How to respect employee privacy while implementing smart technology

Training employees on new technologies can be expensive, but in the long run it will build employee confidence and lead to faster company-wide adoption. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The rise of smart technology over the past decade has greatly improved the workflow for both employees and employers. Thanks to efficiency, smart technologies such as indoor positioning systems, trackers and other smart devices increase safety and improve workflow.

Yet a major downside to using these smart technologies is the loss of privacy for employees. Intelligent systems often require greater control over the work lives of staff members. One example is employee tracking. Employers use tracking technology to monitor employees who work remotely. By tracking their whereabouts, employers can make sure they have the resources they need to get the job done. But this process requires what can be seen as a significant invasion of privacy.

Related: How to strike a balance between cybersecurity and employee privacy

Of course, employee privacy concerns should be a top priority for employers, but turning away from smart technology is not the answer. Instead, companies must find the right balance between implementing intelligent systems and maintaining respect for employee privacy.

Employers who are able to empower their staff to understand the importance and benefits of smart technology will better realize the productivity gains that smart technology provides without compromising workforce privacy.

Education is key

The rise of smart technology has divided workers into two groups: those who can learn from new technologies and those who cannot. Unable to understand the full benefits of new systems, some employees develop Luddite tendencies instead of learning to work with labor-saving technologies.

Providing employee training on smart technology will alleviate much of the mistrust, especially around privacy. Training employees on new technologies can be expensive, but in the long run it will build employee confidence and lead to faster company-wide adoption.

Ongoing information sessions and handouts can engage even the most tech-weary employees. These sessions should go beyond technology and focus on improving employees’ understanding of privacy rights, specifically regarding what companies can and cannot collect, and what companies can do with that information.

Engaging workers on both the technology and policy fronts gives them a sense of understanding that will help them embrace and effectively use smart technologies. With the right knowledge, employees will be empowered to accelerate the digital adoption process. Employees should also understand that the information is used to assist them, not to monitor restroom use, breaks, or other personal information.

Worker-led adoption

As cogs that drive the day-to-day operations of a company, employees often know best what change is needed in their workspace. By working together, employers and employees can find the best methods to implement smart technologies that protect employee privacy. So not only can employees provide you with input on how best to implement startup technologies, including them in the decision-making process will also generate buy-in on their part.

Armed with accurate knowledge of the benefits of smart technology, employees will eventually come to the conclusion that adopting smart technology is truly in their best interest. Smart technologies allow employees to work more efficiently, find materials faster, avoid dangerous work situations and generally improve productivity and reduce stress levels. For example, helping employees understand where their vital colleagues are can make them more effective in completing their own work. We see this in healthcare as well as in the industrial environment.

Employees must clearly be part of the decision-making process about how the company can use smart technologies, including location-based tracking, to improve company processes. This will not only help your company avoid privacy issues, but also improve the smart technology implementation process for everyone.

For each individual case

Privacy can mean different things to different people. Remote workers may have different privacy concerns than office or factory staff. There’s something about working from home that makes employees even more private. For example, remote workers who run errands in the middle of the day may not want tracking systems to follow them on their commute or see them picking up their kids from school.

Similarly, plant personnel may prefer tracking that does not include specific personal information: the company may track how many people are in which part of the facility, but not specifically who is where. By working with employers, employees can provide useful feedback on how smart technology can best be used to improve the work process without affecting privacy concerns.

Trusting technology to employees reveals the real issue at the heart of privacy concerns: trust. Building trust between employees and new forms of technology also means building trust with the management staff who control all this data. Companies built on cooperative empowerment will see a smoother transition to smart technologies.

Tom Root is vice president of Quuppa Americas. He brings over 25 years of marketing breakthrough technologies and managing intelligent growth to high performance organizations.

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