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The workplace of the future tracks your every move, whether you like it or not

Why it matters to you

Biometrics are quickly entering the workplace but are they collecting invasive information?

Access control is nothing new in the office world, where keys slowly migrated over to smart key cards. However, several new startups now aim to give employers a more vivid picture of their office environment by tracking everything their employees do — save for visiting the restroom — via smart sensors and new technologies.

One of the most sophisticated companies in this brave new world is Enlighted, an IoT company whose goal is no less than “redefining smart buildings.” At the heart of Enlightened’s monitoring system are its smart sensors which collect a vast amount of information about the environment and issues reports in real-time. The dime-sized sensors, which owners install via lighting, computers, or a building’s HVAC system, detect motion, daylight, and energy use.

Privacy issues prevent many companies from instituting biometric IDs.

Taking smart sensors to yet another level is the five-year-old startup Humanyze, an MIT spinoff that aims to overlay biometric analysis and analytics over the traditional employee badge technology.

Humanyze badges look like traditional employee identification badges but they’re much more robust. The company equipped these bad boys with not just radio frequency identification (RFID) and near field communications (NFC) sensors — of which libraries and the retail industry already widely use — but it also on-boards the badges with Bluetooth, an infrared detector capable of tracking face-to-face interactions, an accelerometer, and two microphones.

More: Biometric authentication may soon be only a heartbeat away

The badges link up with beacons placed around the office to detect where an employee is at any one time. The microphones, on the other hand, creep frighteningly close to Big Brother territory but they don’t have the ability to record conversations. Instead, the mics measure tone, volume, and speed, along with potentially monitoring stress. The data processes in real time and delivers directly to managers in the form of an aggregated, anonymized view of their teams.

Naturally, in the age of massive intelligence-gathering scandals, one might expect some worries about privacy, risk, and legality. Legally speaking, employers have the option of performing any kind of monitoring in the workplace as long as they inform employees and don’t put cameras in the bathroom. But what’s more surprising are the attitudes of the tracked employees.

TSheets surveyed 1,000 employees last year and found radical differences in opinion depending on whether they thought their employers tracked them or not. Of the employees untracked with GPS at work, only 16 percent had a positive opinion of this type of technology, while 38 percent held a negative opinion. Meanwhile, 54 percent of employees tracked with GPS at work held a positive opinion, while only 5 percent had a negative opinion.

Despite the concerns of employees, many human resources experts say employee monitoring offers benefits to both employers and employees, particularly at companies with mobile employees like construction companies, service providers, or health and safety professionals. These benefits range from accounting for employees in emergency situations to protecting employees and employers from unfounded complaints.

Although biometric monitoring of employees remains a growing trend, the widespread use of these new technologies remains rare due to privacy and legal concerns. Privacy issues prevent many companies from instituting biometric IDs simply because — like anything else — they pose a hacking risk, too.