• Experts urge caution over employee monitoring as Barclays installs devices under desks

  • 21 Aug 2017
  • Comments 2 comments

Badly communicated schemes could lead to ‘rumours’, employers are warned; bank says trackers are to monitor space usage

Experts have urged employers to clearly explain their reasons if they intend to monitor their staff, after it was revealed that a leading bank had installed devices to track how often individuals were at their desks.

Barclays’ investment bank staff in London have had black boxes stuck to the underside of their desks in recent months to monitor how office space is being used, according to the bank.

The tracking devices, called OccupEye and made by UK-based Cad-Capture, use heat and motion sensors to record how long employees are spending at their posts, and generate a multicoloured dashboard to show managers which workstations are unoccupied, allowing them to analyse usage trends.

According to Bloomberg, the bank told staff the devices were being installed in an email, which read: “The sensors aren’t monitoring people or their productivity; they are assessing office space usage. This sort of analysis helps us to reduce costs; for example, managing energy consumption or identifying opportunities to further adopt flexible work environments.”

Professor Sir Cary Cooper, president of the CIPD and professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, told People Management that companies considering similar moves should “explain to all employees concerned, in great detail, well before the introduction of these sensors why they are doing it.

Poor communication can lead to rumour and misinterpretation of intent.”

Barclays is not the first organisation to attempt to track employees with sensors. The Daily Telegraph installed devices last year to monitor staff time spent at desks, but they were removed following heavy criticism from the National Union of Journalists for carrying out “surveillance” on employees.

US software firm Three Square Market took the idea one step further by implanting near-field communication technology – more commonly found in devices such as contactless debit cards – into employees’ hands, between their thumb and forefinger. The chips can be used to pay for food in the company canteen, open doors around the building, log on to computers and use the photocopier.

A Barclays spokesperson said there was a “phased rollout” of the devices and that both Barclays staff and trade union Unite were notified before they were installed. Although Bloomberg reported that Barclays staff did not recall being informed about the boxes, the spokesperson added that there had been no official complaints to HR about them.

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Comments (2)
  • I can see that being useful in a hot desking environment, where you want to know how many desks are used an make sure you have just enough spare capacity so no-one is unable to work because they can't find a desk but also you're not paying for desks you don't use, but not to track individual employees. If someone is sat at my desk how do you know it's me and not someone who has sat down to talk to the person at the desk next to mine?

    I'm also concerned about putting devices under desks, there's always the fear that someone might put a camera in (it happens). Finally, the 'No one has complained' statement always puts me in mind of the poem from Pastor Neimoller that opens "First they came for the Jews", no-one complains because they fear the result.

  • If this was just about desk usage then why not simply have someone walking around ticking off which desks are not occupied on an hourly basis. You soon build up a picture of what spare capacity there might be.

    This just seems like using technology for the sake of technology, someone senior has been sold the idea of the pretty graphs and picture this system will produce as being more insightful .......... unless of course there is more to it than the company is letting on!