Average is Over, installment #437

Taking logs of computer activity, or even screenshots, and running them through big data analytics programs allows these firms to create detailed reports for executives about productivity, they claim. How employers use the data, they add, is up to them.

According to Gartner, more than half of companies with over $750m in annual sales used “non-traditional” monitoring techniques on staff in 2018, while the workforce analytics industry will be worth nearly $2bn by 2025, according to San Francisco’s Grand Review Research.

Products developed by companies such as Activtrak, which raised $20m in a series A funding round in March 2019, allow employers to track which websites staff visit, how long they spend on sites deemed “unproductive” and set alarms triggered by content considered dangerous.

And:

If combined with personal details, such as someone’s age and sex, the data could allow employers to develop a nuanced picture of ideal employees, choose whom they considered most useful and help with promotion and firing decisions.

Here is more from Camilla Hodgson at the FT.

Comments

Maybe they are starting to do this already, instead of sampling phone service operator calls or asking callers to do a short survey later, they'll have artificial intelligence listening in to every call and rating the agent of friendless of their voice, right words used, etc... So a 100% sample now. Then after that how about recording everything an instructor says in a classroom and measuring how often they hit learning objective goals... or students could be automatically recorded on the quantity and quality of their contributions.

There's at least one company doing something like this for call centers. Would not be surprised if there are others.

The AI may just do the work outright at some point.

What I hate is that all of this focuses on how things get done, rather than what gets done. I have a developer on my team who is always sleeping and playing video games. But then he'll use half an hour to solve a problem the other worker bees couldn't solve in a week. I've had sales guys who worked their asses off and couldn't close a damn deal. Frankly I don't care how they do it, as long as they get the thing done within the time/quality/etc requirements I've given them.

I'm sure these companies are just thinking about this as "supplementary" data about productivity, but at the end of the day what gets measured is what gets done. If you reward worker bee behavior then that's what employees will give you, for better or for worse. Same logic as the late-working Japanese salaryman.

This is a fantastic comment ^^^

So the title is merely part of the worker bee mentality, and actually this is a post about how average is unstoppable in major organizations, installment #1587?

Or will companies only have a workforce made up of 100% quantifiably above average employees across the board, measured by the proper metrics, where no employee is ever merely average?

It's ALWAYS important to remember when reading posts like this by TC:
1. He's NEVER had a real job and has no real clue when it comes to real work
2. He automatically believes every bit of tech company PR

Don’t you think that this will be solved by the market place? If this is really common you could start a business basically employing lazy but brilliant people. And now before you employ them you could ask for the data to prove it.

I am not sure why these ideas worry people so much, before these technologies you had the boss doing the monitoring but badly. Surely it is unfair when a butt kisser gets promoted over harder workers just because he fooled his boss?

No I don't think that generally, work places like everywhere else are more about power and domination. This data is used more for crushing people than for finding the best.

My boss gets head from my wife while I get ahead!

What is the point of doing this

Well if you want to be a success in the modern economy you need to use all your assets

Maybe this creates a pool of effective-but-looks-lazy workers that a smart company can snap up for cheap, but getting fired by a company that evaluates you improperly is still a black mark on your resume, no? That seems like a real friction here.

This is the "highly productive worker is a sausage factory" view (you really don't want to see how it gets made), and I worry a lot about it.

Both at an aggregate level (what happens when open/all-glass interior offices and productivity snooping software sniffs these folks out) but personally (considering myself a bit of a sausage factory at work).

All my cuckoldry has gotten me a nice corner office at work. No glass walls, I can work with my pants down to let my ass breath and no one sees my micro penis.

It seems excessive and unproductive, but there's phishing, miners as web browser add-ons, real malware.

I think the issue is not that you get distracted a few mins reading about sports but that you compromise the company IT safety.

I doubt anybody would be foolish enough to think this was a good way to measure productivity of programmers. More doesn't mean better -- quite often it's the reverse. Quality is much more important than quantity.

A LOT of people are actually foolish enough to think so actually, many of them are in management positions. Many companies that hire software developers are NOT primarily software companies and hence you have managers with more, shall we say, traditional outlooks.

At one job I had they used number of bugs closed as a metric for developer performance. Sure enough, we got 10x more bug reports, but from the same number of actual bugs, just split up into little bits. Productivity!

If such employer tactics become commonplace sites like Marginal Revolution will receive much fewer visits. Most of the readers and commenters are stealing compensated time from their employers, unless it's an educational institution. It's OK for them to do it.

“If combined with personal details, such as someone’s age and sex, the data could allow employers to develop a nuanced picture of ideal employees, choose whom they considered most useful and help with promotion and firing decisions.”

And what happens when there’s disparate impact?

Products developed by companies such as Activtrak, which raised $20m in a series A funding round in March 2019, allow employers to track which websites staff visit, how long they spend on sites deemed “unproductive” and set alarms triggered by content considered dangerous.

And once it becomes known that a company monitors in this way, why wouldn't employees use their mobile phones to visit 'unproductive' and 'dangerous' web sites. In fact, I would expect that before installing monitoring software, companies inclined in this direction would already have blocked access to unproductive/dangerous sites and employees would already be in the habit of using their phones.

we bet the innovative surveillance metrics will reduce the number/expense of wrongful termination type lawsuits

"the data could allow employers to develop a nuanced picture of ideal employees"

However, the US and Europe have laws against hiring ideal employees.

Someone needs to invent some software which blocks this software. Makes it look like your being productive when you're actually commenting on MR.

MR is like Tinder for us cucks!

I think web browsing - which should be classified as leisure - is a large hidden influence on official productivity numbers. Maybe I am skewed from working “white collar” office jobs, but most people are just browsing the web literally 2, 3, 4+ hours a day. When I was a kid and was a cashier I would clean or reorganize shelves in my downtime. Now I see kids just browsing their phones until a customer walks in.

For all of this “great stagnation” talk I haven’t seen a real analysis of how much people are actually working at work, if only because it’s hard to get people to admit they do maybe 2-3 solid hours of work each day.

Yeah surfing of the web is a big part of many office jobs, a lot of time gets spent on that. But maybe if these tools changed things are forced the workers to spend their working time doing actual work, the workers might also decide that actually they want more money.

Let's get the universities to actively monitor their web traffic (ethernet and WiFi both) and then we'll be making some progress. Do you know how much time students spend (waste) playing computer games? It's not healthy.

But TC thinks higher education is only about signal. So they can play video games and watch porn it should not matter at all.

Let's wait for someone to develop the software passivtrack that simulates a productive worker on a PC while having coffee.

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