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New Zealand employees uncomfortable with monitoring technology

By Ryan Morris-Reade
Thu 28 Oct 2021

New Zealand employees are pushing back on monitoring technology when working from home, according to research from Unisys.

The Unisys Security Index found that while Kiwi workers may have allowed the office into their home, expedited by COVID-19, they draw the line at employers using monitoring technology when working from home.

The findings signal a need for new, outcome-based approaches to performance management and open conversations about privacy, acceptable purpose, trust and permission.

When asked if they would be comfortable if their employer allowed them to work from home but required a certain level of monitoring, the vast majority of New Zealanders do not support monitoring measures regardless of whether it is for productivity, security or support purposes.

According to the research, the comfort level with having log in and out times monitored decreases with age, from 46% of 18-24 year-olds to 40% of 55-64 year-olds. Conversely, people in the 18-24 year age group are the least comfortable with employers monitoring their browser history on company or personally owned devices. Self-employed, small business owners are the most comfortable with monitoring.

Leon Sayers, director of advisory at Unisys in Asia Pacific, says privacy is a top concern and people are protective of their home space. 

"While for many people working from home offers benefits of less commuting time and work-life balance, for others it is an imposition necessitated by the COVID response," he says.

"Being mandated to work from home is not the same as volunteering for it. Employers must gain trust and permission to introduce monitoring technologies into that space. A two-way discussion is critical to successful organisational change management. And just because the technology allows you to do something doesn't mean it is always appropriate."

Sayers believes it's time to re-think how managers monitor performance and productivity. 

"First, you need to look at the type of role. What is more critical - the input (time spent on a task) or the output (the deliverable). For example, using technology to monitor how quickly call centre staff working from home answer a call and resolve a customer's problem is a key metric of the role and service delivered to the customer," he says. 

"Whereas for other 'knowledge' jobs, it would be more relevant to measure if they delivered something of the agreed quality by the required deadline - you don't need to know when they logged in or how long it took them."

Not All Monitoring is 'Big Brother'

Some monitoring measures offer positive benefits to employees - such as monitoring software response time so that the IT team can proactively fix impending issues before they impact you - called 'intelligent IT support,' or using facial recognition technology to quickly confirm that it is you sitting at your laptop, without you needing to re-enter your password.

"But adding new function and purpose to an existing tool requires a fresh conversation. We accepted webcams at home to aid collaboration - not security," says Sayers.

"Employers need to lead open discussions about the intended purpose and benefit of such measures if they are to be accepted in the home workplace. The willingness to use a technology is critical to the successful roll-out of any digital transformation."

Personal Experience Drives Privacy Agenda

The 2021 Unisys Security Index for New Zealand, the overall measure of security concerns of the New Zealand public, is 140 out of 300, up four points from 2020 and the highest since 2017. 

Even so, it is the fourth-lowest level of concern of the 11 countries measured. 

The top three security concerns for New Zealanders are data or privacy-related: identity theft (52% of New Zealanders are concerned about this issue), hacking and viruses (51%) and bankcard fraud (49%). 

Whereas natural disasters, including pandemics, had been the top concern in 2020, concern about hacking and viruses and identity theft recorded the most significant increases (+11 points and +9 points, respectively) over the last year.

Andrew Whelan, vice president of client management, Unisys in Asia Pacific, says consumers' concerns are driven by their personal experiences. 

"CERT NZ reports that phishing and credential harvesting remains the most reported type of cyber incident, and that ransomware is the fastest-growing category," he says.

"Last year's fears of the unknown around COVID-19 have been replaced by the data loss and privacy threats that many Kiwis have personally experienced over the last year. This will have factored into employee unwillingness to allow employers to monitor them when working from home."

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