Call center staff will be monitored by webcam for work-from-home “infractions”

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Thousands of employees at one of the world’s largest call center companies must be monitored by webcams to check if they are eating, looking at their phones or leaving their desks when working from home, the Guardian.

In a sign of potential battles for remote staff monitoring after the pandemic, Teleperformance – which employs around 380,000 people in 34 countries and has dozens of major UK companies and government departments among its clients – told some staff that specialized webcams would be equipped to check for “infringements” at home work.

While these are partly used for team meetings and training, the cameras are also connected to an artificial intelligence system that will randomly search for work rule violations during a shift. If a photo is detected, a photo will be sent to a manager and kept for up to 20 days, depending on documents sent to staff.

If workers have to leave their desks, for example to have a drink, they will have to click on “pause mode” in an app to explain why, for example “to fetch water”, to avoid being reported for a violation. .

Eating during the shift is prohibited, staff say. “If the system does not detect any keystrokes and no mouse clicks, it will show you as inactive for that particular amount of time, and it will be reported to your supervisor. So please do not interfere with your productivity. ”

A training video on the webcam system, seen by the Guardian, states that it “monitors and tracks employee behavior in real time and detects any violation of pre-defined business rules, and sends real-time alerts to managers to ensure that ‘they take corrective action immediately’.

The move sparked warnings from unions and MPs over the standardization of home monitoring by employers as increasing numbers of workers abandon the office.

The revelations came to light after some of the 10,000 UK employees have been told that cameras, including the AI-based scanning system, will be installed next month for staff continuing to work from home.

When approached by the Guardian, the company said remote scans would not be used in the UK. Webcams for UK staff could not be used remotely and would only be used for meetings and training, as well as scheduled video calls when supervisors would check desks on desks for unauthorized devices for data security reasons , such as phones, a spokesperson said.

The levels of remote control would be different in other countries, he said.

While not a household name, the France-based company is one of the world’s largest providers of outsourced telephone services, including customer support, telemarketing, and technical support.

In Britain, its clients include the UK government’s health and education departments, NHS Digital, the Student Loans Company, the RAF and the Royal Navy. Companies he works for include Vodafone, eBay, Aviva, Volkswagen, and The Guardian. There is no indication that any of them were aware of or involved in the planning of the new surveillance system.

Teleperformance is expected to deploy the full webcam surveillance system in the other countries where it operates. The company declined to say whether any of its UK customers use staff based elsewhere who may be subject to surveillance.

According to the documents and video, at random times during a shift, the webcam system will scan the workspace for violations including “out of office”, “idle user detection “,” Unauthorized use of mobile phone “and another person in the workspace area.

The cameras will also be configured with facial recognition so that they can detect if someone else is sitting at the desk. Employees are informed: “Any violation detected by the AI ​​triggers a real-time alert to the supervisor for further actions. ”

Company documentation recognizes that family or other household members cannot be kept completely away from workspaces, and said managers would take no action if their presence was detected “until people in the background are not looking directly into the screen, or very closely. to him ”. To avoid this, staff are encouraged to place their screens facing a wall.

Staff working at night should make sure their desks have enough light for the camera to see what is going on.

Howard Beckett, deputy general secretary of Unite, said the union “will fight legally and industrially to prevent any attempt to standardize home surveillance.”

Andy McDonald, the shadow minister for employment rights, said that, especially when companies relied on staff working from home to keep them in business, it was wrong to impose “invasive surveillance that will erode their rights to work. privacy and will create a climate of fear and mistrust ”. .

After the Guardian asked Teleperformance about the concerns of UK staff, a senior executive contacted employees to explain that they would not be randomly monitored, adding that it was “extremely disappointing” that the media had been alerted and that this was considered serious misconduct. It is unclear why UK staff were initially told to expect a full surveillance system.

A spokesperson for Teleperformance said the company wanted to discuss any concerns with workers and that the webcam system was intended “to address overwhelming concerns of isolation, lack of commitment and support from the team, not to see anyone overnight, raised by those who are at home ”.

She said: “We absolutely trust them to do their jobs in a professional manner. We take the concerns you have raised very seriously… because they cannot be further from the truth. ”

No staff would be required to work from home, the spokesperson said, and discussions would take place to reassure them. It was however “of the utmost importance that our employees work in a secure home office environment to meet the expectations of our clients and their clients of a high level of protection with regard to the processing of their personal data, including sensitive personal data, ”she said.

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