Photo Source: Flickr
This blog post was originally published on July 10th, 2017.
Pause for a moment and try to conjure up the feeling of someone hovering over your shoulder while you work; that someone could be a boss or a co-worker or even a parent or sibling. Who is comfortable with someone watching their every move and occasionally commenting-- “Why are you doing that?” “Wouldn’t it be faster if you used another tool?” “You shouldn’t spend so much time in email.” The need for privacy and autonomy develops early in people and contributes to the nearly universal dislike of micromanagement. Despite a well-known human distaste for being watched, numerous companies that employ traditional techniques combined with artificial intelligence technologies to perform a wide variety of different surveillance services continue to emerge. The surveillance services are often sold as productivity, morale, quality of life or security enhancing services.
Veriato Inc. offers an employee surveillance platform called Variato 360 that provides visibility to employers into the online activity of all their workers. Not only does the platform open a window into what their employees do online while at work, Variato also provides analytics that help managers to evaluate good activity from bad activity. The system also collects periodic screen shots of an employee’s internet browsing as evidence that can be played back for investigation and support for allegations of misbehavior. Just seeing what an employee or contractor is doing on their computer may not tell a compelling story; Veriato also analyzes email messages for content and sentiment that would indicate if an employee is no longer satisfied with their work and may need to be more carefully coached or monitored.
Sapience Analytics Inc. is a people analytics company that provides tools to monitor workers’ activity on their computers. Sapient Analytics’ homepage (sapient.net) leads with the phrase- “End distractions. Enter mindfulness.” The company offers the notion that procrastination not only robs companies of productivity but also indicates that the employee is stressed out. They claim that by displaying to employees and managers alike how and where employees spend their work time online reduces their meandering on the internet. Sapience maintains that awareness of one’s habits, like frequent checking of Facebook on the company clock, helps employees to be more focused or “mindful” of their habits, which subsequently improves performance. Sapience even offers a version of their product for home use that helps people stay aware of how they are using their time online in comparison with the time they are spending with their family or on other activities. The idea is that if one is aware of how one is spending his or her time, it is easier to adjust one’s behavior if it does not match one’s goals and expectations.
For the most part, people need a sense of autonomy and space to do their work and spend their free time as they see fit; very few people like to be micromanaged. Despite the nearly universal dislike of being micromanaged, more and more companies are offering technologies that employ artificial intelligence to actively monitor every aspect of their employees’ activity on their computer with the notion that close observation of online activity will discourage procrastination online and therefore improve productivity; in that same vein, following the tone and sentiment of an employee’s email will highlight work issues and job dissatisfaction. Such tools may have a place in data security when there is intellectual property or trade secrets at stake, but monitoring someone’s online behavior presumes that their activity may be anti-productive. These productivity companies wrongly assume knowledge of how productivity works. In an article called “6 Big Dangers of Micromanagement” by Jack Wallen, the author concludes that micromanagement leads to high turnover of staff and the creation of a lack of autonomy. Treating employees with respect and recognizing the need for autonomy avoids breeding paranoia and drives productivity in the long run. Perhaps it would be better to leave what employees are doing in every waking second up to a little bit of mystery.
Dr. Smith’s career in scientific and information research spans the areas of bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, toxicology, and chemistry. He has published a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has worked over the past seventeen years developing advanced analytics, machine learning, and knowledge management tools to enable research and support high level decision making. Tim completed his Ph.D. in Toxicology at Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington.
You can buy his book on Amazon in paperback and in kindle format here.