Do you ever feel like somebody's watching you? In the workplace, most especially, do you sometimes sense that your every move is being tracked, every word you utter is being scrutinized, every keyboard click being logged? Well, welcome to the club, you are not alone.
About a year ago, Telegraph journalists spotted small black boxes under their desks. These boxes had "OccupEye" labels on them and the news firm claimed that they were there to reduce energy costs by automatically adjusting air-conditioning for unoccupied desks.
Despite the claim, Telegraph employees were worried that the boxes did more than advertised. Subsequently, the National Union of Journalists complained that they might be surveillance tools and the devices were removed.
While the Telegraph's OccupEye boxes may or may not have been monitoring tools, more discrete and fully-featured monitoring sensors are already being utilized in offices around the world.
One company called Enlighted supplies monitoring sensors to more than 350 companies, including 15 percent of the Fortune 500. The sensors are hidden in the most inconspicuous areas around the office: in the lights, in ID badges and under desks. They can track all sorts of data including conference room usage, employee whereabouts, and even how long an employee goes on without speaking to co-workers.
“Most people, when they walk into buildings, don’t even notice them," Joe Costello, the Enlighted's CEO told Bloomberg.
Supporters of office monitoring sensors say that the devices exist not for any specific big brother style surveillance but more for efficiency and maximizing space.
In fact, Gensler, an architecture firm, utilizes around 1,000 Enlighted sensors in its New York offices. The dime-sized sensors are embedded in light fixtures and a master system adjusts lighting levels by detecting daylight, energy usage and motion. By learning employee patterns, the company said that it has seen a 25 percent reduction in energy costs.
If you're wondering about the legality of these monitoring devices, Bloomberg reports that U.S companies are well within their rights to use them to track employees in the workplace - with the exception of bathrooms.
“Employers can do any kind of monitoring they want in the workplace that doesn’t involve the bathroom,” Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, told Bloomberg.
And a majority of U.S. employees don't seem to mind these monitoring sensors as long as the data is anonymized and it makes their work life easier. In fact, the Pew Research Center found that a majority of U.S. workers they surveyed last year said that can tolerate surveillance and the collection of data as long as it promotes safety.
But of course, these tracking systems may still feel invasive, especially if they go beyond mere movement tracking. In a volunteer program, the Boston Consulting Group outfitted around 100 employees with badges equipped with a microphone and a location sensor.
These badges, made by a company called Humanyze, track physical and verbal interaction among employees in order to see how an office design affects communication. Critics of the system called it "Orwellian and despotic" and a managing partner of the firm admitted that "it is a little bit invasive."
Looking ahead, Enlighted will soon launch a badge that lets employers track individuals via an app. Enlighted's Costello told Bloomberg that this system is more efficient in finding a co-worker compared to emails or office messaging services like Slack and there are already prospective clients showing interest.
What do you think about these office monitoring sensors? Are they an invasion of privacy or necessary workplace tools? Drop us a comment!