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New Office Sensors Know When You Leave Your Desk (bloomberg.com) 158

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: About a year ago, in a widely reported story, journalists at British newspaper the Telegraph found little black boxes installed under their desks. The devices, which had "OccupEye" emblazoned on them, detected if employees were at their workstations. Not shockingly, writers and editors were suspicious, worried that bosses were monitoring their moves, even their bathroom breaks. The National Union of Journalists complained to management about Big Brother-style surveillance. The company insisted the boxes were intended to reduce energy costs, ensuring that empty cubicles weren't overheated or over-air-conditioned, but the damage was done, and the devices were removed. Sensors that keep tabs on more than temperature are already all over offices -- they're just less conspicuous and don't have names that suggest Bond villains. "Most people, when they walk into buildings, don't even notice them," says Joe Costello, chief executive officer of Enlighted, whose sensors, he says, are collecting data at more than 350 companies, including 15 percent of the Fortune 500. They're hidden in lights, ID badges, and elsewhere, tracking things such as conference room usage, employee whereabouts, and "latency" -- how long someone goes without speaking to another co-worker. Proponents claim the goal is efficiency: Some sensors generate heat maps that show how people move through an office, to help maximize space; others, such as OccupEye, tap into HVAC systems.

New Office Sensors Know When You Leave Your Desk

Comments Filter:
  • Productivity! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TechyImmigrant ( 175943 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2017 @04:28PM (#53868617) Homepage Journal

    >how long someone goes without speaking to another co-worker.

    The length of time I go without talking to a co-worker is directly proportional to my productivity.

    • The length of time I go without talking to a co-worker is directly proportional to my productivity.

      That is a highly job dependent statement. If you're doing a braindead task more suited to automation then yes talking to someone else will lower your productivity.
      If you're doing an incident investigation, or solving a multi-discipline problem then without talking to someone you're doing it the least productive way.

      • The length of time I go without talking to a co-worker is directly proportional to my productivity.

        That is a highly job dependent statement. If you're doing a braindead task more suited to automation then yes talking to someone else will lower your productivity.
        If you're doing an incident investigation, or solving a multi-discipline problem then without talking to someone you're doing it the least productive way.

        That why I referred to myself and not anyone else with their talk-all-the-time jobs.

        If I do my job right, there won't be incidents to investigate. So the incident investigators can keep going to their incident investigation meetings, while I keep on designing secure circuits in your chips.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Are we talking about tracking people and making them more "efficient", or tracking for making the machines, such as smart office or home more efficient? Going forward towards the glorious time of AI at every workplace and home, perhaps the efforts should be focused on the machines and try to create a more creative and ultimately productive workplace where the productivity gains are implemented with the machines by default.

  • Never. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Tuesday February 14, 2017 @04:32PM (#53868645)

    Barring absolutely needing the job not to be on the street, I would not work at such a place.

    This sort of thing will get to the point where even the rabid anti-union types will be rethinking that opinion, and maybe companies who would like to remain union-free should think about such things.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      or maybe they should just keep going on as such and instead of the lame half-measure of unionization we could have more like a revolution

    • Barring absolutely needing the job not to be on the street, I would not work at such a place.

      And How! I had three separate offices, and was in constant movement. I even wonder how many employees this could even be useful for. No way I would work for these tools both in a job that required being tethered to a desk, and distrusted that much.

      This sort of thing will get to the point where even the rabid anti-union types will be rethinking that opinion, and maybe companies who would like to remain union-free should think about such things.

      Here's a 2014 report on a company that tried to limit employee bathroom use to 6 minutes per day. http://abcnews.go.com/Business... [go.com]

      • Here's a 2014 report on a company that tried to limit employee bathroom use to 6 minutes per day. http://abcnews.go.com/Business... [go.com]

        I'd really be pissed about that!

