Home EuropeEurope II 2015 Privacy in the digital workplace

Privacy in the digital workplace

by Administrator
Tristan RogersIssue:Europe II 2015
Article no.:1
Topic:Privacy in the digital workplace
Author:Tristan Rogers
PDF size:453KB

About author

Tristan Rogers, is the CEO of Concrete, the global enterprise collaboration platform used in over 140 countries by brands including J Crew, Gap, Kate Spade, Tesco F&F, Marks & Spencer and Ted Baker.

Having studied on the first electronic media course in the UK, Tristan Rogers founded his first business, a web agency in the mid-1990s, that soon counted both The Royal Mail and drinks giant Diageo amongst its big-name clients. Following a number of high-profile achievements in this sector (and having successfully survived the dotcom crash), Tristan was approached in 2000 to set up a UK office for France’s then-largest independent web agency.

Tristan went on to start Concrete in 2004, to explore web based application development and Software as a Service, then a brand new commercial model for software sales. In 2005 he decided to invest additional funds in the company in order to transform Concrete into a rich intranet platform, equipped with applications that allowed its growing customer list to enjoy true collaborative working inside the enterprise.

Article abstract

From the research we have done, update meetings and email are seen as an inefficient means of staying up to date with other colleagues and team outputs. And it is also evident that the pursuit of “solving” this productivity drain is pretty high up many company’s agendas.

Full Article

In our line of work you see a lot about the ‘future of the digital workplace’. A utopia where man and machine work together in seamless harmony and everyone’s incredibly productive because they’ve got this whole world of information at their fingertips.

We are seeing elements of this connected reality in our personal lives; music and video on-demand, social networks on desktop and phone, or any meal or car delivered to your GPS verified coordinates. As a software CEO supplying Enterprise solutions, the issue of how we connect in the business realm interests me greatly. From Silicon Valley to tech press, new ways to connect people can get a lot of hype; but beyond the hype, the issue of value eventually becomes the yardstick; how is this software useful to my business and how do I measure that benefit? And with this question comes the thorny issue of privacy and transparency. As the business, what should management be able to see of their workers’ activity, and should that visibility be legislated? And if so, how?

This article looks at current thinking on where this ‘work utopia’ is heading, its benefits for businesses as a whole, and then speculates what that might mean for the privacy and relationships of individuals within organisations. First asking, “What is the future supposed to look like?”, then “why, as a free-thinking person, would I actually want to join in?”

1. Utopia – what is the future supposed to look like?

For the enterprise, there has long been a pursuit of better connecting individuals and teams together in better, faster, more intuitive ways. From Lotus Notes, through Exchange Server, Sharepoint, and newer collaborative environments such as Yammer, Jive Software or Slack, the connected workforce, manageable and measurable, remains the goal. However, this is only possible by getting everyone in the company working in a way that their activities can be seen by others. As it stands today, the easiest way to do that is online – where real-time communication and higher visibility of output can lead to a reduction in delay, consequently higher work output, and therefore greater workforce productivity across the board as employees replace constant update-chasing with a simple online search or follow.

But this “ideal” can only be achieved on the basis that two things are unilaterally achieved:
a. Everyone in the company will work online
b. Most, if not all, of that work will be openly visible to other colleagues

This is a massive behaviour change from the predominant desktop working culture we have today.

On-line behaviour is common in the consumer space – with over 1/7 of the world’s population, for example, now happy to share moments of their daily lives on Facebook (1.35bn users) – but should it be presumed that this level of sharing will comfortably transfer to the enterprise? For a start, it’s not as simple as putting Facebook inside your business. So we first need to consider, what use case are we looking to improve, and in so doing, are we going to get access to other “intelligence” on our workers that previously was untapped, such as location, length of time spent, and who they interacted with?

It’s important to note that such benefits depend on a consistently gathered, fresh, reliable flow of information from a critical mass of employees to make this data definitive and useful.

Transparency and agility
When everyone can see everyone else’s work, this can reduce the delay in information dissemination across the enterprise. Projects can be tracked real-time, handovers and turnarounds achieved faster, and crucial information for decisions flowed quicker. The result is an ‘agile’ organisation that can respond to threats and opportunities efficiently as a unit.

Ideas can come from anywhere
The connected enterprise can democratise ideation, giving a voice to people lower down or further distanced from the company’s power core. Whilst this can become chaotic, if managed well and built into the corporate culture and channelled in the right way, it can create richer ideas faster, and allow them to be tested (with feedback) with other members of the organisation.

In-depth analytics & measurement
A constantly connected workforce means you can track and measure actions vs performance, and use data analysis to find out where the gaps and weaknesses in your teams’ processes are. PWC, in its recent Future of Work report, has even speculated this could extend to bodily sensors, which help monitor employees’ happiness and productivity levels.

