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Helpful Analytics or Orwell’s Management Tools?


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The rising availability of unified communications as a service (UCaaS) tools to assist with managing staff appear to be a trend and not a novelty. Dave Michels’ recent No Jitter post suggested that vendors believe these tools can help managers and supervisors monitor remote employee productivity. But it seems like we have a long way to go before these tools are valuable and even longer before they’re universally accepted. The most significant reactions fall into these three groups, which I’ll explain further:
  • Skeptical of the value to the employee
  • Troubled by the accuracy
  • Fearful of the potential for misuse
Employee Value
In looking at the provided statistics from a MyAnalytics report, most of the numbers fall into a “so what” category. Should the employee change their behavior next week since last week had 62% collaboration time? Or that their collaboration network included 88 people (is that too many or not enough)? Internal connections and collaborations aren’t like social media, where adding followers equates to some (often dubious) value.
Accuracy of the Data
Even with tools that are suite-based, the lack of visibility into other software tools, apps, and devices prevents an accurate view. Many knowledge workers take and place calls on their cell phones via the cell PSTN (as opposed to a linked application, like Microsoft Teams). My personal analytics report stated 100% of my meetings included a Teams invite, but I had meetings (setup by others) that used at least three other products (Zoom, Webex, and ZipDX). I also had chats (collaboration) within the app, not reported as collaboration time, according to the Microsoft suite-based tool.
Some tools emphasize the need for focus time, but without keystroke monitoring or video, how accurate is the work-value of that focus time? Watching YouTube could be work-related, or I could be watching grumpy-cat videos. And if using a different device, the analytics tools will not detect the “focus time” was shopping on Amazon, using a personal Gmail account, or reading Facebook posts. That leads to another problem with the analytics gathering – some smart but devious employees already game the system. For example, my wife worked with someone who placed faux meetings on his calendar and then sat at his desk or left work to go home early. Some users put the computer into presentation mode, even when no one is viewing the presentation. How reliable will the data be without 100% appropriate employee behavior and all devices fully monitored?
Misuse and Abuse
The danger lies with any tool that draws conclusions by comparing individuals to the averages or the top performers. It’s too easy to confuse correlation with causation or link unrelated behavior with actual results. Is the number of collaborators the reason why top performers do best or do the best performers naturally end up with more collaborators? Or is it irrelevant?
Unlike the standard contact center, where agents have similar skills and nearly identical performance expectations, most knowledge-worker jobs will vary between individuals, even when they have the same title and general responsibilities. Unless the job tasks, assignments, and staff experience are similar, analytics results can easily be oversimplified and unfairly applied.
A more concerning element for many will be how some organizations will choose to apply these tools. As Michels stated in his post, “… there is a thin line between monitoring and surveillance.” He also confirmed that “many of the tools cannot be detected.” It’s easy to envision many organizations using an Orwellian approach, even as they justify this as a path to increased productivity. With the difficulties in assuring accurate data mentioned above, will the next step be company-mandated persistent video? Michels's post listed a couple of utilities that sound draconian.
A Logical Alternative
For many years (dating back to the ’50s), the management by objective (MBO) approach focused on measured results against a defined goal. For most knowledge workers, this remains a more valid and meaningful evaluation approach than the micromanagement of measuring the number of emails, chats, and meetings attended. At best, these new analytical tools can help quantify what a good manager should already know – which employees are productive and which are overworked. But knowledge workers can’t be measured as easily as a contact center agent – and maybe it’s folly to try.
We shouldn’t need to count focus and collaboration time to spot trends better handled in an old fashion way – talk to your staff. Insightful personal communications will be much more valuable than fuzzy or misleading statistics on individual tasks.

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