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While often effective — the assembly lines at Ford factories a century ago are a notable example — the approach has also proved controversial because it can increase worker stress. In recent decades, as work shifted from the industrial to the information age, techniques to track employees evolved with new technologies.

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The trend has been evident in jobs that require physical work, such as in manufacturing and warehouses. Amazon, for example, has drawn scrutiny for its automated tracking of fulfilment center workers, with reports of firings based on the productivity metrics gathered.

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White-collar jobs are monitored as well; the recording of internet history, email messages and location have been done for many years. Whereas once upon a time a manager stood with a clipboard and kept track of what people were doing on the shop floor, now you're seeing this in the office space, where every time you use a digital platform there's data that's being gathered about you. More advanced software now allows companies to build a picture of the internal workforce faster and in more detail. We saw companies using organizational network analysis by examining the calendars of employees to try to understand who they meet with, who are most important people in the company, and so on.

Despite concerns around privacy, digital employee monitoring has largely become an accepted practice in measuring performance at work — just as the use of fitness trackers to monitor training or daily step counts has become common.

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ActivTrak gives a detailed breakdown of where employees spend their time, labelling certain apps and websites as productive or unproductive. Most modern digital productivity tools offer a range of metrics at the team or individual levels.

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For example, Microsoft, the biggest productivity software vendor, has a dedicated tool for tracking behavior — Workplace Analytics — that is used by the likes of Vodafone and Unilever to tap into Office data, offering behavioral insights such as the number of emails a person sends each day. Microsoft also has an app, MyAnalytics, that lets individual workers track their own productivity.

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More recently, there has been an uptick in the use of apps that monitor behavior proactively and much more precisely. Are you slowing down? Are you exhausted? Are you burnt out? All sorts of metrics from that perspective.

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Productivity tracking is just one rationale for using monitoring software. Software vendors also argue that their tools can be used for insider threat detection, with the ability to automatically notify admins or managers about potentially malicious activity and anomalous behavior. Though capabilities differ between products, all enable granular tracking of employee actions across a laptop, PC and often mobile devices. Common features include:. The best practice here is to include chapters defining the conditions and applied capabilities of usage of employee monitoring software in labor contracts.

One company offering monitoring and analytics, Austin, TX-based ActivTrak , bills itself as a less-intrusive alternative to other monitoring tools, with a focus on individual and team workforce analytics. Founded in , ActivTrak features granular data reporting and can collect automated screenshots.