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Tracking the team in smart buildings: A valuable protection or invasive practice?

Tracking the team in smart buildings: A valuable protection or invasive practice?

Certainly, smart technology offers a wealth of opportunities when it comes to managing workplaces. From ventilation to heating, through to security and much more, the future’s smart buildings will be more comfortable, safe, and environmentally friendly. With this complete overview of building services, landlords and managers can access a comprehensive picture of a facility’s operations and optimise its functionality.

By extension, smart technology could extend this bird’s eye view to the building’s users. Considering recent events surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, this has several potential benefits; for instance, stay-at-home staff could be better linked into the system. Equally, it could provide employers with opportunities for health monitoring. But as coronavirus takes us into an era where we’ll be more surveilled than ever, is employee tracking a step too far?

Monitoring productivity

As of 1st August, employers in England were allowed to invite employees back into the workplace. However, research from Eskenzi suggests that a remarkable 91% of the UK’s office workers want to work from home at least part of the time. Many have reported that working from home works well for them, as they’re able to better manage home and work life.l

This is all very well and good, but naturally, some managers are sceptical. Remote working can lead to employees feeling isolated, which in turn, jeopardises the office camaraderie that would usually keep them motivated. Equally, there are more hard-nosed concerns about people simply not doing the work they’re assigned in the absence of management’s watchful eye.

Here, smart technology could help. We’ve already seen the screen-sharing capabilities of apps like Microsoft Teams and similar technology could be implemented to keep workers on task. Other activities could also be monitored, like clock-in and clock-out times and responsiveness.

Health and safety

However, these kinds of monitoring technologies don’t only support management’s interests – they can also be useful to employee health and safety. In volatile workplaces like correctional facilities, power stations, or factories working with dangerous substances, tracking could help employees feel supported while lone working.

Equally, employee health is of rising concern. In the current climate, the last thing you want is a team member coming in when they’re feeling unwell. Smart technology like heat cameras could give management an overview of their team’s health, helping them keep track of any signs of infection. There’s also scope to go a step further and integrate smart building features with health and wellness apps or devices, such as Apple Watches or Fitbits.

Privacy concerns

Of course, the privacy issue looms large. Many workers would suggest that Big Brother tactics in regard to productivity are unnecessary or even detrimental. Since more staff have begun working from home, some research suggests that productivity was up 13%. Equally, another study conducted by Harvard University in a Chinese electronics factory found that unobserved workers were 10-15% more productive.

Productivity aside, there is also the slightly spooky prospect of your boss knowing your internal body temperature. Although well-intentioned, the notion certainly leaves a lingering aftertaste of 1984. Looking to the future, it will certainly be interesting to see how smart building features are integrated into HR – and how much resistance it’s met with.