It should be no surprise to readers this week, when they see my latest LinkedIn poll’s results (and huge numbers), that most people don’t want to be monitored via web cameras at home.
4,417 people voted about whether employers should request webcams be left on for the entire workday.
6% of you thought it was okay.
41% didn’t like it.
53% would quit their job.
Hundreds of you commented, and some even asked if the poll was real. Surely no manager would ask that? Some people brushed it off as “another recruiter making stuff up”. Why was this even a discussion?
Because it is real, and it’s happening in workplaces here in Australia.
Melbourne is currently locked down, and even when we’re released, many of us will still work remotely, from our bedrooms and living rooms. And even if we have a dedicated office, the fact remains: it’s still in our home, and our home is private. No one wants their coworkers to have visual access to their private life.
As one respondent commented, “Would you be comfortable having someone sit in front of your desk…with the sole purpose of staring at you and watching…every move you make all day long?” Personally, I wouldn’t, and it would cause extreme anxiety. Where is this data going? Is this being stored? Why don’t you trust me?
In a time when the division between time off and logging on is blurring, it’s important that we draw clear boundaries between what’s “work” and what’s “personal” (regardless of where we’re physically based).
This LinkedIn poll wasn’t just an exercise to get a reaction. Talent who I work with are facing this scenario: allow their employer webcam access during work hours or accept possible unemployment. A quick Google will crop up with plenty of similar stories.
“My manager knows every single damn thing I do. I barely get to stand up and stretch… I feel like I have to constantly be in front of the computer and work because if not, either the TeamViewer logs me out for being idle, or my manager randomly sends a check-in email that I must reply to promptly.”
How did we get here?
Employee tracking is NOT a new concept, even though it has taken on a particular dystopian flavour in a time of COVID when we can’t leave our houses; now, companies want to monitor us there.
The tech already existed, before the pandemic. Companies have been monitoring employees for years on work laptops and private networks. But there’s a spectrum. Some employers screen emails. Some monitor websites that are visited or time spent on applications. Some record keystrokes. And plenty of employees are fine with some measures when there’s transparency and a motivation that goes beyond knowing, at any second, whether an employee is staring at their screen.
As the CEO of ActivTrak says, “Insight versus oversight is an important mantra…data should be insightful…” Employee data can locate problems with workflows.
But using web cameras to do this? It’s a recipe for a loss of trust, morale and the majority of your staff quitting for greener, and less-monitored, pastures.
What should employers be doing instead?
As plenty of your comments pointed out, an employer’s time is better spent supporting employees than monitoring/spying on them. And that includes understanding that no one actually sits at their desk 100% of the day.
People get up to stretch. To make coffee. To walk around the block. So yes, employees will be paid to do more than just work. However, what’s important? That every second is spent in front of the screen, or that their work is completed, KPIs are met and that they contribute positively to the work culture?
As one respondent commented, “This is just a huge issue of mistrust and shows that as a manager / boss you have zero trust in your team…Let them do what they need to be productive and feel comfortable in their own space. Learn what works for different people, and place value on the work done rather than monitoring time and hours “
If productivity has dipped, don’t assume it’s because your team’s just scrolling Facebook. The question shouldn’t be who is working, but what? Communication styles? Workflow? A good manager helps their team overcome hurdles instead of checking whether Cathy is really at her desk.
What if this happens to you?
Unfortunately, it is legal. And unfortunately, you may be fighting an up-hill-battle if an employer makes this request. There’s a breach between their concern for workers and their policies, and things may not improve. “Previous international crises have shown that once heightened surveillance measures are introduced they are often never reversed.”
If this happens to you, the best thing to do may be to quit. Our job board’s flooded with amazing opportunities: don’t assume that you need to stay put in a chair that’s monitored, just because you’re scared to take the leap. I’m busier than ever, searching for talent to fill roles. You don’t have to stay at a company if you don’t want to.
But if you are going to stay, and your employer isn’t going to budge, request transparency.
Why is this being done? How are videos being used? What are this policy’s ethical guidelines? Where is the data going and how is it protected? As one respondent commented, this is particularly worrying for women. Does this leave them vulnerable if GPS and video data is leaked or abused?
Ask for a seat at the table when companies make these decisions. If they want to watch yours all day, ask that you get a seat at theirs: for a say in how data is used, when and why. If the intent is to ensure productivity, there’s no reason employees shouldn’t be allowed to participate.