      • Here's a 2014 report on a company that tried to limit employee bathroom use to 6 minutes per day. http://abcnews.go.com/Business... [go.com]

        Six whole minutes is quite luxurious, we have two minutes a day to empty our catheter bags and we get are only allowed to buy the official company issues bags from the company store at special discount employee rates.

        • Here's a 2014 report on a company that tried to limit employee bathroom use to 6 minutes per day. http://abcnews.go.com/Business... [go.com]

          Six whole minutes is quite luxurious, we have two minutes a day to empty our catheter bags and we get are only allowed to buy the official company issues bags from the company store at special discount employee rates.

          shudder....

      • For every company like that there is a Dave (not his real name).

        Whenever he drank, he had a bizarre rap: 'Always shit at work, last year I got paid $15k for shiting. I'm always holding it on the drive to work. I punch the clock and head for the head, every day.'

        You knew he was getting drunk when he started those lines on whatever girl he was chasing/annoying that day.

        • For every company like that there is a Dave (not his real name).

          Whenever he drank, he had a bizarre rap: 'Always shit at work, last year I got paid $15k for shiting. I'm always holding it on the drive to work. I punch the clock and head for the head, every day.'

          You knew he was getting drunk when he started those lines on whatever girl he was chasing/annoying that day.

          Hehe, reminds me of the old poem.....

          "My boss gets paid a dollar,

          I get paid a dime.

          That's why I shit,

          On company time.

          I've always had a different approach - and yes, it has pissed some people off.

          Someone who is pulling some stunt gets told personally, not punish the entire crew.

    • Barring absolutely needing the job not to be on the street, I would not work at such a place.

      Not that I disagree, but I think I'd wait until they said something about physical attendance being part of my evaluation then you have two choices...

      1. Stop working from your desk as much as possible and Start shopping your Resume and get a better job (my recommendation) or...

      2. "Play" the attendance game by being there but do nothing until they start complaining, THEN, start shopping your resume...

      Either way, mess with their data collection statistics in a way that helps the poor slobs you leave behind.

      • Tape a little christmas tinsel so it hangs in front of all the data collectors accessible. Every One.

        Then find a new job, as soon as you're off probation, hire away the key people. Especially if recruitment bonus' are available.

    • They did the deployment incorrectly.

      First, you give the boxes to the execs and the managers. When the union figures out that they're not getting heat or air conditioning when managers are out of the office, then you give those boxes to union leaders and your favorite employees. When the rest of the employees figure out that they've been excluded, even the most paranoid among them will be demanding their own box at their desk.

    • Barring absolutely needing the job not to be on the street, I would not work at such a place.

      This sort of thing will get to the point where even the rabid anti-union types will be rethinking that opinion, and maybe companies who would like to remain union-free should think about such things.

      Or, maybe instead of putting money into a union they could put money into buying stock in the company and handle it that way.

      It's interesting. We have two grocery stores that are prevalent in this area: Kroger and Publix. Kroger is a large public company that has a unionized workforce. Publix is employee-owned - the only way to buy stock is to be an employee and if you sell your stock Publix has the right of first refusal (and they always buy it). Do I have to tell you 1) which store treats its employee

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      And what if it is just what is just as it says. A way to save energy.
      Optimizing the workspace is not a bad thing. Done right, it is win/win : more comfort for the employee, more productivity for the company.

      You are probably thinking about the boss monitoring every movement of his employees in order to punish them later if they take too many breaks. Truth is : the boss doesn't give a shit. In fact, the ideal employee is one you assign a task and forget about him until he gets back to you with the work done.
      A

      • You are probably thinking about the boss monitoring every movement of his employees in order to punish them later if they take too many breaks. Truth is : the boss doesn't give a shit.

        A good boss doesn't give a shit. A bad boss is under the mistaken impression that employees must be going full throttle 100% of the time and tries to find ways to enforce that.

  • Meaning the amount of time between when my admin hears about this and when she casually asks what it would take to install and monitor the devices on all the staff desks.

