Managers read on Slack, video software documents every look, emails should reveal the risk of burnout: the home office also favors the monitoring of employees.

The corona pandemic is said to herald the end of an era. Perhaps the way society responds to them also offers an inkling of the future. How many people, for example, should the crisis be over, not return to the office, but stay in the home office forever?

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What promises a better work-life balance in normal times also harbors a real danger. Because the closer the world of work moves into your own home, the more privacy will erode. Not only because the spatial proximity of the workplace makes you feel compelled to react to the boss’ messages outside of office hours. But also because that boss naturally wants to make sure that the homeworker actually prepares the presentation instead of vacuuming the kitchen.

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In times of home office, the time clock is an outdated tool for recording productivity signals. One of the more modern methods is that employees in some companies have to give their superiors access to messages in their e-mail inbox or in chat software such as Slack, for example.

Surveillance tools also part of video conferencing software

In other cases, the software is just so popular that its disadvantages are often overlooked. Up until last week, Zoom, the video conferencing software, whose popularity has increased exponentially like the curves of epidemiologists since the Corona outbreak, offered a function called “Attention Tracking”. This means that the person hosting the conference can see whether the participants have opened the corresponding window on their computer. The content of private messages that viewers send to each other during the process is also sent to him in the form of a transcript.

Special programs for employee tracking already existed before Corona, the current circumstances only accelerate the trend. As Bloomberg reported last week, there are “panic purchases” not only in supermarkets, but also in the area of ​​work surveillance. As is so often the case, the makers of the relevant programs seem to be inclined to the obvious brand names: Companies such as Interguard, Activetrack, Vericlock or Time Doctor report that inquiries and sales have tripled in recent weeks. Their customers now have an insight into the keyboard entries of their employees, can evaluate the websites they visit and take a screenshot at regular intervals with the laptop webcam. In other cases, employees are encouraged to remain logged in to a video conference all day.

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Other providers dress the surveillance measures at least with the cover of mental care. For an annual fee of between $ 250,000 and $ 1 million, Canadian company Receptiviti examines staff messages for signs of depression or burnout. The scientific basis of some of these programs can be described as adventurous.

Among other things, it analyzes how often employees use the words “I” and “me” compared to “we” and “us”. If the first person predominates, this could be a sign of depressive mood, says American psychologist James Pennebaker, who is conveniently a co-founder of the company. In his work, he allegedly found that writers who committed suicide used the word “I” more often in their works than colleagues who allegedly had better mental health. However, no investigation was carried out into whether permanent monitoring could lead to upsets.

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