Culture

Microsoft 365 is going full cop on employees with constant monitoring

Managers will call this productivity-enhancing tools. But realistically speaking, this is workplace surveillance.

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As millions work from home due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, companies have attempted to increase their management aggression by introducing tools that effectively spy on their workers. Microsoft 365 is under fire for enacting something similar. The company recently announced that it had "expanded" its Office Suite 365, which now includes an administration level monitoring tool to keep track of worker activity. The feature can be found under "Workplace Analytics."

Workplace Analytics provides quantified numbers and stats on workers' activities down to details like which component of the Office Suite 365 was used at however much frequency. On top of that, Microsoft says managers will have the ability to track "productivity scores" and "set up, implement, and measure long-term customer adoption, change and transformation initiatives." This kind of obsession with benchmarks may not necessarily boost productivity but it certainly demonstrates how OK Microsoft is with the invasiveness of surveillance methods like this one.

'Measure productivity' — The tool is particularly obsessive about the itty bitty of day-to-day activities. If a manager chooses to, they will be able to count the number of emails an employee sent or the frequency of Yammer messaging.

There are charts, percent scores, graphs, comparison indexes, and other metrics that expose a worker's virtual movement without truly explaining the complexities and nuances of remote work. In other words, Workplace Analytics will do the spying for you but it won't explain that a worker may have turned away from the computer to tend to their children or pets. It won't explain that an employee may be under significant stress, especially during these circumstances, so their attention to workplace programs may not be optimal.

Microsoft "Workplace Analytics" doesn't sound too different than what Zoom introduced with its exploitation-primed attention-tracking feature that allowed managers to keep an eye on whether or not a worker is viewing the workplace meeting. You might even recall how Facebook appointed employees to shut down "idle chat" on its virtual boards after at least 45,000 of its employees started working remotely. As it is with these tech companies that claim to care about workers' privacy and mental health, the claim is often demonstrably false.

Microsoft, however, is taking it up another level. As tech researcher and activist Wolfie Christl notes, most of the metrics used to surveil worker activity is outsourced to third-party software companies, giving the contracting party enough legal leeway to brush aside accusations of spying. But with "Workplace Analytics," surveilling an employee is now baked right into Microsoft 365.