It’s time to talk about a concerning new trend: the development of new tech tools that give employers the power to monitor their employees over the internet, tracking their activities, locations, and even heart rates.
The Wall Street Journal recently outlined some of these tracking methods, revealing that many companies today are already logging employees’ location through work email servers, using Bluetooth technology inside ID cards to follow employees’ movement around the office, monitoring employees’ web traffic and social media use on the clock, measuring employees’ level of participation in meetings, and even capturing screenshots of employees’ computer screens and recording their phone calls.
Meanwhile, a separate team of researchers has developed a “mobile-sensing system” to constantly track employee performance through three sources, TechCrunch reports: “A smartphone tracks physical activity, location, phone use, and ambient light. The fitness tracker monitors heart functions, sleep, stress and body measurements like weight and calorie consumption. Meanwhile, location beacons placed in the home and office provide information on time at work and breaks from the desk.”
If these new realities sound like dystopian sci-fi to you, you’re not alone. “Black Mirror is upon us,” one executive tells WSJ.
Of course, there’s another way. A way that doesn’t involve expensive tracking technology. A way that won’t increase already skyrocketing levels of work anxiety and burnout. A way that doesn't open the door for possible discrimination or exclusion. A way that boosts engagement, productivity, and loyalty. It’s called trusting your employees.
Trust is a topic we discuss a lot here—and one that we demonstrate in the Werk office—since trust is an inherent factor in structured workplace flexibility. We’re not alone in this dogma. As some companies seemingly morph into Big Brother, others are trusting their employees to work autonomously. And research has shown that when employees feel trusted, they’re more likely to meet managers’ expectations.
Instead of keeping tabs on employees, we should be using data to give employees more autonomy. The role of people analytics should be to help us better understand and alleviate employees’ biggest points of friction in order to facilitate better work-life compatibility, which in turn yields better results.
Study after study confirms that the number of hours spent at one’s desk is not a good marker or predictor of success. These kinds of butt-in-chair requirements not only set employees up for failure, but businesses as well. In our research we found that 82 percent of employees need the flexibility type MicroAgility—the ability to step away from their desks in micro-increments to address personal matters such as doctor’s appointments—but only 26 percent have access to it. This gap is already draining employees of their productivity and wellness, so why would we adopt new technology that will almost certainly widen that gap by making people feel less comfortable leaving their desks? The only metric we should care about is whether the work is getting done. And if it isn't, then it's probably time to identify and alleviate those points of friction—not hover over their desks, virtually or otherwise.
We know that with flexibility, work often gets done better and faster. With autonomy, workers are more loyal and more engaged. And for us, Black Mirror remains speculative sci-fi, not a reflection of the workplace.