There are hundreds (if not thousands) of new technologies available to employers, all promising to solve problems and make life easier. We’ve written about the risks of the technology itself, but it’s worth noting that poor implementation can create risks too.
Take, for example, the employee monitoring devices recently installed and quickly removed from reporters’ desks at the U.K’s Daily Telegraph. The newspaper installed OccupEye black boxes on the underside of reporter desks. Using heat and movement, the boxes are capable of monitoring and tracking when reporters used their desks.
Turns out that the affected employees were not happy. Some claimed the devices were a violation of privacy or a “big brother” style of management. One employee complained that even going to the bathroom felt “rebellious.” The union got involved, and within a day of the BuzzFeed UK story, the devices were removed. Despite the speed with which it occurred, the removal did not stop Fortune, The Huffington Post, The Guardian, and many other news outlets from covering the story.
While the Daily Telegraph has not spoken publicly about why the devices were installed, OccupEye promises to help companies improve “workspace utilisation” and, among other things, determine whether real estate costs can be lowered through the use of communal “hot desks” in smaller spaces.
The negative employee reaction the Daily Telegraph received may have resulted less from the intended use of the devices and more from their covert installation and the lack of communication with employees about their presence and purpose. According to BuzzFeed’s report, employees had no clue about the devices or their intended use, and had to google OccupEye to find out what they were.
So what might have made this story different? What could management have done?
- Provide information in advance. Change is scary, and knowledge is king. Organizations should explain new technology and devices before they are put in place. Employees should be told the purpose of any new technology or device, as well as how it will (and won’t) be used. Offering in-person or web-based demonstrations and question-and-answer sessions can calm fears and quell rumors.
- Prepare managers and supervisors. It’s particularly important to educate your managers and supervisors about new technology. They will be the ones dealing most directly with employee questions, concerns, and reactions. Make certain that they are prepared to support the change in their dealings with their subordinates, even if they express concern or skepticism in private.
- Prepare for negative reactions and resistance. No matter how helpful a new technology or device might be, and no matter how benign its purpose, it’s likely that some employees won’t like it. When FastCompany decided to test-drive conversation-reporting employee badges created by Humanyze for two weeks, for example, some employees chose not to participate, calling the device “oppressive.” Fast Company’s experiment allowed employees to opt out, but in some cases employee participation was mandatory. It’s important for organizations to decide in advance how to handle employees’ resistance or requests for exemption.
Remember when email was new, back in the early 1990s? Some employees (and some managers) considered email unnecessary, intrusive, and vulnerable to abuse. Many refused to learn how to use it – at least for a while. We all have email now, and have become familiar with both its risks and its benefits. Today, there is some debate about whether we should even continue to use this 25-plus year old technology. Email may someday be obsolete. We are constantly being introduced to the next new thing that will change the way we work. Just like email, all the next new things have risks and benefits, and all require thoughtful analysis and thoughtful implementation.
Posted by Kate Bischoff