How The Telegraph learnt a lesson in workspace monitoring

Back in 2007, The Telegraph was held up as an example of a great workspace for journalists when its newly redesigned newsroom opened. However, recently the newspaper found itself at the centre of a controversy over the installation of devices that monitor when staff are at their desks.

The newsroom – one of the first in the UK to adopt a hub and spoke model to enable better communication between different sections – saw the installation of devices from a company called OccupEye in January. The devices were, according to an email to staff, part of a “drive to make our floors in the building as energy efficient as possible and reduce the amount of power we consume for heating, lighting and cooling the building at times of low usage”.

The email added: “They are designed to record occupancy across each 24 hour cycle for all seven days of the week to make sure we are making best use of our space in ​the building.”

The Telegraph has already achieved a great deal in terms of creating a workspace that is more sustainable. They reduced their lighting energy use by 90 per cent, now send 300,000 fewer rubbish bags to landfill each year and have been recognised by the Mayor of London’s Business Energy Challenge for reducing their carbon intensity by 29 per cent between 2010 and 2014.

But staff weren’t impressed by this latest move – a source told the Press Gazette that many didn’t believe the devices had been installed for environmental reasons.

OccupEye devices

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OccupEye’s website says that it offers “automated workspace utilisation analysis” using sensors that monitor motion and heat. This allows managers access to a system where they can reliably tell when a space is and isn’t being used.

While this might seem like a good idea in terms of working out when certain areas of an office need to have heating and lighting, The Telegraph’s staff said that they felt that they were being spied on. One journalist said to The Huffington Post, “It’s creepy – don’t they want reporters out talking to people?”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the devices didn’t last long. Many members of staff removed them from their desks, or took out the batteries. And the management made the decision after less than 24 hours to remove the devices altogether.

The thing is, workplace monitoring isn’t anything new. For more than two decades it’s been something of a given. If you log into a computer to do your job and think that you’re not being tracked, you’re mistaken. In fact, 92 per cent of American businesses with ethics officers monitor their employees email accounts, according to a 2002 survey by Bentley College Center For Business Ethics.

The problem comes when monitoring such as the OccupEye device becomes a disciplinary tool. “What’s going to happen when the traffic pattern shows that one employee is away more than another?” Lewis Maltby of the National Workrights Institute asked.

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While The Telegraph’s staff might have been the most vocal about their concerns over the tracking of their movements, it’s certainly not the only industry where staff are being monitored. According to Maltby, a number of hospitals now use radio frequency identification badges that constantly track their employees’ locations. 

There are, of course, instances where tracking employees’ movements can be beneficial – and certainly The Telegraph’s intentions were honourable, even if their journalists feel that they went about it in the wrong way. And even location and voice monitors at Bank of America helped to increase productivity. Data from these monitors showed that call centre staff were more productive if they spent more time speaking to one another. Productivity increased by at least 10 per cent after employees were scheduled for group breaks rather than solo ones, a 2013 study found.

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