Beware the Insight Gap as Workplace Monitoring Technologies Advance

Beware the Insight Gap as Workplace Monitoring Technologies Advance

Employee monitoring technologies represent the cutting edge of workplace gadgets, and these technologies are already becoming increasingly common, from sociometric badges to tracking devices at desks to sentiment analysis and even experiments with microchipping employees. Olivia Solon at the Guardian recently explored the next generation of this tech:

How can an employer make sure its remote workers aren’t slacking off? In the case of talent management company Crossover, the answer is to take photos of them every 10 minutes through their webcam. The pictures are taken by Crossover’s productivity tool, WorkSmart, and combine with screenshots of their workstations along with other data —including app use and keystrokes—to come up with a “focus score” and an “intensity score” that can be used to assess the value of freelancers.

Today’s workplace surveillance software is a digital panopticon that began with email and phone monitoring but now includes keeping track of web-browsing patterns, text messages, screenshots, keystrokes, social media posts, private messaging apps like WhatsApp and even face-to-face interactions with co-workers. …

Crossover’s Sanjeev Patni insists that workers get over the initial self-consciousness after a few days and accept the need for such monitoring as they do CCTV in shopping malls. “The response is ‘OK, I’m being monitored, but if the company is paying for my time how does it matter if it’s recording what I’m doing? It’s only for my betterment,’” he said.

While these technologies are truly becoming impressive in terms of collecting data and identifying patterns of employee work, there are still some major hurdles that need to be overcome in order for them to become effective talent management tools. The first true hurdle is being able to turn the data into insight. Right now, employee monitoring can generate huge amounts of data, but organizations still need to figure out what the data means.

As an example, if the number of key strokes an employee has decreases, is that because they are working on something more complex, are in a learning phase rather than a production phase, or have become disengaged? With time, we will develop a deeper understanding of these relationships, but as of now, they are not quite clear. In addition, more activity does not necessarily equal more productivity. For all types of work, new research is showing that frequent breaks can actually increase overall productivity.

As work becomes more complex, the data generated from workplace monitoring tools will need to inform us about what actually drives productivity, rather than just assuming more key strokes equals more output.

However, Crossover’s Sanjeev Patni is right: one of the hurdles is not actually employee resistance to being monitored. Our research at CEB, now Gartner, shows that 70 percent of millennials do not object to being monitored as long as the information is being used to help them improve their performance. As this generation continues to take over the workforce, acceptance of monitoring will likely increase. Now we just need to make sure we understand enough about what all that data means to gain actionable insight.

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