Big Brother is Watching You: Data analytics Companies Set Sights on Workplace Monitoring

For those who think complete surveillance by Big Brother only exists in George Orwell's 1984... Think again!

In San Francisco's tech hub, a growing number of data analytics companies are busy monitoring how millions of employees work each day. New technologies make it possible for them to know in real-time why a worker was hired, how productive he or she is, and even track where the person has been hired next.

Evolv is a pioneer in this Quantified Workplace movement. Evolv collects over half a billion "employee data points" from across 13 countries, seeking to piece together behavior patterns across companies and industries. These data points are no longer limited to "digital footprints." They can be as detailed as how often employees interact with their supervisors or how long it takes workers to get to the office. Companies who have purchased Evolv's services use the feedback to improve their hiring processes, as well as more accurately evaluate an employee's performance and conduct.

Max Simkoff, Evolv's co-founder and chief executive, claims that tracking these data can improve productivity by at least five percent in two-thirds of companies. Indeed, Evolv does yield significant results. An employment agency that incorporated Evolv's insights into its hiring policy says it has seen a seven percent improvement in employee efficiency across the board. Another client that runs customer call centers used Evolv's service to identify the characteristics of its most successful call operators and has targeted people that possess those qualities in its hiring process. As a result, the company has been able to cut down job interviews to 12 minutes from an hour and reduce average call time by a minute.

Personally speaking, I am not fully convinced that the growing use of technology to monitor workers for the purpose of increasing productivity is a justifiable approach. In spite of the productivity gains from the growing use of such technology, what value should be placed on the privacy of workers? Increased profits and enhanced productivity sound great until workers become aware that their privacy is being violated. Lew Maltby, president of the US National Workrights Institute, says that most employees are not aware of the extent to which they are being monitored or even cognizant that they are being monitored at all. Even worse, according to Maltby, "no employee has ever won an invasion of privacy case based on an employer monitoring their computer."

Perhaps, the most important driver of productivity is trust and the most sustainable ways of improving performance are those that take the wellbeing of employees into consideration. It is in both parties' best interest for the employers to be transparent and upfront with the employees. Employees should be treated as human beings first, and a company's human assets second.

     - Haley Jiayu Zhou