  • There is going to come a point in the not-far-off-future where most consumer facing gear wont even run unless a user is actively present, has ID'd them self through social media and is operating it. See Oculus Rift for an example. It wont run if the sensor says it not on my head. Now i understand in most use-cases thats fine, but sometimes i want a game to play out, even if im not attending it right then. I should have the option of taking off the HMD without it pausing everything.
    • The Rift headset contains a light sensor to detect if the headset is being worn. So it can power down the screen and/or pause software when you remove the headset. If you want to keep it running (useful as a developer), it's easily covered with a finger, or I guess you could put tape over it...

      (The real annoyance with the Rift is the health+safety warning. Has anyone come up with a hack to disable that yet?)
    • The rift has OLED screens that will suffer from burn-in if you leave them on with a static image being shown. It is literally a screen saver, and has nothing to do with restricting the user.
      • I get all that, the point is once eye-tracking and such comes online, advertisers are going to demand that ads are confirmed to be watched by getting the eye tracking data. There will come a point where you wont be able to even look away from the ad or it will pause and wait for your attention.
  • Please somebody let me know if they report when you fart.

  • by H3lldr0p ( 40304 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2017 @04:38PM (#53868691) Homepage

    Proponents claim the goal is efficiency

    Yes, but what kind of efficiency? You're making a ton of assumptions that being at a desk, in a meeting room, or elsewhere leads to work being done, which leads eventually to profit. Work rarely is so attached to anything of the like that attempting to measure an individual's output for anything other than CO2 production is a waste of time, money, and thought.

    Work, as we all know it, has been as industrialized as it possibly can be. And not everything that could be put into some sort of process needs it. Part of work is knowing where things can lead, it's following your instincts since you're supposed to be familiar with what you're doing.

    And then there's the whole being valued by what work you do. That whole thing where your personal worth and wealth is directly tied to how "good" you're viewed as. Wealth as a virtue signaling! How sickening is that? How messed up as a society to you have to become to think that way?

    Fight this sort of bullshit. Fight it hard.

    • And then there's the whole being valued by what work you do. That whole thing where your personal worth and wealth is directly tied to how "good" you're viewed as. Wealth as a virtue signaling! How sickening is that? How messed up as a society to you have to become to think that way?

      Fight this sort of bullshit. Fight it hard.

      I just don't know how many occupations there are that the normal job state is being in one place the entire day. Sounds horrifying.

      • by H3lldr0p ( 40304 )

        I just don't know how many occupations there are that the normal job state is being in one place the entire day. Sounds horrifying.

        Those that are quite horrifying. I'm thinking call center jobs or any such service level position. Ones where you are not measured by how well you resolve the customer's issue but how many calls you get through and how quickly you do it.

        These are jobs which devalue and degrade you fast if you don't buy into their antisocial focus. There are reasons these jobs have been packaged up and forced into contracted companies. It changes their nature. Your job is no longer to assist the people calling, as they aren'

        • Those that are quite horrifying. I'm thinking call center jobs or any such service level position. Ones where you are not measured by how well you resolve the customer's issue but how many calls you get through and how quickly you do it.

          These are jobs which devalue and degrade you fast if you don't buy into their antisocial focus.

          Jeebuz. I've been pretty lucky in that I had to be all over the place. With my low threshold for boredom I probably would become suicidal pretty quickly in that sort of job.

        • Those that are quite horrifying. I'm thinking call center jobs or any such service level position. Ones where you are not measured by how well you resolve the customer's issue but how many calls you get through and how quickly you do it.

          Yeah, exactly. And this is NOTHING new. A couple of decades I took a summer job in a collections department. It was a horrid job, but it paid reasonably well for a summer position. Our productivity was measured almost solely in the number of accounts we handled and the amount of money we brought in through collections. Whether we actually handled the accounts "well" wasn't really a factor (which led to gross inefficiencies and hoards of "problem accounts" that simply went more and more delinquent as th

      • I just don't know how many occupations there are that the normal job state is being in one place the entire day. Sounds horrifying.

