Post-Covid Surveillance: Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Tech?

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Covid-19 has increased adoption of workspace monitoring technologies, but member privacy must be balanced with these safety measures.
  • Covid-19 has increased adoption of workspace monitoring technologies.
  • But member privacy must be balanced with these safety measures.
  • Revealed: the five key ways to mitigate member privacy concerns.

From advancing digitisation to artificial intelligence, technology is often mooted as the panacea for all our working woes. Flexible workspaces are no exception with data-driven technologies promising to optimise your building within an inch of its life to beat the competition. 

To get this data, you must introduce a range of monitoring tools and technologies into your workspace – and this is a difficult task. Speaking at the Learning from Lockdown: the Future of Work after Covid-19 Webinar, former Business Minister and University of Cranfield Visiting Professor Jo Swinson, said: “Data can be very valuable but not everything comes down to numbers.”

“Technology is a great enabler but we still want face to face time with our employees [and] there will still be that connection with place [in today’s offices].”

In our post-Covid world, such technologies are becoming more commonplace, helping operators maintain social distancing, create touchless offices, provide occupancy-based cleaning strategies and, in short, provide members with the reassurance they need to return to their workspaces.

But surveillance technology is also not a new phenomenon. A 2018 Gartner survey found 22% of organisations use employee movement data, 17% monitor work computer usages, and 16% use Microsoft Outlook and other calendar usage data to monitor their staff. 

However, thanks to Covid-19, these technologies are upping their game. Amazon reportedly has a patent for a bracelet to detect a warehouse worker’s location and monitor how they interact with the work environment. There are reports the company is now piloting a system that sends real-time warning to workers when they get too close to one another.

In Belgium, the Port of Antwerp is trialling the smart bracelets for contact tracing and proximity detection. Over in the US, a school district and universities are reportedly planning to test tracking beacons. The Financial Times reported that companies, including global consultancy PwC, are building apps to monitor the spread of coronavirus inside offices and other workspaces.

Reuters also reported that many workplaces are integrating artificial intelligence software – including sneeze and cough detecting technologies – into existing security cameras to make sure their employees comply with mask-wearing and social distancing regulations. Fitbit recently launched its Ready for Work solution to push guidance to workers to help them decide whether to go into the workplace.

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    What does this mean for flexible workspaces? Should you be adopting a similar approach? It’s a difficult balancing act, where you must provide the reassurance to members that it’s safe to return to your workspace without ignoring their privacy concerns. Recent research suggests employers could lose the trust of staff, if they monitor remote workers’ computers.

    Additional research highlights the negative impact surveillance can have on both staff wellbeing and trust. Other studies reveal electronic monitoring and surveillance can negatively impact trust in management when we look at conventional office spaces – but more research is needed with regards to the impact on flexible workspaces.  

    How to mitigate concerns

    So, how can you make the right decision with regards to your workspace monitoring tech and the privacy and safety of your members? Consumer advocacy organisation Public Citizen published the following advice:

    1. Ask the Right Questions

    You should gather as much information as possible about your proposed technology to make an informed decision. In particular, you must understand how the product works, the data it collects, how this information is stored, retained and shared.

    2. Limit Data Collection

    You must understand the requirements for each piece of functionality, ensuring data collections is limited to what is truly necessary. Also, check the data is not repurposed and ensure restrictions are in place on third-party sharing of information.

    3. Ensure Cyber Security

    Make sure your data is fully secured using technologies including encryption and anonymization, where possible.

    4. Be Transparent with Members

    Help your members understand how their data is used, through the provision of privacy notices and open communication to encourage members to voice any concerns or ask questions. Also, you may want to limit the use of biometric data.

    5. Use Opt-In Policies

    Promote members’ rights by implementing technologies on a voluntary basis (where possible) and ensure members can access, correct, and delete their information. Also, make sure you introduce internal policies and procedures to enforce your data controls and access methods.

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