May 8 (UPI) — Businesses across the U.S. are scrambling to find ways to keep their employees productive, including organizing their social calendars and tracking their productivity to make sure they’re actually working from home,media reported. However, companies are using unconventional tactics to worry many, and telecommuting in the technology industry is turning into a nightmare.
Thousands of U.S. companies now use surveillance software to record employees’ web browsing paths and active working hours, assigning tools to employees’ phones, computers and homes. But they are also trying to increase oversight of employees, such as forcing webcams to stay online at all times, arranging check-ins three times a day, and including employees in a large number of involuntary corporate online activities.
These systems are built to increase productivity and make the quiet isolation of remote work more lively, connected and fun, company executives say. But some employees say all these new corporate surveillance measures further blur the line between their work and personal lives, increasing their stress and making them feel physically and mentally exhausted.
David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of Basecamp, a remote-work software company, says the company is increasingly monitoring its employees more closely because it simply doesn’t trust them to stay motivated on their own. He added that the new corona virus blockade has also led many managers to use the new-age social gathering language to frame such surveillance in the hope of masking the fact that workers are being monitored.
“What people crave is human connection, and online communication is just a complement to maintaining relationships, ” says Mr Hansen. However, by putting people into increasingly rigorous surveillance measures, it may ultimately not help to do better, deeper, more creative work. “
Nearly half of the U.S. workforce now works from home, according to a study released in April by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Moreover, many employees may work longer and more sporadic hours than ever before. NordVPN, which operates virtual private networks for businesses, said in March that their working hours in the U.S. had increased from eight to 11 hours a day since the ban began.
Many executives want a way to look at their employees and confirm their productivity. Several time-tracking and employee-monitoring companies, including ActivTrak, HubStaff, Time Doctor and Teramind, say they have seen their customers and revenues soar since the outbreak pushed many companies to telecommuting.
Several companies allow managers to regularly capture images of employee screens and list employees based on who is active and working the past seven days.
A system called InterGuard can be installed covertly on an employee’s computer and create a schedule every minute for each app and website they browse, classifying each app and website as “efficient” or “invalid”, and ranking employees according to their “productivity score.” If an employee does or says something suspicious, the system alerts the manager. In the demo, words such as “job,” “customer” and “documentation” were marked to prevent employees from looking for work elsewhere.
InterGuard’s system also records all employee emails, instant messages, and keys, and takes photos of employee screens every 5 seconds that managers can view as they please. “You can really watch a movie about what that person did,” said Brad Miller, chief executive of Awareness Technologies, the company’s Connecticut-based parent company. “
Miller says their subscription-based software business is booming: hundreds of companies are asking about the use of employee monitoring tools every week, three times as many as in normal times. He also called it “financially irresponsible” for companies not to pay close attention to their employees’ day-to-day work, adding that managers “have every right to know what they are doing” if employees are allowed to log in at home.
Alison Green’s popular blog, Ask Manager, is a workplace advice column and advice board. She said she heard that many of the employees who stayed at home were stressed at their boss’s growing demands.
Many say they suffer from incredible anxiety and are always wondering how their job responsibilities will change, whether companies will have to lay off workers or take a pay cut, or even whether their industry will survive. But they are hesitant to talk openly about ongoing surveillance, fearing that any criticism could lead to them losing their jobs.
A digital marketing worker in Tennessee says the flood of check-ins via email, cell phones, text messages and Zoom video calls made her team feel “Alexander.” “The boss keeps calling and asking, ‘What the hell are you doing?'” she said. ‘I’ve been working all weekend and woke up this morning to an email asking me what I did last week. “
Of course, not all systems are portrayed as “working police,” and some suggest they can use always-on webcams and microphones to help keep employees closer together.
In Pragli’s office, employees’ virtual avatars are gridd and can be seen at any time. But another start-up, Snek, went a step further, uploading photos of faces taken by employees on webcams every minute, making them easy for colleagues to see. Employees can click on a colleague’s face to start talking because they know they’re sitting at their desk. The service also allows anyone to immediately send photos of colleagues to an open Slake channel. Del Currie, co-founder of Snek, says this is useful when employees do “stupid things.”
Alison Green says the new wave of digital empowerment is exhausting many employees. He has received letters from dozens of employees who say they are physically and mentally exhausted and unable to refuse to be ostracized. Some complainthated that Slake’s social support channels were overwhelming, with Zoom calling the challenges “interesting” and a chain of emails about isolation tips and recipes. “I’m in more meetings now than I do in the office, and I’m dealing with all kinds of work at the same time,” he wrote. “
There are some signs that all this technology-driven social surveillance has suffered setbacks. Video chat service Zoom recently removed the Attention Tracking setting because of a public outcry over the intrusive nature of the feature.