Big data means your boss is always watching

tools are pushing workers to do more

A new generation of tools is helping office workers be tracked, managed, and motivated like never before, but the trend's long-term implications are less than clear, David Streitfeld reports for the New York Times.

The push to quantify the productivity and value of white-collar workers is happening as "globalization and technological progress" are threatening some jobs, says Andrew McAfee, associate director of the Center for Digital Business at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management.

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The pressure to perform is already extreme. According to a Gallup survey last year, nearly a third of workers say they expected to check email and "stay in touch" outside of working hours. Another Gallup survey from last year found half of salaried workers put in 50 hours or more a week.

Tools of the trade

New tools from companies like BetterWorks hope to increase productivity further. The company sells an office social network where colleagues can "cheer" and nudge" each other toward their publicly posted goals. Patrick Gormley, COO of Capco, a financial services company that uses the software, says it is a valuable tool for keeping employees engaged in their work.

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Other software is more controversial. Amazon has implemented a tool that lets workers send feedback to colleagues' managers in real time, instead of only during annual performance reviews. Some Amazon workers told the New York Times the tool promoted office intrigue and sabotage.

Myrna Arias, a former sales agent at Intermex, a Florida-based money-transfer company, says she was fired after she deleted an app that tracked her every move on the road. She is now suing the company for wrongful termination and invasion of privacy.

Striking a balance

But Amy Wilson, VP of human capital management products at Workday, says critics should have more faith in the ability of workers to adapt to new technology. For instance, Workday has a tool called Collaborative Anytime Feedback that allows workers to submit praise and criticism to management—where everyone can see. "People wouldn't put something negative in a public forum, because it would reflect poorly on them," she says.

Workday also sells software that tracks workers activities in real-time on their computers.

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Others argue collecting better data is just common sense for business. Joel Slatis, the founder of Timesheets.com, which makes time-tracking software, explains it this way: "If you fill out a paper timecard and write down 8 a.m. when you come in at 8:02, no one is going to bat an eye. But if you do that when you leave too, that means you're getting 5 minutes more a day. After a year, that's a few days more vacation."

And some workers, it would seem, get the message. Jamie Clause, who works remotely for an insurance company, uses Timesheet.com to clock in and out. "It shouldn't be an option to just show up at 9:15," she says, comparing current norms to the "crazy" and freewheeling workplace depicted on the television show "Mad Men," set in the 1960s.

"It was a totally different world, back then," she says (Streitfeld, New York Times, 8/17).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.


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