Companies practice surveillance methods in the workplace

Published on February 16, 2017

Companies practice surveillance methods in the workplace

    The office of news journalists in The Daily Telegraph

    About a year ago, journalists from the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph found small black boxes attached to the back of the tabletop of their desktops. At the same time on the boxes was the inscription "OccupEye". Employees of the company decided that these boxes are sensors that track the presence of people at the table. People were alarmed when they realized that the authorities could now track every step of their subordinates.

    As it turned out, these boxes are devices that monitor the microclimate in the booths of the company's employees. According to the leaders of The Daily Telegraph, the detectors were to ensure that the air was not excessively cooled or overheated. Thus, the authorities wanted to reduce the cost of electricity, a large amount of which is consumed by air conditioners. In the end, the devices are removed . But, in fact, there are a lot of detectors in the offices now, which monitor not only the temperature.

    “Most people who pass by such systems simply don’t notice them,” said Joe Costello, executive director of Enlighted. It produces sensors that monitor what is happening in the workplace. According to Costello, such devices are already in operation in 350 companies, of which 15% of organizations are on the Fortune 500 list. Detectors of this type can track room lighting, employee badges, use of meeting rooms, or even estimate the average duration of employees talking to each other.

    Tracking is underwayusing various methods. Some sensors create heat maps that show the way people move around the office space. As a result, management receives information by which office space can be optimized. Companies are happy to use this opportunity. For example, in the premises of Gensler more than 1000 sensors from Enlighted have already been installed. These devices are built into the lighting devices and record the movement, the use of energy, the change of day and night. With the help of feedback is provided to adjust the brightness of the light in automatic mode. In addition, sensors track employee behavioral patterns.

    If the main work in the office begins at 10 am, then the lighting remains on, gradually reducing the brightness, to zero within an hour. Thanks to its sensors, Gensler managed to cut energy costs by about a quarter. The size of investments in new equipment is about $ 200,000. Calculations of the company's financial department show that these costs will pay off within five years or so.

    According to lawyers, the leadership of American companies has the right to install any tracking equipment in their offices. In toilets - no, but in all other rooms - yes. When it comes to Enlighted sensors, the data collected by them is anonymized, so that employees of companies with such devices have nothing to worry about. In any case, the management and some subordinates think so. “It doesn't bother me. This is not an invasion of privacy, ”says Luke Rondel, one of the employees at Gensler. Moreover, it seems convenient to him to automatically adjust the lighting in the morning and evening hours.

    Not long ago, the Pew Research Center analytical agency conducted a survey among employees of various companies on how they relate to management monitoring of their activities. Most respondents said they were not too worried about this.

    The management of companies does not stop at what has been accomplished and goes further, creating new schemes for monitoring the work of their subordinates. The company Boston Consulting Group decided to conduct an experiment. 100 volunteers from among the staff received special badges with a microphone and a location sensor. The developer of such a system is the company Humanyze. The smart badge itself keeps track of employee interaction. After that, the company looks at how the design of individual premises affects the work and cooperation of subordinates. Despite the microphone and the location sensor, no one is keeping an eye on individual employees - all data is anonymized.

    Ben Waber, executive director of Humanize, saidthat now his company is developing a more advanced badge model. A new device can determine the amount of time an employee spends outside the desktop, assess with whom, when and how much a person speaks. The detectors estimate the tone of the voice, the level of activity, the factors that impede the work and even the degree of intoxication of the person if he drank. All this, says Waber, is needed to optimize the company's work. “By collecting these data, you can get information about how people communicate, what is the psychological situation, how productive employees are and are satisfied with their work,” he says.

    As for the company Enlighted, it is now developing special badges that can already monitor individual employees. To do this, use a special application that tries to follow the duties performed by employees of the company Enlighted. Having heard about the new development, other companies began to be interested in it. Most likely, it will enter the market in the near future.

    Artificial intelligence comes into play

    I must say that the sensors and detectors, which are discussed above - only a child's game compared to the products of some vendors. For example, a startup from London, StatusToday, uses in its service for monitoring employee activity a weak form of artificial intelligence that tracks literally everything from documents that a person works with to the time of his arrival at work and leaving the workplace.

    If the pattern of behavior of any employee changes dramatically, the service from StatusToday notices and pays more attention to the activity of such a person. The idea is that deviations in people's behavior may indicate, for example, violation of company rules, disregard for information security and a number of other problems. “We get an“ imprint ”of employee behavior, and if this“ imprint ”changes, we raise an alarm,” said Mirce Dumitrescu, TechnologyToday's director of technology.

    Among the situations when you need to raise an alarm is the work of an employee with an abnormally large number of files (for example, copying them to any media). Perhaps this person is just doing his job, or maybe he is going to “merge” corporate secrets to correspondents. The system also keeps track of situations when an employee opens a malicious email attachment. “We do not check the computer for viruses,” says Dumitrescu. “We are monitoring human behavior.”

    Service StatusToday is already working in some organizations. For example, the Hiscox insurer recently started using this platform. And almost immediately the management was able to detect the suspicious activity of the account of the employee who left the company a month ago.

    And the strangeness in the behavior of a person or his account is far from the only thing that StatusToday platform can reveal. It also determines employee productivity. Dumitrescu cites as an example the company Yahoo, which insisted on the transfer of all employees to work in the office. According to representatives of Yahoo, the productivity of employees working remotely is much lower than the productivity of those who work in the office. The head of StatusToday claims that no one knows for sure whether this is so. But the service of his company allows to clarify the situation. “Whether they should work in the office or can continue their activities from home can be figured out using data,” says Dumitrescu.

    It seems to be nothing wrong with such a system. But its use means a global observation of the work of absolutely all employees of the company - from cleaners to management. According to Javier Ruiz Diaz, a representative of the Open Rights Group, the use of the service from StatusToday can be viewed as a violation of the human rights to privacy.

    The representative of the University of East Anglia Paul Bernard agrees with him . He believes that all the nuances of such a platform should be transparent to company employees. “Do workers know about it and give them a choice?”, Bernard asks.

    He also argues that the constant monitoring of employees may be fraught with a drop in their productivity. The problem, according to Bernard, is that people in companies that use the employee activity tracking service will be constantly under stress. Permanent employee stress is unlikely to improve the overall performance of a company.

    Anyway, legally companies have every right to monitor the activity of their employees, as mentioned above. Therefore, in pursuit of a general increase in productivity and optimization of the workflow, companies will use any services and technologies that they find appropriate. And the opinion of the employees of these companies here hardly plays a role, although it may differ sharply from the opinion of the management.