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The Privacy Concerns of Workplace Data

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The Big Data revolution is well underway. What started as largely an exercise in companies gathering and structuring intelligence about customers now also extends to their own workforce. Organizations are using workplace data to improve efficiency and make positive changes that can improve operations, foster better collaboration and generally make things better.

Space utilization data is one example. Measuring how employees use their workplace can be very powerful, helping to cut costs, waste less space and improve the workplace experience.

Companies are starting to understand this potential to navigate strategic space planning. With more data, companies can justify how they can incorporate new trends like “hoteling” or “coworking” into their existing workplace strategy.

More Data, More Sensors

In order to collect data, workplace teams are installing sensors that collect information on building use. Desk-level sensors may seem like the sensible [pun intended] solution: a simple technology that can pinpoint where workers are. Some companies go one step further and even install cameras above desks to have visibility of desk usage.

This raises a whole new set of concerns around employee privacy.

Sensors and Surveillance

For one, some laws and regulations place restrictions on how employers can monitor and track workers. The Connecticut Surveillance Act, for example, prohibits surveillance “in areas designed for the health or personal comfort of the employees or for safety guarding of their possessions, such as restrooms, locker rooms, or lounges.” A clearly posted disclosure is generally required in order to comply with the law.

There is also a concern about long-term viability. While the legal department may assure you that fancy desk-monitoring cameras do not run afoul of any laws, what happens when California, Ohio, or Massachusetts — let alone Washington D.C. — passes a new rule next year? Are you going to have to mothball a whole array of devices so soon after your initial upfront investment?

Because the confluence of digital technology and personal data privacy is an ever-increasing cultural discussion, these privacy concerns will only become more relevant in the coming years. 

There’s nothing more prone to create bad feelings than if [employees] feel like they are being subjected to surveillance.

Eva Sage-Gavin of Accenture

How to Avoid the Backlash

Beyond any potential legal and compliance violations, these types of intrusive tracking methods can simply make employees feel uncomfortable. Nobody enjoys being recorded up close and personal every second they are inside the office. Would you lose employees or potential hires because they find this practice creepy? Would you like to see an article calling your firm the poster child of the new employee surveillance state?

“There’s nothing more prone to create bad feelings than if [employees] feel like they are being subjected to surveillance and don’t know what it’s covering and how it is being used,” Eva Sage-Gavin of Accenture said in a recent CNBC report

The same article references a telling stat from an Accenture study: Nearly two-thirds (64%) of workers are concerned about how organizations handle employee data.

Linn F. Freedman, an attorney at Robinson & Cole LLP writing for the National Law Review, suggests that companies should mind these worries rather than simply adhering to legal standards. “Employees are asserting expectations that are worth listening to, whether laws apply or not, so when establishing employee monitoring programs, using common sense is worthwhile,” he wrote.

Employees are asserting expectations that are worth listening to, whether laws apply or not.

Linn F. Freedman, an attorney at Robinson & Cole LLP

Density’s Stance on Privacy

The need for both accurate data and the conflicting need to protect personally identifiable information are cornerstones for our approach at Density.

Density’s entryway sensors provide a real-time view of exactly how many people are in any individual space. Critically, however, our people-counting technology is entirely anonymous. While most companies “anonymize” basic camera footage, Density sensors capture human movement using depth and light. Density is not a camera, so it doesn’t create visual images that identify personnel.  

density anonymous people counting
Example of Density anonymous depth processing

Such solutions give companies the freedom to experiment with new trends in workplace design — whether it be hoteling or other creative ways to allocate space.

More importantly, it impacts the bottom line. Density’s technology balances a positive workplace experience with one that is efficient and maximizes costs. It not only empowers an organization with the necessary insight and data but does so while ensuring they steer clear of any troubling privacy concerns.