I wrote previously about how snooping on employees is going to become the norm as managers scramble to deal with a workforce that is reluctant — or unable — to return to the workplace. Enabling this will be a host of tools available for companies to do this. It’ll be impossible for a lot of bosses to resist.
There’s already a whole market — worth $4 billion by 2023 according to this report — of employee surveillance tools. Some of them sound cute (Hubstaff, Time Doctor), some less so (VeriClock, ActivTrak, StaffCop and Work Examiner).
The second question asked of you before you can access Time Doctor’s home page.
They all feed off the fear of the Manager By-Line-of-Sight, like Workpuls:
Remote work has certainly made employees more independent from their superiors, if nothing else, then because they simply aren’t in the same physical location. That means you are never quite sure if the staff is watching funny videos or actually working.
While no one expects people to work for eight hours straight, it’s important to ensure that they are working on tasks that actually have high priority, and not just answer a few emails and go out for ice-cream and rollerblading for the rest of the day.
This perception is fed by a longstanding piece of ‘data’ which claims that workers actually only work 2 hours and 53 minutes in any work day. This study is regularly cited, though its source rarely, as proof positive we’re all lazy gits when it comes to home working. I’ve written a separate piece debunking this little gem.
So what do these tools do? Well, most monitor what software you’re using and what websites you’re logged into, for a start. The idea is to virtually handcuff you to work. For example, Time Doctor will
- ask the user if they’re still working when they visit a social media site. “Whenever an employee accesses unproductive sites like these, the app automatically sends them a pop-up asking them if they’re still working. This little nudge is usually enough to get them off the social media site and back to work.”
- Managers will have access to a ‘Poor Time Use’ report that details what sites an employee accessed and how long they spent there. Time Doctor can also take screenshots of employees’ screens at random intervals to ensure that they’re on productive sites.
- Some, like Keeper, will monitor employees’ browsing history, ostensibly to check they’re not venturing onto the dark web.
Workpuls, meanwhile, boasts
Our all-seeing agent captures all employee actions. From app and website usage, to words typed in a program, right down to detecting which tasks are being worked on based on mouse clicks.
The more sinister aspect to this is that managers not only don’t trust their employees to work remotely, but they don’t trust them not to steal stuff. And we’re not talking paperclips. This is called Data Loss Prevention, or DLP, and is itself big business. One estimate has the market worth $1.21 billion in 2019, rising to $3.75 billion by 2025.
These tools include (this according to a deck from Teramind)
- machine learning which scans an employee’s workflow, ‘fingerprinting’ documents and then tracking any changes and movement
- ‘on the fly’ content discovery
- clipboard monitoring — everything you copy and paste will be collected
- advanced optical character recognition: think studying images and videos watched and uploaded by employees to check for steganographic data exfiltration (steganography is when data is hidden in a supposedly harmless message, often a picture.)
It’s not so much the eye-popping technology involved, as the realisation that everything that an employee does on a work computer (or a work-related computer) can be, and probably is, being monitored.
To be fair, companies like Teramind are focusing less on employee productivity and more on catching the bad apples. But these tools still sound to me overly intrusive. And in my next post I’ll show why.