Association of Internet Researchers
Selected Papers of AoIR2021 : The 22nd Annual Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers
The future of work is increasingly intertwined with the widespread collection of employee data for workplace monitoring, safety and efficiency tracking, predictive analytics, and performance evaluations (Mateescu & Nguyen, 2019). While surveilling employees has existed as long as there has been employment, there is newfound interest in the use of digital monitoring tools: a 2019 study of 239 large corporations found that 50% were using “nontraditional” surveillance methods, including logging and analyzing phone calls, scrutinizing emails and social media posts, and tracking who attends meetings, an increase from 30% four year earlier (Wartzman, 2020).
Recent advances in pervasive monitoring and data collection in the workplace include the use of prediction and flagging tools, biometrics data collection through sensors and microchips, remote monitoring and GPS tracking, and algorithmic management. Increasingly, these data are used to make meaningful decisions about employees— including whether they should be hired, promoted, or fired—based on faceless algorithmic processes (Köchling & Wehner, 2020). Most concerning is that such surveillance practices and impacts are not evenly distributed across workers (Levy, 2016; Rosenblat & Stark, 2016).
The COVID-19 lockdowns caused significant shifts in work practices—and in workplace monitoring. While unemployment soared in some sectors, many office workers began working from home. Early evaluations suggest this shift has not reduced the amount of work-related surveillance. Rather, it has spawned renewed interest in monitoring those working-from-home with increasingly invasive tools, including monitoring software to record employees’ web browsing and active work hours, monitoring attentiveness in videoconferences, and mandating always-on webcam rules (Harwell, 2020). Even when employees return to the office, additional measures will likely be taken to track everything from location to body temperature to coworker proximity (Hepler, 2020).
This study begins unpacking the sociotechnical implications of shifting work surveillance practices due to COVID-19, focusing on how evolving and emergent workplace surveillance practices may impact workers. We are motivated by the concern that as pandemic restrictions ease, employers may continue to extend at-home surveillance practices while also instituting new monitoring in the workplace. This “function creep” (Ball, 2010) raises concerns that increased digital surveillance will lead to reduced agency, control, and independence at work (Ganster & Fusilier, 1989), no matter where those activities are taking place.
Vitak, Jessica and Zimmer, Michael, "From Watched at Work to Watched at Home: Workplace Surveillance During a Pandemic" (2021). Computer Science Faculty Research and Publications. 54.