Still. But also in an entirely new, sneaky way that the guys and gals in the marketing department have dressed up as another tool to make workforces more ‘efficient’.
White collar surveillance
Microsoft 365 has been around since 2019 but this is perhaps the biggest and most vocal set of concerns to be raised (so far at least).
Wolfie Christl, an Austrian researcher, fired the first warning on 24th November via Twitter, highlighting how Microsoft’s ‘Productivity Score’ was essentially in danger of being a tool for spying on workers.
Esoteric metrics based on analyzing extensive data about employee activities has been mostly the domain of fringe software vendors. Now it's built into MS 365.— Wolfie Christl (@WolfieChristl) November 24, 2020
A new feature to calculate 'productivity scores' turns Microsoft 365 into an full-fledged workplace surveillance tool: pic.twitter.com/FC3N6KkIR3
Microsoft’s line of thought on this is that it will help organisations be more efficient, find bottlenecks in productivity and aid better collaboration; one presumes the workers who send less emails than others will be the first on performance review.
Of course “We are committed to privacy as a fundamental element of productivity score,” explains Jared Spataro, the current Vice President for Microsoft 365 except, with anything that’s ‘opt in’ it usually means that it’ll very quickly end up being ‘opt out’ by default and who is going to be the first employee to say “erm, actually no”?
It’s another part of the dark side of the technology coin, where as well as helping make our lives easier a more potentially sinister set of motives can occur. Using a tool to see where bottlenecks in systems are occurring is a good idea in principle but then so is listening to staff; “struggling with your work?”. “yep, VPN is slow”.
The illusion of commitment
Covid -19 has already given managers across the world panic attacks as they can no longer directly observe their staff. What better way to solve this problem then than benchmarking how many emails you’ve sent or how many ‘collaborations’ you’ve done p/hour. The more obvious solution would be to set projects to do that will positively impact said business or organisation, say over a period of time and then measure things that way. Almost as if you’re trusting your staff to get on with their role, rather than treating them like monkeys banging on type writers.
But of course that’s not what this is about. The whole art of management (in some places) is the ability to look busy without actually doing any work and then pull up any member of staff junior to you who is trying the same. I worked at a well know global agency where I would often see the same people staying later and get praised from above and be sited as examples as to how the culture and ethic should be. Except they weren’t actually doing any work, just checking Facebook; the illusion of commitment.