A survey of 1,250 US employers by Digital.com in 2021 found six in 10 companies were using monitoring software for remote workers and 88% had let go of workers after implementing surveillance software. And while the majority of workers knew they were being monitored, more than one in 10 (14%) were not informed of its use.
And it’s not just the US. A survey by UK union Prospect last year suggested around 10% of remote workers are now subject to camera monitoring in their own homes.
“That software may be looking at the emails you check. It might be looking at the website addresses you look at, maybe going through your files, but increasingly we're seeing a really invasive form of surveillance software,” Prospect’s research director Andrew Pakes told The People Space.
“That invasive level of technology is matched up by lots of different evidence that's come about during the pandemic around work intensification. And that's getting really repressive in terms of our privacy rights, particularly if employers are now filming us work in our own homes, but also in terms of our mental health and wellbeing. That pressure of not being able to switch off isn't good for individuals, but it's not good for productivity either.”
It's this balance between deploying technology that is both good for the business and good for workers that forms the basis of a new guide from the UK’s professional body for HR and people development, CIPD. The Responsible Investment in Technology guide, developed with input from HR directors, academics and policy advisors and in collaboration with Carnegie UK and Institute for the Future of Work, outlines how technology, if designed and deployed responsibly, can optimise business outcomes while supporting workforce engagement, enhancing job quality and providing ‘good work’.
“Being responsible means having ethical and sustainable practices that consider and involve the workforce and other stakeholders during business decision-making,” it says.
“As organisations work through the process of investing in and implementing technology, they should remember that success will depend more on supporting people through the change than on the technology itself. This means that technology introduction must be aligned with and complemented by relevant changes to the other key elements that make up an organisation – its people, culture, structure and tasks. This will maximise benefits and minimise risks across the organisation.”
The CIPD suggests a five-point framework to guide HR and people leaders in decision-making around technology investment:
1: Understand why you are investing in technology
Whether the investment is large or small, articulate what investment is seen to be necessary and why. Revisit your organisational objectives and priorities, and assess how the investment would further those aims. It is especially important to get the right people involved in defining the problem and take an inclusive approach.
2: Consider the impact on your people
Investigate and weigh up the impact of the technology change on your people. Remember they are normally involved with or exposed to more than one type of technology, so ensure you consider the overall impact of different technologies in your assessment. Technology can impact jobs in different ways: intensification, augmentation, substitution, creation, telepresence, transference. Work through the applicable categories and consider what is needed to capture the benefits and address potential risks. Active consultation and engagement with workers is vital.
3: Choose the right solution
Choosing the right solution doesn’t always mean buying new technology. It could mean using existing technology in a different way, upgrading existing technology or developing something in-house. It could also mean investing in people’s skills, shaping a new culture, updating the structure or redesigning how work is done.
Ensure you are fully aware of what the technology can or can’t do. Reconvene the stakeholders who helped define the problem and solicit their views on the possible solutions or proposals.
4: Address legal obligations and responsibilities
Responsible investment in technology should not compromise employment rights in any way. It is important to take stock of the underpinning principles to ensure they are not undermined by hasty decision-making. Organisations should be particularly alert if technology they intend to adopt has been developed outside their jurisdiction, where there are different legal standards. If it becomes clear that technology implementation will lead to jobs being replaced, look at opportunities to retrain and redeploy workers within the organisation before considering redundancies.
Stage 5: Roll out, support and review
Preparation and anticipation of potential sticking points will be essential. Technology implementation often involves a level of uncertainty and a ‘fail fast’ mindset that not everyone may be comfortable with. Build in sufficient time for embedding new processes, remembering that the time needed will likely be longer than you expect. Identify who or what may be potential blockers that will hinder your rollout and the enablers that will assist it.
As the Institute for the Future of Work says, failure to ensure ‘good work’ principles are embedded into the process of adopting technology has negative consequences for worker wellbeing. It also negatively impacts business, as poor quality work is linked to low productivity. Focusing on ‘good work’ through technology adoption ensures better lives for individuals, better and more sustainable outcomes for firms and improved wider social outcomes.
Further details of each stage plus case study example can be found in the guide Responsible Investment in Technology Mohdzaini, H., Harrington, S., Tong, D. and Willmott, B. (2022) Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Download it here