How the “Smart Office” will monitor workers in 2023 with infrared sensors, GPS monitoring and speech evaluation
In 2023, with the boom in “smart office” technologies like infrared sensors, GPS tracking, and voice analysis, employees can expect to be monitored at work more than ever.
Innovations related to people’s working lives have evolved dramatically as a result of the pandemic, as working from home and using video calling software like Zoom has become commonplace for many professionals.
The changes are also having a profound impact on the broader economy, with a recent study suggesting the new work week is Tuesday to Thursday.
An analysis of mobile phone data conducted by Placemake.io and Visitor Insights found a sharp increase in footfall in smaller cities compared to a decrease in city centers.
Meanwhile, real estate firm CBRE Investment Management said vacant office space in London has more than doubled in the past three years.
As a result, many employers are downsizing and want to make the most of the space available. Some are outfitting their offices with perks like gyms, game rooms, and bars to invite employees back.
More controversially, however, there are signs of an increase in employers mandating workers back into the office and monitoring workers.
LinkedIn recently noticed a significant drop in the number of job ads offering “work from home” and suggested that the “balance of power” had shifted.
Technological advances now give employers far more ways to monitor exactly where their employees are and what they are doing.
Jeremy Myerson, professor at the Royal College of Art and co-author of the book Unworking: The Reinvention of the Modern Office, narrates I : “People talk about the ‘espresso office’ – it’s much smaller but more powerful.
“Smart office technology has been around for years, but before the pandemic, employers didn’t really see the value in it.
“Now there are two types of monitoring: there are occupancy levels, which are done by infrared sensors that can measure whether the space is being used.
“Then there are environmental conditions — things like heat, power, light, air temperature, air quality.”
GPS tracking of employees has become popular in recent years for employees such as Uber, Deliveroo or Amazon.
But now white-collar workers like engineers and IT specialists can expect the same, labor experts say.
In the US, a company called Haltian has developed a system called “Empathetic Building” that combines table and room booking data with employee location. In addition to infrared sensors in the rooms, employees wear Bluetooth-enabled tags that show others their location.
“It means you can solve small everyday problems like ‘Where is my colleague?’ and ‘Where can I hold my ad hoc meeting?’” Ken Dooley, chief product officer, recently told tech magazine Information Age.
“I can even check the length of the lunch line.”
Mr. Myerson believes that one of the biggest innovations of 2023 will be the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for video calls.
The technology will be able to filter out background noise and analyze voice patterns and facial expressions.
Unions in the UK and around the world are increasingly concerned about advances in workplace surveillance technology.
Mary Towers, policy officer at the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said I it is “the new frontier” of workers’ rights.
She’s part of a team researching the issue after surveys conducted last year found that at least 60 percent of employees believe they are being or have been observed at work.
“I cannot overstate the urgency of workers knowing their rights,” added Ms. Towers.
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Andrew Pakes of the Prospect union said he had been involved in a number of cases where works councils had to intervene to ensure employers were not overdoing it.
Surveillance technology should be used to measure performance or for disciplinary issues, he argues.
“The increase in surveillance of workers was evident before the pandemic,” Mr Pakes said I.
“What we’ve seen since then is an explosion of intrusive technology. We are seeing many more cases and need to train our staff to deal with them.
“By law, you have the right to know if you are being monitored at work and the right to access data if you are.”
Mr Pakes believes that as technology develops, the law will be overtaken and that workers need greater protection from the regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
A spokesman for ICO declined to comment but referred I on an ongoing public consultation on workplace surveillance that will result in “issue-specific guidance on employment practices and data protection”.