Why employee surveillance needs to be on the internal comms agenda

Research released this week by Skillcast has found that 1 in 5 employers are already using, or plan to introduce, software to monitor employees who are working from home. Microsoft’s productivity on, productivity score feature has been criticised as workplace surveillance. But, what does this mean for internal comms?

Russian politician Lenin allegedly once said ‘Trust is good, control is better’. The assumed interpretation of this is that one should only rely on what has been verified.

Pose this statement to an internal communicator, and you can imagine the response!

The most controversial and hotly-discussed session at the simplysummit 2020 was the debate I facilitated on tech ethics between Fiona McEvoy, tech ethics and AI research, blogger and speaker and Tyler Sellhorn, customer success director at Hubstaff.

At a separate simplycommunity event we held earlier this year, Fiona said “Technology, and in particular AI, is changing the human experience. Much of it – most of it, even – is for good, but it is worth spending a little time dwelling on why it is important to acknowledge the risks too.”

While we more often than not focus on the benefits technology, automation and AI can bring to a business, how many of us have thought about the implications on the use of employee data and what’s done with it?

A 2020 study by Top 10 VPN has found the deployment of employee surveillance technologies is up 51% since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, a survey released by Skillcast has found that 1 in 5 employers are already using, or plan to introduce, software to monitor employees who are working from home.

In the summer Barclays came under fire over evidence of employee tracking devices found to be installed in people’s hardware. On a personal note, I’ve heard of two first-hand examples of where people have been applying for a role but have been notified that successful candidates will agree to have monitoring software installed on their computers, or, remote working is possible providing you are logged into a Zoom call all day. In addition, Microsoft’s productivity score feature has been criticised as workplace surveillance.

As communicators, we are trained in ways to drive and encourage employee engagement and trust, build relationships with senior leaders to enhance the dialogue between the business and its people. So, when you start to talk about employee surveillance, it jars with all that we know.

However, is it really an abstract concept as we think it to be? No. And it’s a debate we need to be having, especially as we transition towards new, hybrid forms of working.

In this article, we explore how the use of such technologies impacts internal communicators and key considerations to keep in mind if you are having to find yourself communicating these messages.


Lisa Pantelli, head of content & community

Lisa is simply’s head of content and community. She is an award-winning employee engagement and internal communications specialist.

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