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UK workers uneasy at prospect of WFH monitoring technology

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Two thirds of UK workers are uncomfortable with technology that monitors their activity when working remotely, such as keystroke and camera monitoring and wearables.

New polling commissioned by Prospect, the trade union for professionals, revealed that while only a third (32 per cent) of workers had previously heard of these technologies, two thirds (66 per cent) said they would be uncomfortable with keystroke monitoring, with nearly half (44 per cent) saying they would be very uncomfortable.

With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic likely to result in widespread home working for at least the next six months, the monitoring debate has taken on “a renewed urgency”, Prospect said.

A large majority of workers (80 per cent) said they would be uncomfortable with camera monitoring, with 64 per cent very uncomfortable. Three quarters (74 per cent) said they would be uncomfortable with electronic tracking with wearables, with 61 per cent very uncomfortable.

The polling also found that around half (48 per cent) of workers said that they thought that introducing monitoring software would damage their relationship with their manager. This rose to 62 per cent among younger workers.

Prospect has been calling for businesses that are thinking of introducing such technology to consult with their workforce and for proper regulations about the use of monitoring software, including a ‘right to disconnect’.

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “Having your every keystroke or app usage monitored by your boss while you are working in your own home may sound like a dystopia, but there are precious few controls in place to prevent it becoming a daily reality for millions of workers across Britain.

“Employers are beginning to think about how their workplace will operate in the future, including a far greater prevalence of blended working and exclusive working from home. As the new reality takes hold, we will see more and more debates about the use of technology to monitor workers – the evidence suggests the workforce are simply not ready for it.

“The changes have been thrown into sharp relief by the new government advice advocating a further six months of remote working. If government is going to tell workers to stay home, then it needs to get serious about this issue by bringing businesses, unions and tech companies together to discuss what modern workers’ rights should look like in this new world of work.”

A common fear among employers is that without oversight their staff will slack off and productivity will fall, according to a separate study by academics at Cardiff University and the University of Southampton published in September.

British companies must tell their staff if they are being monitored, but Prospect said guidelines issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) needed updating to give workers more say, as required by European data protection laws.

A spokeswoman for the ICO said people expect a degree of privacy at work “whether it is in a formal work environment or working from home remotely.”

The spokeswoman added: “If organisations wish to monitor their employees, they should be clear about its purpose and that it brings real benefits. Organisations also need to make employees aware of the nature, extent and reasons for any monitoring.”

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