The conversation that the BBC is helping to precipitate—at the intersection of data transparency and privacy, is a hugely important conversation, and its thornier bits were amplified recently by scandals at Uber, NBC, Cambridge Analytica and others. We are grateful to BBC Daily and Ed Butler for including us in this important discussion.
Monitoring is Happening; And That’s Nothing New.
Let’s take a minute and think about this. Employees have been watched at work for years. Not only is some level of monitoring ‘normal’, most of us would feel very unsafe/insecure working for a company that did no monitoring.
For example, nearly all company email accounts are monitored for sensitive content and shared files. Furthermore, most corporate buildings leverage badge technology that require employees to swipe in and out of buildings, as well as video surveillance, etc. Generally, in moderation, employees accept some degree of surveillance—particularly when they connect the dots to their own safety and the security of their employment.
As our CEO, Jeff, explains on the podcast: this technology is not used because companies are suspicious that all employees are doing wrong; rather this technology is used to safeguard and protect employees, customers, and managers in the instance that an individual may have malicious intent.
I wrote a piece called The Case for Optimism in Employee Monitoring this past November about this very topic. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
“Let me start by letting everyone know (sardonic spoiler alert!) that this horse has been out of the barn for a very, very long time, but it's a very serious topic that we MUST continue to discuss. For various reasons, at least since the industrial revolution (and long before), employers have monitored employees. We've always hated it... or at least mildly resented not being 'trusted' by our employer.
What we don't always do as good a job of is connecting the dots between employee monitoring when we are freaked out by it and employee monitoring when it has protected us or someone we care about, or saved the company from a damaging incident.
So, now we have better technology available and we have an opportunity to take this whole question of know what is going on inside a large enterprise to the next level. Let's all agree that it's time to move beyond checking for bad words and assuming bad intent—we need to understand context and patterns not just facts.”
Companies Must Leverage Insights from Collaboration to Succeed.
It’s true. Employee monitoring enables the collection of data from which advanced practices
such as artificial intelligence and machine learning can glean actionable insights.
This will increasingly be a critical part of staying competitive (embedded in what Porter calls operational effectiveness, for you strategy hounds out there).
Structure and Discipline Enable Freedom
Collaboration is the Oil in the Enterprise Machine
As Technology Evolves, Transparency is Critical.
“But to many, this technology has sinister potential.” - Ed Butler, Host, BBC Business Daily
"Generally employees are asking for this technology, that's the reaction that we're seeing. If you think about email, email has been around for dozens of years now and monitoring for email has been in place forever. And our technology.... is able to do that sort of stuff for these modern communications." - Jeff Schumann, CEO, Wiretap
At one organization, an individual revealed his or her sexual orientation and was subsequently harassed via private messages from colleagues.
In this scenario, if the harassment continued over time and went unaddressed, the victim may have felt unsafe and unwelcome in the workplace, leading to disengagement and potentially toxic behavior. However, if an organization quickly identifies the harassment through workplace monitoring, leaders can intervene appropriately—preserving a healthy and supporting workplace culture.