How & Why Companies Use Tech to Track Workers

Employee monitoring is hardly a new concept. In fact, if you are working a desk job, there is a pretty high chance that your employer might be monitoring your activity with keylogger or productivity software. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has not only changed the way we live our lives, but also the way we work. And not necessarily for better, since it has cost many people their job, as well as put businesses under risk, because they weren’t prepared for the option of remote work.

Even before the pandemic, employee monitoring was on the rise, with 94% of organizations using some form of monitoring to keep track of their employees’ activity in 2017, which is a huge leap from 42% from 2016. But, given the fact that there is no vaccine or cure in sight just yet, employers and companies are also starting to consider tracking their employees’ whereabouts and health, which can create a whole world of ethical dilemmas. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how and why tech is being used to track workers.

Wearable Beacons for Package and Coronavirus Tracking

Although wearable beacons have been in use for quite some time in order to track the location of products, equipment, and people, they are now being touted as one of the solutions for containing the spread of the coronavirus. More and more companies are repurposing their devices to make them more useful for identifying areas that need to be cleaned, as well as for tracking employees, in order to implement the existing social distancing rules and guidelines. According to stats, as much as 54% of workers worry about exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.

Some workplaces don’t have the luxury of having their employees work from home. Truck drivers, workers in large distribution centers, logistics, retail, or postal workers, are just some examples. However, the jury is still out whether these practices are ethical or not, and whether they are actually helping people stay protected while doing their job. 

Use of AI for Increasing Productivity

The days of having your supervisor looking over your shoulder are over for the most part, since tech does a pretty good job at that. Swiping your card or badge has eliminated the need for time clocks, and productivity software is used pretty much everywhere to gauge how efficient you are as a worker. Use of surveillance is pretty much skyrocketing, with the number of companies using some form of monitoring, from biometric data to location tracking, projected to grow to 80% in 2020.

Still, despite all that monitoring data, your boss still has the final say, right? Not necessarily, because some companies, such as Amazon, are implementing AI algorithms that measure employee productivity. The numbers are then compared to expected quotas, and the software makes the decision to keep or fire an employee. While this is certainly beneficial for the company, it begs the question of how this benefits the worker, as well as at which point does one’s job become completely dehumanizing.

Monitoring Brain Waves

Some monitoring methods may seem more or less invasive, depending on the context in which they are used. For example, smart jackets as those produced by Nokia are used to save lives. First responders usually wear them, and the jackets themselves have switchable modules that can be used to monitor one’s heart rate, blood pressure motion, and location. The same technology can be used to protect workers in high-risk professions, such as miners.

Other tech wearables, such as SmartCap devices which are designed for EEG monitoring are more controversial. Sure, they are used to monitor long-haul drivers and prevent them from falling asleep during long drives, but they can also contribute to their fatigue, since they add weight to their already tired shoulders. Also, using body cams in order to track productivity, while not new, is still considered an invasion of privacy in most cases. In China, companies such as Hangzhou Zhongheng Electric are using similar hats in order to measure their employees’ brain waves for productivity purposes.

AI algorithms are then used not only to record productivity, but also emotions such as rage or anxiety. And seeing as AI can be trained to convert brain waves into speech, it’s easy to see how this technology can be abused.

Microchipping Employees

One of the scariest scenarios for most employees would be mandatory microchipping. And while we are still far from such a situation, voluntary microchipping of employees is already taking place in the US, UK, as well as Sweden. Workers that have been implanted with these chips can enjoy the “benefits” such as entering their office without having to sign in or swipe, as well as contactless payment.

All of this technology can also be used to benefit employees. For example, wearable devices, instead of sending out warnings, could notify the workers that it’s time to take a short break or a walk in order to help them relax and rest. However, examples of tech used for such purposes are far and few in between. The truth is, while some monitoring will inevitably be used, especially if COVID-19 is to stay here for good, it may prove to be more a detriment. For instance, this sort of tech is not cheap, and it might even add to the overall costs, instead of saving a few bucks.

Last, but not least, when employees know they are being watched, they may act in a manner that is counterproductive. It may cause more stress or inhibit their creativity or productivity. Finally, it can affect their health in the long run.

Final Word

As you can see, while tech can help companies improve employee productivity, it’s still a slippery slope, and not just when it comes to ethics, but costs as well. And there is also something to be said about the distrust that’s created through more invasive monitoring, which can significantly impact employee retention. The future will definitely provide answers to all of these questions.

Author Bio:

Ashley Simmons is a writer and editor for some of the best essay writing service places online. She has been living and working as a journalist in Salt Lake City for the past four years, covering topics like psychology, education, business, and marketing. Find her on Facebook or Twitter.

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  2. Although any type of technology, old or new, can be used for negative purposes, many of which you have listed here, the reality is that technology is developed in many of these scenarios to protect employees, not track or punish. In the end, it is leadership and decisions how how to use technology to build a working environment everyone feels safe and excited to work in. You can read this article seeing only the negative, or you can read it and thank that the ideas that start technology implementations like begin with the employees best interest at heart. A good leader knows a business thrives when their employees do.