What is TOTAL TRANSPARENCY?

How does it relate to biometric employee monitoring?

Squillions of dollars are being invested in creating technologies that enable employers to monitor employees across the world. Have no doubt employee monitoring is not just the domain of China.

What inspired me to investigate employee surveillance technology was listening to a panel of experts talking about the flexible workforce of the future.

In essence what was highlighted by one expert was:

“Employees will at some stage betray trust when working flexible work hours”.
“You don’t have to rely on trust when you have data”.
“The best way to ensure their productivity is to monitor employees and there are many
emerging technologies that enable companies to do this”.
He said it was about creating
TOTAL TRANSPARECY.

Total transparency reminded me of George Orwell’s terminology double speak in his book 1984. A language that deliberately obscures, disguises or distorts the meanings of words.
In essence Total Transparency actually means employees activities are going to be monitored all the time to ensure individuals, and teams, maintain maximum productivity. What is opaque are the consequences of not maintaining productivity expectations and the impact on employees who know they are being constantly monitored.

Monitoring of employees is not new. In fact, direct monitoring like keystrokes per hour or what time you log on and send emails is predominately normalised. What is new is the rapid expansion of biometric monitoring.

The biometric data collecting ID badge is a simple way to explain how biometric employee monitoring works. One style looks like an ID badge except a little thicker. The new ID badge does not simply allow access to the building or your computer, though many organisations now use peoples body parts for this; it is much more sophisticated.

The credit card like badge has a microphone and sensors to monitor where you are every moment, who you are speaking to and in what tone either at the office or working from home.

This technology integrates with other data sources like emails, calendars, computer cameras and heat sensing devices in your office chair to make decisions on how best to manage your productivity.

There are over 10,000 biometric ID badges already in use and they are being advocated by some fortune 500 companies. This technology is not constrained to badges it includes experimental initiatives that include implanting computer chips into employees.

We are hurtling towards TOTAL TRANSPARENCY with little broad social debate, on employee rights, the impact on social structures, mental health or inequality.

Like so many run away technologies, there is limited thought about the unintended consequences of such technologies on employees or our society. Historically we are only considering the affects once the horse has bolted.

I believe we can be smarter than this going forward. We can learn from the past, maximising the value of technology for society by actively considering unintended consequences in advance. Similar to scenario planning. Can you imagine the impact on the American elections if the political manipulation of Facebook could have been circumvented?

Forewarned is forearmed. We have the ability to heed the warnings of George Orwell’s 1984 and be proactive in preventing the unleashing of a big brother environment. Only fools would dismiss this as a possible scenario.

To do this however governments, educational institutions and organisations either individually or collectively need to be proactive in creating guidelines for what is and is not acceptable, both emotionally and physically for employees when introducing new technologies. There is research available that just needs to be taped into like HBR the transparency trap.

We have a small window of opportunity to create such guidelines when considering biometric monitoring technology in the workplace. Let’s not lose this opportunity by being fooled by the use of double speak like that of TOTAL TRANSPARENCY.

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