“It really accelerated,” says Dr Claudia Pagliari, researcher on digital health and society at the University of Edinburgh. “People are working from home and a lot of organizations are starting to want to track what they’re doing.”
Such surveillance takes many forms. “Some of them are as simple as ‘checking in’,” Pagliari says, “stamping your timesheet in a digital sense. You might have to do your work in the cloud, and it knows when you’ve signed in, for example. Tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams report when an employee is “active,” and not opening apps early in the morning is often viewed by managers as being late for work.Other workers reported more intense supervision. A communications worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said her employer recently started requiring all employees to join a video conference every morning, with their webcams on. Employees were told the move was aimed at reducing the number of meetings, but many feel its real purpose is to make sure they stay at their desks all day.
David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of collaborative startup Basecamp, which provides a software platform for companies to coordinate their workers remotely, says he has to regularly turn down requests from potential customers for new methods of spying of their employees.
“There is a depressing demand and it’s mostly coming from dinosaur companies that have been forced by Covid to move away,” he says. “They think they need to replicate – or even increase – what they do in the office.
“We went so far as to say that our API [interface which allows other developers to build additions to Basecamp] cannot be used for any form of employee monitoring. ”
Silkie Carlo, director of anti-surveillance charity Big Brother Watch, says the trend is for the natural progression of workplace surveillance. “Now that this is turning into home monitoring, it is taking a new form and is more worrying, because some employers don’t realize that yes, some employees work from home, but the home remains a private space,” he said. she declared.
“It is important for people’s sense of self-reliance and dignity, as well as for their sanity, that the home remains a private space and that we don’t go down the path of this really pervasive constant surveillance of people’s homes.
Some employers say the oversight they have imposed on employees is necessary for oversight or compliance reasons.
But many employers are simply aiming for “workforce optimization”, which Pagliari warns could have the opposite effect of what was intended. “There is no evidence that workers are more productive when they are watched,” she says. “But what we do know is that feeling like you’re in a panopticon can actually depress you and make you less productive.”
Earlier this year, consulting firm PwC came under fire for developing a facial recognition tool that records when employees are away from their computer screens when working from home.
According to PwC, it is designed to help financial institutions meet their compliance obligations, as workers would normally be monitored for security purposes in the prosecution.
For Carlo, the increase in surveillance is proof that employees need legal protection against the desire for ever more data. “The consequences are going to be wild,” she said. “It’s not consent if you can’t choose. “