Productivity Surveillance

Do you use surveillance or “productivity monitoring” tools at work?

Whether you adopt WFH or hybrid or in-person, there’s a good chance that you are being monitored. Quite a few companies still use punch clocks. Perhaps digital and contactless today, the punch clock is the oldest surveillance tool that comes to my mind and I always recommend throwing it away.

Regardless of their nature or underlying technology, ALL surveillance tools undermine trust. And trust is the foundation of efficiency in any advanced production environment.

Perhaps, monitoring of the manual workers in Amazon fulfillment centers may increase efficiency albeit in an “inhumane” way. But even that efficiency is questionable: yes, the system makes the laborer maintain a certain level of productivity – but no one will try working better than the minimally acceptable level. Plus, any repressive system presents a “challenge” that many young workers may decide to take on. While maintaining a minimal level of productivity “on camera,” they will do their best to slow down whenever they know that they are not being monitored, and even steal from the warehouse when they feel that they can get away with it. Increased monitoring always leads to pushback.

Monitoring may only be advantageous when the data is used for safety, protection, preventing accidents, and training, and when the workers know that they are being monitored only for that. This is particularly true in the 21st century when the majority of the workforce are knowledge workers: it is hard to monitor knowledge work, and knowledge workers tend to be smart enough to game any system.

Finally, if a business wants to step up from the sweatshop level and envisions sublime trends like “Kaizen,” “Lean,” etc., those will never happen under surveillance. The culture of continuous improvement may only be established in a “free” environment based on mutual trust. In addition, excessive and intrusive monitoring makes the worker feel like a cog in a big machine. To make operations efficient, leaders should stop monitoring and watching the workers – but start seeing and hearing them.