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  • Writer's pictureLorri

Technology & Privacy in the Workplace

Smart-building technologies are experiencing unbelievably rapid growth and implementation in commercial premises, and with good reason. Cost benefits, enhancement of employee and customer experience, and energy savings that reduce environmental impact are powerful incentives for corporations looking to save money and position themselves as leaders in technology. The accessibility of smart-building technology has never been greater, with tech leaders like Amazon and Google forging ahead to develop and offer sophisticated building-enhancing systems that transform workplaces into futuristic, science-fiction inspired spaces.

Being Involved with smart building projects of various types, I see a fascinating spectrum of reactions to technology at work. There is a high demand for more technology, faster from a corporate level, and yet paradoxically an undercurrent of “Black Mirror” like resistance at a human level. We seem to have a love/hate relationship with technologies that detect presence, and AI technologies that listen for instructions.

There's no doubt that consumers have a ravenous appetite for smart-building technologies in home and workspaces, but conversely there are those who raise concerns about security and privacy. What if our conversations are being recorded at work? What if sensors can pick us up and determine where we are at any moment? What if my boss is spying on me? What are my rights to privacy in the workplace?

Whatever our opinions, the benefits of technology at work make it an unstoppable force – accessibility, cost, sustainability, and improved employee experience are driving adoption faster than every before – the industry is thirsty for these solutions. But what is holding us back? One of the biggest hurdles we see is human reaction vs. perception to technology at work. Why are people so worried about being spied on and is this really happening? Why do some people assume that this smart building technologies have an underlying diabolical purpose?

Concerns about privacy in this day and age are someone an illusion. Some would argue that we’ve already passed that threshold - there is no privacy, at home, at work, on the street, not anywhere. Data is already collected on our whereabouts and activities multiple times per day. Here’s a few examples:

-The average person is caught on CCTV camera and average of 75x/day, and as many as 300x/day in dense urban areas. You are photographed approximately 50 times just commuting to work in the morning.

-Mobile phones and cars geo-locate you at any moment. If you're using a company car for work, radio signals and GPS are used to track company assets and well within their rights to do so.

-Security systems that use employee badges already track when you enter and leave your office building. Some use facial recognition technologies to track your location and grant access.

-Facial recognition and computer monitoring software systems track your online habits and behaviours, informing employers where you surf and how much time you spend, and even blocks sites not approved by corporate. Computer monitoring includes where you surf, as well as your work emails too!

Big data analytics naturally involve the understanding of human habits, so our inputs are part of the process of contributing to the data pool. Is this really a surprise to us? For example, we have (and embrace) tools like Waze Google Maps which knows where we are at all times, and by tracking users movement and location can tell us the most efficient route when driving to our destination. And while we love those apps, I’m here to remind you that they are based on individuals disclosing their location.

We love smart technologies when they serve us but become suspicious when we imagine ourselves being monitored. But why are we so worried? What’s the real issue here?

Suspicion of smart technology could be symptomatic of a much bigger workplace culture issue of trust. Employee reactions are interesting - do they really think that the boss is watching them? Why would they think that if they felt secure in their position, if they love their company, love their boss? If your employees start raising concerns about privacy issues, it is potentially a sign that there is a bigger issue of culture and trust within your workplace. There are far less elaborate ways to fire people for non-performance than loading up the office with technology! If an employee is suspicious that office technology is monitoring them for performance, it could be an indicator that there is already a problem.

Lack of trust in technology also potentially indicates a need for change management. Helping employees to understand that smart technology is there to hack productivity and drive efficiency is key to allaying fear and building confidence. Getting past employee’s initial reactions and helping them understand how these technologies are used to improve their work experience rather than hinder their professional development is key to overcoming lack of trust. Get your employees excited about leveraging these amazing tools, help them to understand how to leverage technologies to take their work to the next level and consequently, concerns about smart technologies will evaporate with better knowledge and improved trust.

Nothing is perfect – including technology – but the benefits and improvements to society clearly outweigh the negative. Leveraging technology does not mean we will bow to our computer lords in a dystopian future. Smart building technologies are implemented for good, not evil! Smart technologies create efficiencies like facilitating office schedules, improving wayfaring, seamlessly re-ordering of supplies and even offer us creature comforts like ordering coffee. So, if someone expresses concerns about privacy and technology, talk to them to get to the heart of the matter. Give them the communication and understanding they need so you can find out what they are really worried about – that is the real question!

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