Sunday, September 02, 2007

The glass cubicle

Silicon shackles

The news media can't resist stories with wild claims about our workplace foibles. Such reports are based on the assumption that these matters can be readily quantified and measured.

Did you know that it cost the U.S. economy $788 billion in 2006 because of squandered work hours in the nation's offices? This highly questionable claim was reported in an article by Amy Smith of the Copley News Service. Smith says that office time-wasters will be defeated by technology.
Office time-wasters beware

Computers with online access can be an easy distraction; however, employees may want to concentrate more on work instead of surfing the Internet at the office. You never know who or what may be watching.

BeAware Corporate Edition, which has a “workplace activity management” application, allows companies to keep track of employees' computer history in order to eliminate excessive time-wasting and increase productivity in the office.

At least 13 percent of employees spend more than two hours a day doing non-work-related activities on the computer. Adam Schran, president of Ascentive LLC, says many managers are frustrated with employees' wasting work time. The U.S. economy lost $788 billion in 2006 due to employees' messing around at the office.
Where did that number come from? I don't know and I don't care. Such estimates are inherently unreliable and usually offered while pressing a point or—in this case—marketing a solution. Winter continues to transcribe BeAware's sales pitch:
Schran says the program does comprehensive monitoring of both PC and Internet, including usage of e-mails, web-surfing and chat programs. Many different companies purchase BeAware in order to benefit their working environment.

“Our clients have told us that they see unwanted Internet usage by their employees drop as much as 90 percent almost immediately after BeAware is installed,” says Schran.

Managers can keep a watchful eye on the work history of those questionable employees. Once installed in all computers, it generates alerts to managers when employees access specific Web sites or words. Detailed reports enable managers to find the problems easily and efficiently.
What is this obsession with counting minutes and making facile assumptions about “lost” productivity? It doesn't make sense to me. Did you empty your in-basket and fill your out-basket? Are you caught up with your tasks? Then it should not matter if you extended your lunch hour for some Internet surfing or checking your personal e-mail. I tend to focus much more strongly on actual productivity rather than obsessing over the number of minutes or hours you were properly on the clock or chained to your desk.

Managers should demote or fire people who cannot discharge their duties and meet their responsibilities in a timely and competent manner. They should not care, however, about the details which seem to fascinate the bean-counters.

The bean-counters should be very happy with modern snoop software for office management. BeAware is designed to provide all the stimulus-response training for employees that Pavlovian managers could desire. If you really lack any people-management skills, you can always resort to reward-punishment enforcement of simple-minded metrics.
The program isn't only used to punish employees; it can also be a rewarding tool by identifying good behavior and beneficial working skills.

“It's now easier, almost effortless, for bosses to help make their companies more efficient and effective,” says Schran.

Schran admits the software is controversial with regard to issues of trust and privacy, but overall he feels it is beneficial to companies. To give the employees a little privacy, the software offers a private-time option. A manager can set an allotted amount of time for employees to have computer time without being watched.

“BeAware increases the whole morale of the team when there aren't people wasting time,” says Schran.
That's right. You'll be a happy little cog in micro-managed machine. You can trade some personal privacy in return for the knowledge that no one else in the office is slacking. Sort of like the way we've been trading personal liberty in return for national security. Anyway, weren't privacy and liberty way overrated?


The Ridger, FCD said...

This software would make me (if I worked someplace that was using it) feel a lot like goofing off with newspapers, books, what have you.

Does anybody really think "the whole morale of the team" is increased by things like this?

Interrobang said...

I already have to submit a report on what I do every day. I'd also like to see how they'd define "idle time," since a substantial portion of my actual job involves doing research on Google, reading stuff, and processing information. Sometimes even (horrors!) staring at the ceiling, thinking.

Fortunately, I seem to work for civilised people.

jonathan said...

I just got an e-mail the other day, detailing how much phone use there has been on my campus (I'm a full time teacher, but a part time adjunct) Should I have been more insulted 1. in principle, 2. because I get shared access to a phone in a dusty corner of a dusty building where I don't go anyway since I teach too little to have an official office hour, or 3. by the ugly threat of replacing me with someone who doesn't make personal calls?

I just forwarded it to the union, calling it "insulting" without being more specific. The union is acting on what must be several complaints (I'm betting that several in this case is in the dozens).

Here's some of my favorite parts:

"The college made a total of 1,942,395 calls in AY 2006-2007 (7,863.95 calls/working day*);

"We were on the phone for a total of 4,855,752.6 minutes (about 2.5 minutes/call, 327.65 accumulative hours/working day, equivalent to hiring 46.81 people to talk all the time for 7 hours on each of the 247 working days during the year);


I wish to take this opportunity to remind you that the college properties, including telephones, are acquired for conducting official college businesses only. If under some special circumstances you have used the college equipment, including telephones, for personal reasons, you are expected to reimburse the college for the related expenses.