Managers misuse technology to monitor staff, says report

Managers with outdated notions about controlling workers are misusing technology to monitor and micromanage employees, according...

Managers with outdated notions about controlling workers are misusing technology to monitor and micromanage employees, according to a new report.

"The Future Role of Trust in Work", released this week by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and sponsored by Microsoft, collates research from 15 major field studies done around the world over the past three years.

It reveals that managers are using technologies such as e-mail, mobile phones and SMS to keep tabs on employees when in actuality they are reducing workers' productivity and the amount of time that they spend serving customers.

Modern work has become more mobile and less visible to managers, causing them to use mobile technology to check in on workers, explained Carsten Sorensen, an LSE researcher and author of the report.  Meanwhile employees are seeking to demonstrate to managers their diligence, through a flood of e-mail and messages, he said.

This is an inappropriate use of the technology and we should be working on creating new technologies that foster group work and increased transparency in a trusted environment, Sorensen said. He suggested a shift away from individual productivity tools to technology that offers group productivity.

"Mobile groupware and software that raises awareness about what others are doing would help bring productivity to the next level," he said.

Sorensen gave the example of an instant messaging program that included information on how many words a minute a colleague was typing, so users could decide if they wanted to contact the colleague when he or she appeared "busy".

While the new technologies he suggested spelled more visibility about what workers are doing, and less privacy, Sorensen's view is that greater awareness of other people's activities is just part of working in the modern world.

"When managers can't see what a worker is doing, there needs to be more visibility, but there also needs to be trust," he said.

Sorensen noted that data mining and time and space management technologies also may create more visibility for individuals.

In fact, some professions rely on monitoring, he noted. For example, lawyers bill by the hour, and truck drivers use global positioning systems to track their availability, Sorensen said.

However, in most professions it is not as important to monitor the worker as it is to see their work, and for this we need to come up with new kinds of technologies, Sorensen said.

The "Future Role of Trust in Work" report was issued as part of a long-term study initiated by Microsoft called Tomorrow's Work, which seeks to explore how people manage their personal and professional lives in the digital age.

Scarlet Pruitt writes for IDG News Service

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