Earlier this month, Frasers Group, owner of Sports Direct, revealed that it had banned employees from working from home on Friday.
According to a memo seen by The Sun, his move was attributed to “many instances of people or teams not being able to contact”.
Chief operating officer David Al-Mudlal said the group had become aware of employees “demonstrating through their social media profiles that they are not treating Friday as a working day”.
Frasers Group’s statement may send a spine down for many who have become accustomed to logging in from home for more than two years, especially as the motivation behind the policy’s termination is reportedly social media. Came from snooping.
Checking mouse movements of most common people
Companies are now investing in more focused technologies to keep a digital eye on workers.
“Some software includes things like randomly turning on the camera on the device to take a picture or video,” explains Darragh O’Brien, chief executive of data consultancy Castlebridge.
Other monitoring techniques, including taking screenshots every so often to make sure employees are focused on the task at hand, or turning on the microphone at random intervals.
“The most common is checking people’s mouse movements or keyboard activity to make sure they are working,” Mr. O’Brien said.
The pandemic created a heightened awareness among employees that activity was being monitored as the initial two-week stretch of work from home progressed into a series of tough lockdowns.
Dr Laura Bambrick, Head of Social Policy and Employment Affairs at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, explains, “Managers in general didn’t know how to manage the workforce remotely, they had some way of measuring your work. was not.”
“The way you get it is trust, it’s important for remote-working arrangements.”
According to Linda Hines, partner at law firm Louise Silkin, surveillance also comes from companies that wonder whether it is possible to track employees who have opted to work from overseas shores during the lockdown.
Ms Hines points to the various frameworks that employers should respect – the European Convention on Human Rights, which gives the right to privacy, as well as the Data Protection Act, GDPR.
“It’s a pretty balancing act of how far an employer can go to protect their legitimate business interests, versus how intrusive they can be in terms of surveillance,” Hines says.
The more aggressive it becomes, the more difficult it becomes to justify it in terms of data security, she explains.
If an employer is planning covert surveillance, they must fill out a Data Security Impact Assessment, which outlines potential risks to the personal data of employees or even third parties.
It also depends on the context whether it is to monitor productivity or for more serious matters, such as the release of criminally active or confidential business information.
If, as in the Fraser Group, social media accounts are also being viewed, it should be included in the company’s privacy and social media policies, Ms. Hines says.
Employees should also be clearly told what is happening behind the scenes. “It should be time limited and it should be written very clearly to you,” says Ms. Bambrick.
However, according to Mr O’Brien, there have been cases where software runs silently in the background without employees knowing, which is “clearly illegal”.
As well as the potential legal pitfalls, remote monitoring may not even deal with the issue it should have fixed. Tracking activity may not be the same as tracking productivity.
While the tools are often impractical, Mr. O’Brien says, recorded data often does not reflect progress for jobs that require creativity or research, adding that people tend to move the mouse on their behalf. You can also “game the system” by buying a gadget.
There is also a more serious risk of data security breaches. Screenshotting software may capture confidential documents opened on the desktop or personal information from third parties. If other residents are photographed in a person’s home, it may also violate the right to privacy in the home.
“The fact that you are taking a screenshot and storing it somewhere that is not necessarily secure is a concern as a company regarding your ability to comply with the privacy requirements of your customers and data protection law obligations. creates anxiety in large quantities,” said Mr. O’Brien explains.
Ms Bambrick points to another discussion of how companies relying on artificial intelligence tools are growing. AI is now used at almost every stage of the employment journey – from initial application to monitoring and even redundancy decisions.
The trade unions are demanding policy reforms for the safety of the employees.
According to Ms Bambrick, government legislation needs to be updated to prescribe policies related to hybrid working and employee monitoring.
“The European Union is watching [this issue] So it is only a matter of time before we get an EU directive on this. The Irish government needs to go ahead and review the existing employment law,” she says.
“They were written for the time we were working in the employer’s workplace. Are they fit for the purpose now that we are working from our homes?”
Meanwhile, managers can measure activity by traditional methods. Mr. O’Brien says his staff is measured by how long it takes to get a job done and if it’s done on time.
He believes that companies should spend money on training managers on how to work with hybrid teams rather than investing in software.
“In the office, would an employer consider it appropriate to stand behind an employee with a stopwatch and a Polaroid camera?” he asks.
However, beyond new technologies, employees should be wary of the most powerful monitoring tool of them all, the eye-witnesses of others and the resulting gossip.
“In my experience, the issues of what happens on social media can actually come to the attention of the employer through other employees,” concluded Ms Hines.