from the laptop.
- To be clear
It also helps to be clear about what the monitoring technology is used for, and to communicate the performance expectations that go along with it. For example, is monitoring used to monitor productivity or to protect company information? Also, how will it be used in performance reviews and decisions about salaries and promotions?
It is also important to clarify the elements of performance that go beyond monitoring. Besides keystrokes, how is collaborative behavior measured? And how are brilliant new ideas or innovations credited to an employee’s performance? It’s important to let employees know not only what matters, but also what’s important to motivate them about the types of work that will be most meaningful and contribute to their career progression.
- Be concentrated
Companies are more effective when employees are engaged, inspired and empowered. It is therefore essential to ensure that surveillance technology brings benefits not only to organizations, but also to employees. Reciprocity is part of the human condition: when employees receive something, they are motivated to give something back.
When using employee monitoring, focus on how employees can derive value from it. How could calendar tracking help employees take more time off? How could email tracking lead to rewards or bounties? And how might badging data help employees find friends in the office or plan the community event on the day when most employees are in the office?
- To be human
When organizations use tracking, it is also essential to develop leaders who can use the data constructively. If data is used to micromanage or threaten, it will certainly create atmospheres in which employees are distrustful and lack motivation or engagement. The alternative is to give people as much control as possible over their work and data, and give them open access to data.
Additionally, data should be part of ongoing conversations not only about what is counted, but also about the employee’s overall performance, including how their work contributes to the bigger picture, where they stand and where he would like to develop.
At worst, monitoring can dehumanize and alienate employees, as reports and spreadsheets are favored over relationships. However, the opposite is better for engagement: people who feel appreciated, respected and supported in their work.
If companies want to track their employees, culture and general relationships are key to the success or failure of the process. For organizations, the ideal is to have constructive and productive cultures where employees want to work, provide discretionary effort and contribute their best skills.
The best cultures are transparent: they openly share information so that employees can make the most informed decisions. They foster innovation by encouraging appropriate risk-taking, and encourage employees to share and explore. The way companies collect, track and control information sends important messages to employees about value and trust.
When companies value employees, create cultures of openness and respect, and hold leaders accountable for effective management, they go a long way toward employees accepting monitoring as a work support system, rather than a tool for manipulation, control or suppression of quality of life. Ultimately, companies must do what’s right, not just what’s possible, using their values as a guide.
Article translated from Forbes US – Author: Tracy Brower
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