Your Desk Will See You Now

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Your Desk Will See You NowKaren Schwartz
May 5, 2018

Employee tracking is a growing industry. Companies say it’s to improve efficiency and reduce waste, but employees aren’t so sure what it means for their privacy.

Desks used to be for sitting. Standard chairs rolled up to standard desks. Then came the wave of ergonomic improvements: the yoga balls, and the standing desk, not to mention the treadmill desk.

Next up is the desk that monitors the time people spend at it. Bank Barclays Plc is just one of the companies tracking its employees’ desk use via new heat and motion sensor systems that record when employees are indeed at the stations. The OccupEye technology produces data, for display in a variety of formats, that can help companies make real estate decisions based on their space utilization and save them money, too, OccupEye says.  

And that’s not all. The London-based Daily Mail lists office-design company Gensler, Boston Consulting Group, Deloitte, Amazon and Hitachi as just a few of the companies that have an ear – or an eye – on what their employees are up to, whether by motion tracking, audio cues, GPS tags or other badge-based tech devices. Gensler has saved 25 percent in energy costs in its New York space, Bloomberg reports, thanks to the dime-sized sensors it’s installed around the office.

Meanwhile, California-based technology company Nvidia is on the verge of using facial recognition for people entering its new headquarters, and, The Economist reports, will be able to tell when people come and go.

Not everyone is thrilled with the latest developments, even though companies allege that the initiatives are aimed solely at reducing costs and improving efficiencies. Some people cite concerns about employers’ ability to further monitor their workers and the effect it could have on their privacy.

Company-issued smartphones, by way of example, have the ability to provide vast amounts of location data to employers, whether that employee is on or off the clock. The Atlantic notes in a story about employee tracking that, while businesses legally aren’t barred from tracking employees via GPS at a federal level, a few states have limits on it. States such as Texas, Virginia, Minnesota and Tennessee make it illegal to track vehicles sans owner consent for example.

Many people choose to combine their personal and work phones, and do extensive personal computing on their work computers. They see the savings from not having a separate phone as a benefit that outweighs the additional visibility they’re providing. And with laptops, it’s not until the computer has to go into repair that users really consider what they’ve been browsing.

Back to where they’re working – Bloomberg reports that office furniture maker Herman Miller in June launched a furniture line with sensors tied to its standing desks and office chairs. Using sensors, software and an app, the chairs keep track of target heights and weights, and monitor how much a user stands during the day. They also track when the user comes in and how – and how long for – they’re using their station.

While a few people have gone as far as to sue over such situations, saying their rights to privacy have been violated by various forms of tracking, across the board, these technologies seem to have been broadly accepted as workplace innovations, and ones that are here to stay.

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