        My wife and I both work from home, so that's normal to us. She works for a company that processes medicare claims (she's in QA) so she's in constant contact with her coworkers throughout the day via instant messaging, email, and phone, while I often talk to clients on the phone. It gets kind of difficult, but we often take off after work and walk around town (we live in a tourist trap) or even just the mall. She gets cabin fever pretty bad and just needs to get out. I am an outdoorsy type so I go to the

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Re "How messed up as a society to you have to become to think that way?"
      It goes back to the Time and motion study https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
      Later ideas about "Motivating Employees"
      http://guides.wsj.com/manageme... [wsj.com]
      Computer monitoring system grew from early email and internet use around the USA.
      e.g. daily reports of every keystroke per computer, clickstream data https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
      The why is often given as "trade secrets", i.e. the idea that monitoring everyone stops a walk o
    • Not only this, management who introduces this is usually piss-poor at performing themselves and are usually projecting their behaviour on others.

      KPIs are to managing people as what paint-by-number is to painting. Having something that resembles a picture after you fill up each marked space with the right colour, does not make you a painter.

      Either you're a good manager and you're able to not only get a productive team that is happy to do the work that's thrown at them, all the while keeping in touch with who

    • by Falos ( 2905315 )

      We love making retarded assumptions. Most metrics are. We don't have time to actually deduce the value of a system or person or purchase, just give us a number thanks, preferably one that software can automatically rank and color code for me.

      Imagine if "time spent in seat" was the single performance indicator used, everything else purely ignored. Imagine how hilariously gamed it would become. Imagine how much actual efficiency/productivity/results/w.e would be lost, not gained.

      Now stop imagining because rea

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's not for energy use at all. Individual cubicles or offices for that matter, are not heated or cooled singularly. They are part of a zone. Me not being in my office has absolutely no bearing on heating the other 5 offices in the same HVAC zone.

    Same for the 20 cubicles on the floor. It makes no difference if 1 person is in the office or all 20.

    If they want to reduce heating/cooling expense, install a fucking motion sensor or do what every other company has done and put the fucking system on a timer.

    • Enlighted is a motion sensor (and more). It is creepy.

      It can be used to optimize energy performance-- if the office is lightly occupied, increase the comfort bands as your percentage of people dissatisfied is less influenced by that space. That can be used to reduce airflow, re-heat, or cooling depending on the system type. It can also reduce light levels of course.

      They see real-estate as a big-data wet dream. Personally, I don't get it; while you can save money you quickly get to a point of diminishing
  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2017 @04:41PM (#53868723)

    If we only had more unions BS like this would not even make it to the install part unless there is a big list of things needed to fire someone / rules in place to make so that the boss needs to show that to use this to fire some takes a lot of paper work.

    It's like alot of the BS metrics that just end up making people cheat the system / hurt things in areas that are not tacked.

    • by Arkham ( 10779 )

      If we only had more unions BS like this would not even make it to the install part unless there is a big list of things needed to fire someone / rules in place to make so that the boss needs to show that to use this to fire some takes a lot of paper work.

      It's like alot of the BS metrics that just end up making people cheat the system / hurt things in areas that are not tacked.

      Unions seem like a good idea for unskilled work, but not for technology workers. I am not interested in any sort of collective bargaining. If I have a device at my desk or software on my laptop that I find onerous, I can (a)disable/delete/destroy it or (b) go work somewhere else. The good thing about software development is that for every programmer worth his salt there are 100 jobs waiting.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I doubt unions would be particularly able to disable some level of employee tracking. For example, using ID badges for access control is a form of tracking that is difficult to protest, because it's actually useful. Same thing with using motion sensors in rooms to control lighting/ventilation/heating load. If I dim or turn off the lights, and reduce the heat load, I can use less cooling in that zone. Not to mention that I can put some outlets (If the system is designed with this in mind) into a list to

  • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2017 @04:43PM (#53868737)

    This article sums up a lot of the problems I had with the office: https://shift.newco.co/why-i-o... [newco.co]

