Is it right or productive to watch workers?

It goes without saying that the biggest shift in the workplace over the last two years has been its disappearance. Or rather, its retreat from the physical world and its reemergence in the work-anywhere digital limbo of Zoom meetings and Slack channels. And, with a few caveats, the robust conclusion has been that, yes, remote employees can still get their work done from their kitchen table, their spare bedroom, their shed, or the patio of their favourite coffee shop.

But let’s be honest: the office isn’t merely a place to do work—it can also be the place to be observed doing work. This is why a significant number of companies whose workforce has recently gone remote have enlisted the help of surveillance software, also known as “tattleware” or “bossware,” to know what their employees are doing.

There’s an old saw in business: what gets measured gets managed. That has been elevated to gospel when it comes to raw materials, waste, energy use, emissions, and so forth. Viewed this way, surveillance tech may not be an altogether bad idea. There is value in measuring what your employees are doing and how productive they are. What makes surveillance challenging is connecting it to management, or even control.

In January 2021, reports emerged that one in five companies were using surveillance software to remotely monitor their employees—in some cases without the employees’ knowledge or consent.

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