Surveillance technology is here to stay in the workplace


There’s a British science-fiction thriller on Netflix titled “Anon” in which society has opted for full transparency, totally eliminating privacy and anonymity. Walk down the street and you can see augmented-reality (AR) text summaries identifying people by name and occupation. And they can see your information as well.

Even freakier, everyone’s life is video-recorded and uploaded to a giant database that the authorities can access at will. The premise of such full and glaring transparency is that if you can’t hide anything, you probably won’t do anything that you’d feel a need to hide (like commit a crime or even an indiscretion).

While surveillance technology may not have advanced to “Anon” levels, it’s certainly headed in that direction. Its increasing sophistication and use raises questions not only about surveillance technology’s role in society, but in the workplace as well.

I’ve written about workplace surveillance previously. Enterprises have gone way beyond monitoring email and internet use (though those still are done) to installing cloud-connected cameras that can be used with artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor and identify people. AI also can be used to track and analyze employee actions with an eye toward interpreting intent. Further, voice assistants and other listening devices can be used to record meetings, conversations, and calls.

Is all of this monitoring good for enterprises and employees? Over at Business 2 Community, Parth Misra lays out some of the benefits and disadvantages of workplace monitoring. On the plus side, he says, monitoring can increase productivity by cutting down on the amount of time employees goof off on the internet, social media, and on their personal phones.

But, Misra adds, companies “that overdo surveillance also reduce humans to mere numbers and not individuals which in turn affects their attitude on how they deal with them. Forcing all your employees to adopt a certain work routine because your number crunching says so can quickly become a morale killer.”

And as any good manager knows, once an employee’s morale goes, productivity isn’t far behind.

The core issue isn’t lack of character or inherent laziness, Misra argues. “Rather, it’s lack of engagement at work,” he writes. “Employees who are bored or distracted from their job will try and escape from it any chance they get.”

Presumably, automation will unburden many employees of the more tedious aspects of their jobs. After that, it’s up to their employers to redirect them to higher-value activities. However, workers also must step up by adopting a stakeholder mentality in which they are always aware of the goals and objectives of the enterprise. This enables more strategic thinking, which results in better decisions and better outcomes, and increases the value of the employee.

Workplace surveillance probably is here to stay, but using it primarily as a Big Brotherish tool of control may drive away good employees and discourage those who remain.

Do you see workplace surveillance as a bad idea or a necessity in the digital era?


  1. Kirby Kanarek says:

    Big brother is not good but security is important.

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