Flexibility, Data Protection and Trust - We're Still Working From Home

Posted October 30 2020 By Kirsty McFarlane
 In the words of the youngest ever elected President of the United States of America, John F Kennedy, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” This statement is certainly true for many businesses right now. As we absorb new COVID restrictions and consider the possibility of a second lockdown, businesses are facing a stern test of their fortitude. I am fortunate enough to be part of a progressive SME business, whose model has always been progressive and innovative as to how we work. But what about more traditional sectors? Flexible working has gone from a buzzword to a reality that has simply had to be accepted as the “new normal” during lockdown. Roles and jobs that we had assumed would have had to have been performed in the office and have set hours in order to generate outcomes, are now being done successfully from home - and at different times of the day. I am penning this blog from my kitchen at 7.30am – which prior to lockdown and COVID would have been impossible as I would no doubt be rushing to my commute at this point. Rushing being the right word! What will happen to our working patterns in the future, when COVID is no longer deemed a threat to life and public health? Research is finding that employees are reluctant to return to the office 9 – 5; Monday – Friday. A study by YouGov (The Flexible Future of Work) has found that nearly 50% of employees surveyed thought that flexible working will increase, with 81% of that group expecting to work at least one day from home after lockdown. How will this impact performance management? It was recently reported that PwC had developed facial recognition software aimed at certain employees – particularly those in highly regulated roles – and this type of software tracks whether an employee is online or has taken a long break away from their computer. Alternative methods involve tracking keystrokes on keyboards. Can employers legitimise such measures? What would this mean for data protection? One thing is clear; employers must be transparent with their workforce about what they are doing to monitor performance and activity, and consider the potential impact of new and different ways of monitoring. Employees and employers alike are facing significant uncertainty and additional pressures – at home and at work. But, if an employer introduces mass monitoring to ensure that employees are “doing what they should be doing, when they should be doing it”, how might that impact the balance of trust and mutual respect? Remember in 2019 when Google employees accused their employer of creating a “spying tool” and took to the media to complain? Whatever the ‘new normal’ will be, at it’s core will be change, and perhaps the first thing we should do is change our mindset and perceptions of working from home, and how to measure output and value, and the ramifications on morals and trust. To get in touch with me to discuss the Scottish legal market – as an employer or a candidate – click here to send me an email. I’d be delighted to discuss all things talent management – from virtual onboarding to employer brand.
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