Coronavirus and lockdowns implemented lots of changes in our lives. The virus restricted our traveling. For many of us, it took away the ability to hang out outside of our homes, meet friends, or even go for walks as movement restrictions were applied. A lot of companies switched to remote work forcing employees to turn their homes into something that would resemble a workplace.

All these restrictions created plenty of issues leaving us with no other choice but to adjust to changes. So we switched to Zoom hangouts with friends and families, replaced weekend travels with endless Netflix shows. And we’re doing our best in trying to stay productive while working so close to the fridge and seduced by endless other distractions from a chatter of our loved ones to that favorite video game.

But we’re not the only ones concerned about our productivity. As companies have largely shifted to remote working, managers lost the possibility to control the activity of employees during the workday. So they started using tailored services that would let them keep an eye on workers even remotely.

Does the pandemic strengthen the surveillance at workplaces?

It’s easy to understand why employers want to control the activities of their employees. It all boils down to the profit the company gets. The more productive workers are, the bigger gets the revenue. So tools that monitor the productivity of teams and individual members are nothing new.

At first, companies would just monitor and control websites workers access with the help of system administrators. Then tailored tools emerged that could automate the control over productivity. We won’t point fingers at anyone. Instead, we’ll just summarize the features of such services.

These instruments monitor the activity of each employee, process the gathered data, and create reports at the end of the workday. These reports usually include a productivity score and a timeline that shows how much time a person spent on specific actions.

Often such tools add a bit of gamification by telling people the scores of their colleagues — this creates the desire to compete and be better than others. However, how do we know that an app doesn’t just show us a score that’s a bit larger than ours and is not a real result of our colleagues?

Now in addition to all the surveillance we’ve described, such instruments also take pictures of workers through web cameras on their computers. Usually, apps give a person an opportunity to choose the frequency at which snaps are taken — from one minute up to 5 minutes. The sweet smell of freedom, isn’t it? All the dystopian tales we’ve been reading, watching and playing became our reality as we’re surveilled all the time.

Sure, we understand that employers feel less confident being unable to see workers physically. And as if completed tasks and visible results of work are not enough, they’re trying to take control over what a person is doing during the workday. We’ll not get into the ethical side of this issue — although we should be quite offended by employers treating us just as workforce, machines that must do the work. We want to talk about privacy.

Do employers violate our privacy with such surveillance?

Well, it’s a tough question. From the legal perspective, no. Employees know about the monitoring tool that’s being used. And often, they install such programs themselves at the request of an employer. So legally, everything is fine — a person agrees to be monitored.

It’s the moral side of this situation that makes us worry. Remember, how we all felt so uncomfortable and got concerned while watching Black Mirror as it was released? All the futuristic stories we were told seemed to be very odd, unrealistic, and often unfair in terms of one’s privacy. How far away are we now from what’s going on in the series? Not too far, are we?

Needless to say that it’s very upsetting and discouraging for employees to understand that their companies — that are supposed to be like a second family, as many corporations insist — don’t trust their ability to remain productive. Isn’t trust a cornerstone of any healthy family?

Sure, we understand that some people need to be controlled to execute tasks in a timely manner. But that’s an issue of an HR department, not a privacy concern. And that’s definitely not a reason to force all employees to agree to be surveilled.

What can we do?

We can’t do much when it comes to surveillance at work — even the best VPN app won’t help here. All we can do is to choose employers carefully. Although, it wasn’t easy to find a good job before, let alone doing that during the pandemic. Yet, if we can, we should protect our privacy in the workplace. Remember that during uncertain times like the pandemic is we tend to become more agreeable. Perhaps, we should try refusing to install any monitoring software — what if nothing bad happens if we just say no to that?

It will be very useful to have a separate device for work. Then you can be sure that you’re not being watched over during your time off since you’ll be using your personal computer or portable gadget that doesn’t have any monitoring software installed. You can add iNinja VPN for better protection against snooping. It will hide your IP address this covering your activity from prying eyes.

We should remember about our right to personal privacy. And we should protect it. If monitoring tools our employers want to use make us feel threatened, we have the right to object to the usage of these services. And if our protest is met with a frown, if we’re not given any other choice rather than being monitored, maybe it’s time for us to look for a new job.