Bosswear. Surveillance technology installed onto home-working machines designed to track productivity, but is that all it is tracking?
As we are all aware, London is a highly monitored city. Coming in as the third most surveilled city in the world, with nearly 700,000 CCTV camera’s citywide; as of May 2021, there was 1camera per 13 people on the streets of the capital. This may not come as much of a surprise to most, and seemingly enough, due to the global pandemic and the huge growth in hybrid and at-home working, surveillance is sure enough something of the past?
An increased frequency of employees, and students, working from home, has seen a subsequent increase in the business for bosswear; installable software used to monitor, and in some cases, remotely control personal computers. Although this initially feels threatening, and it can be, the intended purpose has not been entirely this way inclined.
If we focus on education, the Guardian reported a dramatic rise in the monitoring of student conversations in the USA.
The Guardian talks about the use of surveillance tech in order to ‘keep an eye’ on students, attempting to prematurely target bullying, self-harm and suicidal rhetoric. Mental health challenges have taken a worldwide rise throughout the pandemic, with people unable to see friends and family, trapped in abusive households or simply isolated, and this was no different for young people. As discussed on this week’s Tech Talk with Akeesh Khokhar, the instalment of boss wear, although initially intended as a supportive act, opens quite a grey area for what level of surveillance is too much?
The Guardian proposes an interesting angle; prior to the pandemic schools took great efforts towards security and safety for students and staff. Installing cameras, metal detectors and an escalated police presence, to which, funnily enough, “Kids felt unsafe”. During lockdown, therefore, these literal security measures were simply moved online. CCTV simply changed to webcams; whereas now teachers don’t miss anything. It is understandable why schools would want to be watchful of students, preventing, where they can, student suicide and managing better mental health, however it is a slippery slope to a blatant withdrawal of personal freedom?
Now you may be asking what relevance this has to you or tech in the working world? Well there has been just as much frequency of this software within workplace laptops and personal tech, aimed less at managing mental health, more like monitoring productivity. Daniel Enthoven, Vice President of Marketing at Enkata Technologies, talks about how Tesco were scolded earlier in the year for implementing electronic wristbands to employees to manage where they were going and how long they took. Whether it is a wristband or installed software tracking clicks and scrolls, Enthoven discusses the three main reasons monitoring systems simply do not work.
Due to a multitude of benefits, including savings in travel costs, easier childcare and an improvement in mental health, nationally the pandemic has seen a stable level of productivity from the working-from-home environment, It seems, therefore, that these problems with surveillance technology are really not worth the hassle. Many might even understand a loss of privacy for the increased flexibility that a work-from-home environment allows. Daniel concludes by stating employers need to be much less “Big Brother” and more like a “personal trainer who wants everyone to do their best”.
With all the stresses, sadness and loneliness that has come from the last 20 months, employers need to be using technology to encourage and support their employees. However, the issue remains, we can tell our PT we need a break, but do we risk losing that personal freedom as surveillance creeps into our society and working environments?