    This issue in particular:

    ROWE (results only work environment) is a fantastic framework that needs to be adopted in places employing knowledge workers. You should be measuring the output of your workers, not the amount of time you can see them sitting in your office. I refuse to work in a place with such a cynical view of their employees. If you really think your employees will not be working if you cannot look over their shoulder to check, you have the wrong way of looking at the relationship with your employees (especially at a startup). You should be hiring people who are engaged by their work and believe in the company’s mission. If people slack off when you aren’t watching them, your company has a disease, and you have discovered a symptom. You cannot treat this symptom and expect the disease to be cured. More on this later (Remove the safety nets and let the bad actors fail).

    If you are looking at your employees through the lens of “I can’t give these people freedom and autonomy to do work in the best way they see fit:” You should consider finding different people for your organization instead of pursuing an authoritarian regime.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I know of at least one manager that not only regularly uses screen monitoring software but intends to require employees to install web cams in their home office to ensure "butt in seat" compliance of remote employees.

      Working remotely is no guarantee of no management stupidity.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Code in your underwear. They'll remove the webcam pretty quick.

    • Then someone will get the idea that they need work metrics. I was told at one performance review that I didn't have as many checkins as my colleagues.

  • Until we're all replaced by robots anyway, we require a certain amount of autonomy, freedom, or 'slack'.

    Apparently that's going to need to be codified in law before we can accept all these monitoring devices watching us 24/7, because we don't trust the people who own the systems... and experience shows we are right not to trust them.

    Knowing which areas need heat, which doors see the most traffic, whether a meeting room is wasted space or not, or even how many times a day the toilets are flushed - each of th

  • by SeaFox ( 739806 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2017 @04:49PM (#53868781)

    The company insisted the boxes were intended to reduce energy costs, ensuring that empty cubicles weren't overheated or over-air-conditioned

    What a load of bullshit. A cubicle by its very nature is a division of a larger room. It has no ceiling to hold heat in or meaningful insulation, and it's certainly not climate controlled on an individual level.

    A more believable excuse would be that the device shut down the computer and desk lights when the employee was not in to save energy, but most businesses leave machines on to facilitate after-hours backups/maintenance and with modern high-efficiency lighting, there would be no net cost benefit to controlling lighting with them.

    • A cubicle by its very nature is a division of a larger room. It has no ceiling to hold heat in or meaningful insulation, and it's certainly not climate controlled on an individual level.

      I see you've never worked on a multi-zoned HVAC system before. Even if all zones are in the same room there's a very big difference to gained by controlling them individually even if the AC part isn't running. Sometimes airflow alone is a key part and a well designed system can narrow down the HVAC to a few employees.

      I am also in an open plan office. One big office with a foyer so even the three levels are open to each other for airflow. There are 60 thermostats in our building JUST in the open area.

    • The company insisted the boxes were intended to reduce energy costs, ensuring that empty cubicles weren't overheated or over-air-conditioned

      What a load of bullshit. A cubicle by its very nature is a division of a larger room.

      It *is* possible that it looks at all the cubicles in a room to decide if the lights and a/c can be turned off or reduced. But if that were *really* the issue don't you think they would have told folks before sticking a black box under their desk?

      The reason it sounds like they're doing something wrong is that they acted like they were doing something wrong when they quietly installed these things while nobody was around.

  • Wow, the onion is getting real good at anonymizing their articles now.

  • Seriously. If they wanted to know if somebody is at their workstation, just download some software from the Interwebs and install it on the computers used by employees.

    You'll get a report on when employees are at their desks and, as a bonus, you can see what they're doing, where they're surfing and who they're talking to.

    • Seriously. If they wanted to know if somebody is at their workstation, just download some software from the Interwebs and install it on the computers used by employees.

      You'll get a report on when employees are at their desks and, as a bonus, you can see what they're doing, where they're surfing and who they're talking to.

      Can it tell when I'm writing in my notebook? I spend more time doing that than typing code or documents.

