Cartoon image of hands holding a phone and heart rate monitor

Would You Let Work Watch You?

— Annabel Kerr, Director 

When you’ve spent the last three years doing PR for a major online security company, this week’s FT piece about companies tracking employees via their wearables is absolutely the type of thing which catches your eye.

The piece followed Mike Weston, CEO of data science consultancy Profusion as he and his company took part in a 10 day experiment where wearable devices and apps were used to track the personal metrics of its staff. The data – which included everything from stats on a person’s sleep quality to their heart rate, location and browsing habits was then fed to analysts who distilled it into shared patterns of behaviour.

Cool or creepy?

The Profusion experiment is nothing new – the practice of tracking your workforce via wearables is one that is gaining momentum rapidly – and the outcome pointed to many of the common problems associated with this new approach. From an employers’ perspective, the ultimate aim is to gain enough intelligence to be able to instigate changes which increase productivity and keep the workforce safe and healthy, but only if you can overcome severe data overload. From an employee perspective, there are the obvious security and privacy concerns.

I’m not sure how I feel about the potential privacy infringement but the article did get me thinking about the potential flip side for employees – one where such devices and the data empower employees. Imagine having the data to back up conversations with your boss that you are overworked, rather than merely relying on your frazzled appearance etc. Imagine employers having data which forces them to evict you from your desk over lunch for the sake of your health and wellbeing.

Could we make this surveillance work for us? With PR routinely ranking highly on leader boards as one of the most stressful occupations (no comment) there could well be a strong argument in favour of such devices in our industry for this very reason.