Don’t go for a quick ‘fix’
It is derived from the Italian mano, meaning hand, and it’s expansion into maneggiare, the activity of handling and training a horse carried out in a maneggio – a riding school. From this form of manual control, the word has expanded into a general activity of training and handling people. It is a word that originates with ideas of control, of a docile or wilful creature that must be subordinated to the instructions of the master.
Though we might prefer to believe that its meaning has evolved since then to convey something more respectful and collaborative, it is still the case that workplace leaders and managers have mastery over their staff. Promotions, opportunities, hirings and firings — all life-altering events — are subject to their authority.
It is a mighty responsibility, and abuse of managerial power can have devastating consequences.
During the pandemic, the relationship between workers and their seniors has evolved in unexpected ways. Managers are having to trust more, and ultimately accept that they have less of a window into how employees spend the day. For lots of companies this has been going surprisingly well, and Facebook, often seen as something of a pace-setter when it comes to employee flexibility, announced that their staff would be given the option of working from home permanently once lockdown lifts.
Given this, you would be forgiven for thinking that the outbreak has seen companies forge new bonds of faith with their workers, and that this is an unexpected silver lining to the chaos wrought by COVID-19. But calmer seas can hide dangerous currents, and just as businesses appear to take a more relaxed attitude to home working, scores of them have been enthusiastically implementing surveillance software to ensure that every click, every break, every lapse in attention is observed, collected, and used as evidence of worker efficiency.
The MIT Technology Review gave an overview of some of the snooping programs are looking for:
“Hubstaff is software that records users’ keyboard strokes, mouse movements, and the websites that they visit. Time Doctor goes further, taking videos of users’ screens. It can also take a picture via webcam every 10 minutes to check that employees are at their computer. And Isaak, a tool made by UK firm Status Today, monitors interactions between employees to identify who collaborates more, combining this data with information from personnel files to identify individuals who are ‘change-makers.’
Now, one firm wants to take things even further. It is developing machine-learning software to measure how quickly employees complete different tasks and suggest ways to speed them up.
The tool also gives each person a productivity score, which managers can use to identify those employees who are most worth retaining—and those who are not.”
Unsurprisingly, people find this clandestine data collection unsettling and, frankly, sinister. It reveals the veneer of trust to be exactly that. But there are lots of reasons we should be resistant to workplace surveillance tech. Here are just four.