A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

Mar 27, 2020

Employers Buying Surveillance Software To Track Employees Working From Home

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of trust in a global workforce operating under extreme duress.

The looming questions are whether employees notice or care - and whether employers later use this data to make decisions about wages or jobs. JL


Aaron Holmes reports in Business Insider:

Working from home can make managers have less direct supervision over workers. But an always-on video-conference tool changes that by automatically snapping webcam pictures of employees every few minutes. In order to keep productivity high while working remotely, some companies are turning to software (that) features a "wall of faces" for each office, which stays on throughout the workday and features constantly-updating photos of workers taken through their laptop camera every one to five minutes.
Working from home can make it feel like managers have less direct supervision over workers. But an always-on video-conference tool changes that by automatically snapping webcam pictures of employees every few minutes.
Companies across the world have been forced to abandon offices in favor of working from home in recent weeks to try to slow the spread of coronavirus, which has sickened more than 81,000 people in the US alone.
In order to keep productivity high while working remotely, some companies are turning to tools like Sneek. The software features a "wall of faces" for each office, which stays on throughout the workday and features constantly-updating photos of workers taken through their laptop camera every one to five minutes.
Sneek's user base has rapidly expanded in recent weeks as companies transition en masse to work-from home — signups have increased tenfold in in the past few weeks, cofounder Del Currie told Business Insider. It has over 10,000 users and boasts clients including Lego, Fred Perry, and GoFish digital.
The software's interface lets people set their webcam to automatically photograph them every one or five minutes, depending on how frequently they want their image to update (or how frequently their boss requires it).
If a coworker clicks on their face, Sneek's default settings will instantly connect the two workers in a live video call, even if the recipient hasn't clicked "accept." However, people can also configure their settings to only accept calls manually — and only take webcam photos manually — if their employer allows it.
Currie told Business Insider that, while some may be put off by the software's interface, it's meant to build a connected office dynamic.
"Sneek was never designed to spy on anyone, we'd be the worst spy company ever considering we named our app 'Sneek,'" Currie said. "We know lots of people will find it an invasion of privacy, we 100% get that, and it's not the solution for those folks, but there's also lots of teams out there who are good friends and want to stay connected when they're working together."
After Sneek's interface was reported by The Information's Priya Anand last week, some were turned off by the workplace surveillance tool. David Heinemeier Hansson, CTO and cofounder of the development firm Basecamp, tweeted that the idea "makes my skin crawl."
Currie acknowledged that the company "did indeed get some Twitter fame last week" after The Information story was published. Sneek was inspired in part by a book on remote work that Hansson co-authored, Currie said, but now the company has received messages from Hansson's followers "abusing our staff and calling us pieces of s—."
The purpose of Sneek isn't surveillance, Currie said, but office culture.
"We've worked from home for 10+ years and one of the biggest things that starts to creep in is that sense of isolation, it does really affect people's mental health," he said. "Just having that ability to look up and see your teammates there can make all the difference."

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