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Smart Office Technologies: Cool or Creepy?

by | Alec Olson

The technology in day-to-day life comes with a hefty dose of privacy concerns. People wonder how much technologies — like social media, facial recognition, voice assistants — are learning, storing, and sharing about them.

It’s a continuing balancing act to weigh those concerns against how convenient they are and how useful they are in helping people communicate, collaborate, learn, and share.

Digital technologies in the workplace are already pervasive and interconnected, but their potential continues to grow. As it does, so do worries about how invasive they are. Recorded meetings, monitored workspace, wearable devices, and so many more capabilities are making the workday more efficient and work more productive.

However, as technologies become smarter and more connected, some employees feel uneasy or are unsure if they should be concerned. In fact, some may even voice worries that the changes are “creepy.”

Navigating Smart Technologies in the Workplace

Employee privacy is a concern for employers in many ways even beyond technology. However, newer smart technologies, in particular, can track more employee information, like location, habits, online presence.

According to Brad Sousa, Chief Technology Officer at AVI Systems, “The question becomes whether a person voluntarily consents with some behavior or action that says, 'It's okay for you to know where I am.' And that's kind of where the line is. Today, there are ethics discussions and technical discussions around that.”

Examples of office features causing employees to raise privacy questions or concerns include location tracking or facial recognition to start a meeting or trigger customized content on digital signage. These technologies can potentially learn information about employees based on their phone apps, identification badges, or social media profiles. One company has even implanted encrypted RFID chips into the hands of almost half their employees. The volunteers are able to use their chipped hands to log onto computers, gain room or building access, and make breakroom purchases.

Determining the Creepiness Factor

What’s the best way to take advantage of the latest technologies that improve work experiences and boost the bottom line while also ensuring employees trust your organization and feel confident in the tools they’re using?

Here are some ways to address employee concerns about technology creeping on them:

  • Ask your employees. Survey employees about which technologies and capabilities they want.

  • Get their buy-in. Explain why your organization is implementing new technologies and how those tools provide the capabilities they want.

  • Be flexible. Make adoption of certain tools optional like using wearables or linking to their professional social media profiles.

  • Be transparent. Some capabilities are not going to be optional—like the use of sensors to turn on lights and equipment in a room—because they’ll apply to everyone in the office. Letting everyone know exactly what information the technology collects and how it will be used will go a long way in building trust.

  • Develop a strategy. Periodically assess the tools your organization uses, what kinds of capabilities your employees are willing to accept and what is off limits.

Work technologies that “learn” from and about workers are only going to get smarter, raising even more privacy concerns. Having a clear strategy in place, informing employees of initiatives, and actively keeping a pulse on the opinions of workers will help keep your organization out of “creepy” territory in this time of considerable technological advancement.

Learn more about how technology is changing the employee experience in this blog post.

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