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2017 @05:27PM (#53869015) Homepage Journal

    Years ago I developed an early mobile computer app (on palm pilots) for use in field work (exotic vegetation control, mosquito control, that kind of thing). And the supervisors would often warn me that the workers were unhappy and hostile toward the idea of a new system.

    So I'd take the field guys aside and talk over their concerns. Inevitably the question would come up whether their supervisors would be tracking their movements all through day. I'd assure them that no, the system couldn't tell if you stopped to grab a cup of coffee or take a whiz, but I warned them that it would give management a very precise assessment of how much work each individual worker actually accomplished.

    And here's the thing: everyone was OK with that. They didn't mind being evaluated on accomplishment, they just didn't want to be treated like children or judged by some bullshit metric.

    As a manager you need data, but you shouldn't have a bias toward easily obtained data. Someone who is on top of his employees' performance doesn't need an ass-in-chair time tracker, unless an employee's actual function is simply to sit on a chair.

    If you're really doing your job as boss, the people who report to you won't be worried about being tracked. They'll worry about doing a good job. Because when they do a good job, you notice, and when they do a bad job, you notice... and promptly. Nobody is going to think you're judging them on bathroom breaks.

    • > you shouldn't have a bias toward easily obtained data

      Nicely summed up. Management is hard, if you're not up to that challenge, then get out and let someone else have a crack at it. It seems though, as humans, having a nice graph to look at makes us feel like we have some control over something.

  • No no, they got the wrong idea. These OccupEye units just designed for upskirt pictures.

  • Cool nightmare dystopia capitalism is creating for us all. Insatiable desire for infinite growth combined with a competitive business environment and a disregard for the well-being of the workers in the trenches all but guarantees this kind of shit will become more and more common unless it is fiercely resisted in perpetuity. That or we need to radically reimagine how society functions.

  • If the managers have no clue where their staff are most of the time, then you are running an org wrong. Even if the org uses cheesy gizmos to verify people are physically at their desks, that says almost nothing about actually doing work. And it's bad for morale.

    I can see using such for a problem employee who repeatedly abuses their time, but not as a default.

  • Quit.

    This will inevitably become a problem for government use... we can't easily quit/vote with our wallets. This is private companies leveraging technology to increase the bottom line... you know, that activity that keeps most of us nerds employed?

    {cussy}Fucking outrage culture is getting outrageous.
    Dial it the fuck back a little and have some goddamned perspective. {/cussy}

  • When I worked at a Fortune 500 company, I actually witnessed some woman spend an entire day updating her stupid Franklin planner. A whole damn day. Showing up for work is not a valid method of determining compensation. One should get rewarded for results not for the amount of hours they're at their place of employment.

  • I left my pants in my cubicle.

  • Option one: You can run it like a kindergarden.

    Option two: You can run it like a university.

    Each has it own merits for management. But most of us would choose to be a worker in an option-two company.

  • Hey Silicon Valley nerds: you do realize that California mandates exactly this sort of technology in your homes and offices, don't you? The 2013 and later building codes require occupancy sensors in all offices less than or equal to 250 sq. ft., as well as conference rooms, multi-purpose rooms and a whole host of other places. If you build a new home all garages, laundry rooms and utility rooms must have occupancy-sensor lighting. Feel free to be violated in the name of the environment, courtesy of your nan

    • I'll accept the office thing, because they're usually hooked up to a building control system of some sort, and so can/will be saving out stats and whatnot. However, having a light in your garage that comes on when you walk in and turns off when you're not in there has zero surveillance potential.

  • It is easy to criticise this sort of things as intruding on privacy, but I think it misses the mark. Seeing how people in general accept - and sometimes even ask for - more and more CCTV in the public spaces, I think it is clear that privacy isn't the main concern - it's about feeling that you are trusted and respected. Privacy is important in the sense that we all need to have a private space, where we can put our guards down and just be ourselves, but in general, in public and in our workplace, we want to

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