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Bosses spying on you? Here’s the most disastrous truth about surveillance software

Businessman being watched by large security cameras.

Andrzej Wojcicki/Getty Images

It’s easy to feel disturbed these days, even if you’re still working from home.

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The notifications are constant. The pings ring in your ears, leaving a nasty echo.

And then there’s the spying.

When the pandemic struck, companies worried that they couldn’t observe their employees in the way they used to. They couldn’t loom over them, see how long they took for lunch — or a bathroom break.

It’s frustrating being a boss and not having total control. You’re supposed to have it, right? You’re the boss.

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Sprightly tech companies came along to offer what these bosses truly needed — spying software that could remotely track their employees’ every single keystroke and body movement.

Why, one tech company insisted it could offer bosses a productivity number for every employee.

Joyously, now that many are (reluctantly) returning to the office, those same bosses are often extending the surveillance software there

Because it makes bosses feel warm all over. And of course, because it’s a wonderfully cost-effective way to force employees into ever-higher levels of productivity.

Or is it?

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I was moved to several levels of total stasis, you see, on reading an exposé about surveillance software in the Wall Street Journal.

It described the varying levels of privacy offered by varying types of software. It explained that Microsoft is one of the companies that doesn’t believe simple activity translates into material productivity.

But then it offered the view of two professors — Valerio De Stefano of Canada’s York University and Antonio Aloisi of the IE University in Madrid.

They’ve written a book called “Your Boss Is An Algorithm.” So, many people must feel this is now true.

Their most pungent conclusion, though, about surveillance software is surely the most painful for those who succumb to it every day because they feel they have no choice.

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As Aloisi told the WSJ: “There is definitely no study pointing out that this increases productivity in any meaningful way.”

I already hear you mutter that science, like the law, is always too slow for technology’s speedy innovations. I hear others of you snort that this may be, but wouldn’t it be nice to have objective, peer-reviewed proof that surveillance technology makes humans more productive?

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There is, it seems, some scientific evidence that the reverse may be true.

But, think of the basic human psychology. Are you ever at your best when you know you’re being spied on? Do you offer the best version of yourself when you’re aware that every single movement you make is being recorded? It’s not easy to dance as if no one’s watching.

Or could it be that you’re at your most productive when you work for people who trust your talent and judgment?

There’s another aspect, too. What does it say about managers’ ability to manage if they have to constantly surveil those they manage? Might this suggest a lack of confidence in their management skills? Or even a simple lack of their management skills?

I wonder who’ll invent surveillance software that only works for a certain time and then declares, “Yup, this employee can totally be trusted to get on with it by themselves. Switching off the surveillance now.”

Wouldn’t that at least have a chance of being productive?

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