Always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed – no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters in your skull. The passage came from George Orwell’s 1984, but it very easily could have been about working from home.
There are varying estimates of the number of workers who are now working remotely. A study by MIT in April showed the number approaching 50%. Half of the workforce has carved out office space in their homes to serve their employer’s needs. They rearranged their daily routines to serve their employer’s needs. And, half is trying to produce at a level at least equal to that before they left the office. Many employers know it. Further, many employers know it because they are monitoring your keystrokes and files and projects and your physical movements.
Yes, Big Brother allowed you the few cubic centimeters in your skull, but Tattleware doesn’t.
Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where we develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.
Tattleware is the new Big Brother
Tattleware is a euphemism for a hot segment of the software market. Companies like Basecamp and Pragli offer software that allows employers to better monitor their employees. Systems like this have been around for a while, but the Covid Chaos has turned the screw on the uses for the software. And, screwed is how some remote workers now feel. How would you feel if your employer required you to leave your web camera on the entire time you are working? Does that feel a little like Big Brother? What exactly are corporations seeking? To understand your facial expressions while responding to idiotic emails?
The makers of the software as a subscription service say that having the camera always on gives coworkers the opportunity to create instant video chats to improve the spontaneous meeting that would take place in the office. Perhaps. Then again, perhaps the coworker who wouldn’t stop talking about her cats in the office can now show you Fluffy, Twinkles and Pumpkin as they walk across her screen.
Del Currie, founder of Sneek software, describes that Sneek offers workers to click on a recent picture taken so that they can start a conversation. He says, “These other things that eat up so much of your mental space because you’ve got work dinging you all the time in your Slack channels. Those things are probably more invasive than having a picture snapped of you now and again.” It is me or does that sound like someone rationalizing his product.
How would you feel if your employer docked your pay because too much time elapsed between keystrokes? It’s happening! NPR recently reported on a woman who described leaving to use the bathroom and grab a drink. When she returned to her computer there was a pop up box prompting her to click in the next 20 seconds or her time away from the system would be docked on her timecard? Now, I don’t know about your bathroom habits…but…sometimes for me it takes a few extra keystrokes to finish.
George Orwell accurately saw company control
“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.” Orwell continues. “Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” In 1984, Orwell portrays a government that monitors and controls every aspect of human life. The connections to 1984 and tattleware are eerily similar. Telescreens and hidden microphones are installed everywhere throughout the city. One of the central themes of the novel is that of Loyalty to the party. Neighbors and coworkers inform on each other. Children report their parents. Who’s going to tell the company that Fluffy and Pumpkin are walking across the keyboard?
As Developing Resilient Leaders, how can we address these items? Is this the right method for monitoring our remote employees or can we use our skills to find a better path?
I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory on becoming Big Brother. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here’s it is. Create A Meaningful Scoreboard. You heard it. Create A Meaningful Scoreboard.
The theory is simple here’s how it works. I miss baseball. I’m going to explain this theory in baseball terms.
Breakdown the requirements of the scoreboard
Let’s pretend we are the General Manager of the Montreal Expos. What is your ultimate goal? To win the World Series, right? Let’s forget for a minute that the Expos stopped playing in 2004. And let’s also forget that they never won the World Series, okay? Good. Now, your job as the General Manager is to win the World Series. To win the World Series you need some long and intermediate goals.
First, you need to make the playoffs. To make the playoffs you need to win at least ninety games in the season. Winning ninety games means you will need to score more than 750 runs over the 162 game season. Lastly, scoring more than 750 runs you will require at least 120 homeruns from your number 3 through 7 hitters.
For now, we are breaking down the long term goals into much smaller items. I want you to consider one employee now on your staff – the strength and conditioning coach. This coach is responsible for helping the numbers 3 through 7 hitters become strong enough and flexible enough to hit homeruns. This coach has one job, but his job is integral to achieving the team’s broader goals. (Sound like some of the jobs we perform from home? A small piece in a large puzzle?)
Okay, back to the Expos. Every baseball team has a scoreboard in the outfield. Typically, a really big one. Everyone in the stands can see the score. Everyone can see how the team is doing today and how they are doing for the season. The scoreboards also tally the number of wins for the season and what place the team is in the standings. The strength and conditioning coach can see the impact of his efforts by looking at the large scoreboard every day.
Keystrokes are meaningless without having a purpose. Measuring how many keystrokes someone is punching is the worst type of leadership there is. It’s small, petty and pointless. It gives the leader the false sense of power they crave without actually accomplishing anything of substance. Developing Resilient Leaders aspire to raise their employees. Aspire to help them see the value of their contributions. Aspire to show them the scoreboard so everyone knows how we are performing.
The 1984 Montreal Expos team had four hall-of fame players on it yet finished the season with a losing record and last in their division. Some companies can have the greatest workers in the world, but unless management puts them in a position to succeed even the best will struggle.
Create a meaningful scoreboard for your employees.
Create a meaningful scoreboard for your employees. Show them how they fit into the larger picture rather than demean them with monitoring software. Demeaning software will only create complicit drones. Workers who don’t care about the bigger picture – only about being compliant. Orwell continues. “But it was alright, everything was alright, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”
Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together.
If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and I ask you one small favor. Suggest it to a friend. Give someone else the opportunity to hear our non-peer reviewed, developing resilient leader theories. The number one way that podcasts grow is through word of mouth.
Thanks for taking the time to listen. See ya.