Flexible working times & locations
Being able to access work online also offers private benefits to the individual, such as being able to more realistically work from home – or even push for the controversial ‘Four-hour work week’. For the company, this can create a delicate balance between keeping staff happy and negotiating tricky practical situations. Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer’s contention that remote working undermines a collaborative culture is a good example of this.

Predictive management of employees
With the body sensors suggested above, combined with ‘big data’ analytics, companies could start to see and share patterns in employee behaviour and begin to predict problems even before they happen. This has great practical benefits for the management team, who can mitigate the impact of, say, a destructive or underperforming employee or team – but would not be seen in a great light by the employees themselves.

Such developments are philosophically and technically exciting. And in a world of data analysis and predictability, one could argue the workplace will become more tailored to employees’ personal needs and working styles. So why would this progress need to be legislated?

In the second half of the article, we’ll look at the risks and rewards of this new world.

2. Reality – why would I join it?

When Facebook launched, people asked “Why would I share my life online?” When Twitter launched, they asked “What on Earth could I say that’s useful in 140 characters?” Now, Twitter has 288m monthly active users and Facebook has 1.39bn. Social media has become part of our daily lives.

Transplant this into the workplace: the voluntary act of sharing your personal life and activities doesn’t copy and paste into our working lives. At work, we are part of a process and responsible for delivering value to the enterprise in the work we do. But we also know that a great deal of an employees’ time can be spent appraising and updating other colleagues in update meetings and email correspondence.

From the research we have done, update meetings and email are seen as an inefficient means of staying up to date with other colleagues and team outputs. And it is also evident that the pursuit of “solving” this productivity drain is pretty high up many company’s agendas. Companies have tried using social media approaches, like Yammer or Salesforce Chatter, encouraging employees to post their activity on the platform. But whilst this might deliver an alternative notification approach to email, unless adopted universally across the enterprise, it will not yield the enterprise wide fabric that could deliver the deeper insight into employee and enterprise performance.

For example, one might be able to gauge a team member’s feelings or general engagement with company activities by how much they post, but what can be deduced from that? Without directly equivalent benchmarks or evidence from other employees to compare, very little – and unless posting is part of a specific work process, it’s not a performance-related task that you’re judging them on.

To gather meaningful, definitive information on communication and engagement, everyone will need to be working on that platform all of the time.

Realistically, few people have time to do their work then also constantly post updates out to others – so your workforce data will quickly become patchy and incomplete. The solution is to change where the work is done in the first place, making that work output trackable, allowing for analysis and make ‘social’ the work itself.

So let’s imagine this work network exists. What are some of the likely questions that arise from it?

When am I being tracked?
– If all of this is online, it’s pretty safe to say “all the time”. Employers tracking and reading emails are already considered fair game in US courts, such as in the case “Smith vs Pillsbury”. It is implicitly understood that – so long as the employer controls the network – anything that happens within that network is for the perusal of the employer.

What if I don’t want to be tracked?
– Different cultural groups are likely to react to a privacy breach differently. We’re told that “One third of ‘millennials’ would trade online privacy for job security”, indicating a higher tolerance for traceable actions in younger employees; but for older ones, who have not grown up with online social behaviour, they could find this “Big Brother” approach intrusive. Do they get an opt-out? If so, how does the enterprise take this into account, if the individual’s performance data aren’t available to the same extent?

What happens with personal vs professional information?
– Given the prevalence of “Bring Your Own Device” policy discussions, the ‘consumerisation of IT’ (where personal apps and hardware can become office ones, and vice versa) and remote or flexible working, there is likely to be a mish-mash of personal and working data existing on any connected device.
– Who does this belong to? For instance, if I start a task list at 8am on a work day, of things to work on that day, as well as side-projects to work on for that evening, what if one of those side projects becomes a successful business? Does the company own that idea because it’s feasibly worked on via company resources? Even though the work appears outside office hours, if hours are flexible, how will that be decided?

How much do I actually share?
– If an idea comes out of a workplace conversation, a manager would conceivably want to capture how that came about. You’d want to measure: roughly, how often do these conversations yield new ideas? How valuable would it be to connect these people up more often?
– So a tension would arise between the employees and employer. In order to capture and analyse these soft, ‘serendipitous’ moments of productive conversation, at what point do you start opening up the conversations and how much do you leave open? Would the conversation unfold the same way if the employees know they are being tracked?

Such issues are interesting to consider in the hypothetical, but as technology rises to the challenge in the next few years – allowing the same Big Data analytical approach to apply to any person in an organisation, and perhaps even predicting their performance – these kinds of issues will become more and more real as questions of policy.

Clearly this is the tip of the iceberg, and the start of a much broader debate, which I believe is exciting and challenging in equal measure. If the cloud evolves to contain the whole ecosystem of work, which I believe it will, then the collaborative enterprise will finally be with us. But with it will come some serious considerations around personal privacy and intellectual property ownership.

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