As with CCTV, widespread use of sensors has raised concerns about surveillance and privacy which could be counterproductive. Is Big Brother watching?
It’s understandable that the introduction of remote working has come with the development of tools to keep track of what employees do. Research from Harvard Law School (Katsabian 2020) advocates using ‘smart surveillance tools’ to monitor people’s work activities, using the data to help people work more effectively. However, there is a risk such tools will be used punitively, or as a form of control, leading to a breakdown of trust.
A recent analysis by the European Commission’s Joint Research Council (Ball 2021) warns about the creep of surveillance tools in the workplace. It suggests that the growth in workplace surveillance is a result of the way work has become ‘datafied’ in recent years and advises that such tools be used openly and transparently to empower workers.
Part of the problem is growing suspicion of technology and how it is used by governments and corporations. In the dotcom era, there was a profound sense of optimism around new technologies that seemed to promise to transform society. However, just as trust in established institutions and corporations has declined, so the public has become distrustful of the impact tech is having on society.
This matters as technology is becoming more and more pervasive in our daily lives. If we lack trust in either it or the developers behind it, this will significantly undermine its potential. For instance, research from the University of Warwick (Cannizzaro, S. et. al., 2020) found that consumers fundamentally distrust smart home technology, possibly fuelled by Black Mirror-style stories of privacy invasion and abuse of tech.
So, while workplaces are about technology, it must be the right technology – systems and processes that support physical and digital connection and collaboration. Good tech is the thing that runs in the background, the unsung hero of the workplace that allows its occupants to be as creative and productive as possible. Total transparency is required to reassure employees that they are not being monitored and controlled.
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