After two weeks of working from her Brooklyn apartment, a 25-year-old e-commerce worker received a staffwide email from her company: Employees were to install software called Hubstaff immediately on their personal computers so it could track their mouse movements and keyboard strokes, and record the webpages they visited.
They also had to download an app called TSheets to their phones to keep tabs on their whereabouts during work hours.
“There are five of us. And we always came to work. We always came on time. There was no reason to start location-tracking us,” the woman told NPR. She spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing she could lose her job.
Company emails that she provided to NPR show her employer believed the tracking software would improve the team’s productivity and efficiency while everyone was working from home.
Such rationales are increasingly ringing throughout workplaces nationwide.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced about a third of U.S. workers to do their jobs from home. In turn, companies are ramping up the use of software to monitor what their employees do all day.
Privacy advocates and some workers said they worry that the intensified tracking brought upon by the coronavirus will normalize workplace surveillance and that this type of digital supervision will persist when workers return to offices.
Just ask a woman who works in marketing at a small company in Minnesota. She also spoke to NPR anonymously out of fear her employer would retaliate against her for speaking out.
Her employer has started using software called Time Doctor. It downloads videos of employees’ screens while they work. It also can enable a computer’s webcam to take a picture of the employee every 10 minutes.
“If you’re idle for a few minutes, if you go to the bathroom or whatever, a pop-up will come up and it’ll say, ‘You have 60 seconds to start working again or we’re going to pause your time,’ ” the woman said.