A new report in The Times reveals just how bad remote work surveillance has gotten, with out of the 10 largest private employers in the U.S. tracking productivity metrics for their employees, including measuring active time, checking for keyboard pauses and even counting keystrokes.
But are those numbers actually meaningful?
“There are repercussions if workers aren’t meeting expectations: a prodding note, a skipped bonus, or a work-from-home day taken away, to name a few. For employers surrendering in the fight to return to the office, such surveillance is a way to maintain a sense of control.
“If we’re going to give up on bringing people back to the office, we’re not going to give up on managing productivity,” Paul Wartenberg, who installs monitor systems, told The Times.
The report shows a level of remote work surveillance that was previously reserved for lower-paying jobs like gig economy workers, Amazon warehouse employees or UPS drivers.
Now, most jobs that can be performed remote and even traditional ones are subject to tracking, with productivity metrics being sent to the employer, even though those numbers cannot really quantify just how good a person is at their job.
As The Times reports, while there are many repercussions for workers who appear to slack off during remote work, the metrics themselves can’t paint an accurate picture of performance.
“We’re in this era of measurement but we don’t know what we should be measuring,” Ryan Fuller, former vice president for workplace intelligence at Microsoft, told the Times.
The report points to radiologists forced to look at screens displaying their “inactivity time” and employees from New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority can work from home only if they agree to full-time productivity monitoring.
In interviews and in hundreds of written submissions to The Times, white-collar workers described being tracked as “demoralizing,” “humiliating” and “toxic.”
Even worse, all of those workers say that “the working world’s new clocks are just wrong: inept at capturing offline activity, unreliable at assessing hard-to-quantify tasks and prone to undermining the work itself”.